Last year at this time, I was in a hospital in Houston with my dad who had just had a debilitating stroke. We both spent 10 days in that hospital room. It was extremely difficult. At the time, I thought that the long days in the hospital were the worst, but the days following were even more difficult. The amazing support of my family and closest friends was the only thing that kept me afloat last May and June.
I have spent the last several days remembering my dad...
...who he was and how he lived his life.
These are the things I remember...
My parents said that my first words were a complete sentence. "Daddy go bye bye in the car." (They also said something about amazingly smart and conversant at 9 months old...) I'm sure that story was heavily exaggerated over the years, but the important part was always that "Daddy" was my first word. That's the only thing I ever called him from the day I could speak until the last day that I said goodbye to him in the hospice room. Not once in my life did I ever call him "Dad." It just never fit.
He was a chef. He worked in the hotel and restaurant industry my entire life. And sometime when I was in college, he attended the Culinary Institute of America. He was so proud of that accomplishment. And he used that talent every single day. I don't recall ever having a conversation with him, in person or on the phone, when he wasn't giving me some recipe or cooking technique he had discovered. It was immensely frustrating for him to cook with me. He was exactness. I am "throw stuff in until it tastes good." (except in baking...baking is chemistry, you can't just throw stuff in) All my life, when I wanted to try some crazy recipe, my dad was always up for the challenge. He could make ANYTHING. And not only did he make it...he made it BEAUTIFUL. Even for a casual dinner, he would julienne things, and clean the mushrooms individually with a paper towel so they wouldn't bruise, and throw bacon into the green beans. He NEVER took shortcuts in the kitchen. He cooked with his whole heart. And you could feel that in every meal he made.
He took me shopping for my prom dress. He was more patient about those things than my mom. And he loved that southern belle look.
He adored my mom. He got frustrated with her and he complained about the little habits that drove him crazy. But he adored her. He took hundreds of pictures of her which is why, even in this post, there are more of her than of him. If she did it, he was there capturing it on film and immortalizing it forever.
In 2003, her diabetes took it's toll on her body and she lived the rest of her life on dialysis. It was a 45 minute drive to the dialysis clinic. He drove her there three times a week, waited in the lobby for 3-4 hours until she was finished, and then drove her home. He monitored her blood sugar and her meds. He made special meals to accommodate her dietary restrictions. And he managed to find diabetic substitutes for nearly all of her favorite things. Those years were extremely difficult for him, and he didn't love that experience, but he wouldn't have been anywhere else but by her side because he adored her.
When she died on March 17, 2008, his life ended a little bit, too. He spent two agonizing years without her.
He was honest. My dad = integrity. He was a helper. It was innate in him to jump up and help NO MATTER WHAT. He had extremely high expectations and he was often disappointed when things and people didn't meet them. But he had good intentions and he did the best he could with what he had. He wanted the best for my mom and for me. There was never any doubt that we were the most important people in his life. In the year since he's been gone, I have realized that all the things that frustrated me before are mostly insignificant now. Those things have been replaced by what I know were the intentions of his heart and his abundant love for his family.
I am grateful a year later, for all that I have, and the life that I live because of the efforts and sacrifices that my parents made. And I am so grateful that they are once again together.