The phone rang at 4:45 a.m. this morning; I saw my mom's number on Caller ID and I knew. "Ellen, Daddy passed away in his sleep," she said. Max was in our bed; he heard my sobs, shook his head to say "Please don't be sad" and covered my face with kisses.
It was the call I knew would inevitably come, the one you're never prepared for.
I haven't talked about my dad much here, out of respect for his privacy. He had Parkinson's that started eight years ago. It was a slow-progressing form that worsened in the last year, and particularly in the last few weeks. He grew fuzzy and unresponsive; I will forever be grateful that whenever I saw him, he knew who I was. Then suddenly, his legs could no longer hold him. Last week, he couldn't down solid foods, due to reduced control of his mouth and throat muscles. It's called dysphagia; Max has it, too.
It was one of the ironies of my life: I had a dad with weakening muscles who needed therapy to function, and I had a baby with weak muscles who needed therapy to function. My father had high hopes for Max. He was excited to see the progress he was making, especially because he understood the obstacles he had to overcome.
My father devoured newspapers, newsletters, news programs. In college and for years afterward, he'd send me interesting articles he'd clipped out—articles about Omega-3's and how they're good for the brain, articles about establishing a trust for Max. He knew about so many things before I did. I remember him telling me about something he'd found particularly fascinating. "It's called Google," he said. "You can look anything up on it. It's going to be revolutionary. Get the stock!"
He would have appreciated this blog and been fascinated by the powers of Facebook, Twitter and other technology that came along too late in his life. He would have been proud of my taking a stand on the r-word last week. "They're nincompoops, ignore 'em," he would have said of people who left jerk-y comments.
He was an incredibly devoted dad who was always showing us new things—places, puppet shows, museums, plays, ballets. He was the designated dad in high school who'd pick me and my friends up from parties at night and drive us home.
He instilled in me a love for reading, traveling, learning and butter pecan ice-cream—one of his only food weaknesses. He was into health food long before it was trendy; when I was a kid, he grew bean sprouts in a glass jar at home and made his own yogurt. Sunday mornings, he'd cook up the most foul concoction of oatmeal with wheat germ, bran, millet and sesame seeds, and we'd have big fights when I refused to eat it.
This morning, Dave sprinkled flax seed into his yogurt. "It's in memory of your dad," he said.
Last night, coming home from work, I bumped into a guy from my neighborhood who told me his dad had died a month ago. I told him my dad was ailing, and that I'd be seeing him today. "That's good you're going to see him," he said. "See him while you can."
I didn't get the chance, and I'm pretty torn up about that. But I am consoled by the fact that my father died in his sleep and that he was at home, where he wanted to be. And that he lived a long, good life.If he were around right now, he'd tell me to go eat an apple and get some sleep. I think I will.