My father lost the war yesterday. He won the battle against Parkinson’s for 3 years, the skirmish against lung cancer for 4 months,  but, in the end, his mind may have been more committed to the fight than his body.
Somewhere between 3:30am and 8:30am Saturday morning, he simply stopped breathing. His wife and best friend, Lisa, went to bed at around 3:30 after being told by my dad that she needed to get her rest. It had been a rough day for him (and therefore her, as she was his primary caretaker), but, as was his style, he always thought of the other persons needs first. When she woke yesterday morning, he was already gone. What followed can only be described as panic, fear and unearthly, surreal sadness. Lisa called 911 and then me and I knew by the sound in her voice that this was it. He was raced to the nearest hospital, and was pronounced dead on arrival. I knew this as I was racing to the hospital. A voice inside kept telling me that I needed to get there, but, that I didn’t have to really hurry. When I got there, one of my father’s friends (Tim)was already there and in the parking lot, and kindly offered to park my car. I ran inside, I saw Lisa and her daughter, Alia, and we were put into a consultation room.The doctor who met with us was kind and gentle, and I thought that it really takes a special kind of person to do that job.Within the next half hour, another friend showed up (Charles, his oldest and dearest friend). And then my husband, my brother arrived as well as another friend (John). Telling my brother was the hardest thing I have ever had to do, as my father was truly his anchor. My heart breaks most when I think about him, and how lost he will be without my dad. They regularly attended games for their favorite teams…the NY Giants & Yankees. They tailgated and went decked out in full regalia. Concerts and sports shows were often on their agenda and now the poor guy will have to settle for the occasional Phillies game with me and Paul.
My dad was loved by so many. He had a huge, extended network of friends. More than any male I have ever met. He cherished and nourished those friendships with frequent trips to Florida to golf (especially before Parkinson’s really took him out of the game), and a yearly celebration called “Night of the Italian Men” or NOIM for short. He was so loved, he was made an honorary Italian! His friendship’s were long-standing and deep and I know how much these men meant to him and he to them.
As for us, his family, I know that my father was an anchor for all of us, not just my brother. Through his illnesses, he remained positive and focused and would not allow any of us to wallow too long in sadness. Instead, he would host a barbeque or Holiday dinner which he would spend days preparing for. Food became one of his greatest pleasures, and anyone who is friends with me on Facebook knows how much we all enjoyed sharing a meal together. I had the pleasure of watching my husband and father bond over the joys of all things “meat” and a friendship grew between the two of them as they tried to outdo each other in the number of meats served as well as methods of preparation.
As for his extended family, my dad and Lisa have been together for well over 10 years, but married for less than 2 months. They decided to marry the day before my dad’s lung surgery and for so many reasons, I am so happy they did. I had worried for a long time about what would happen to my connection with her if anything happened to my dad. Now that he is gone, the “official” nature of their relationship seems to leave no question; we will remain family. Lisa’s children, mother and brothers have been in my life so long now, that the thought of no longer being connected to them is unbearable. They have memories and stories of my dad that I hope to hear for years to come. My father’s brother, Dennis, will also feel the loss of my father in very deep ways, and I know that his children, Thomas, Matthew and Natalie will be devastated, because to them, my father was a superhero. My uncle, his wife Debbie and the kids got to see my dad create the biggest splashing cannonball in the pool (which he did up until about 3 years ago), got a surprise visit from him at the family “retreat” in Deerfield Beach, Fl. (which he generously let us all use anytime we asked) and greatly looked forward to any vacation that involved seeing their beloved “Uncle Jimmy”.
As for me, I can’t count the ways in which I will miss my dad. Because I was born when my parents were so young, I had long thought I would be spared this pain until I was much older. But, as his Parkinson’s progressed I had to revisit that thought…I started to think about cherishing the moments NOW, without the safety of thinking long term. This was perhaps his greatest gift to me….the recognition that I could not put off telling him how much I loved him, or not attend the Sunday dinner or turn down an invitation to a dinner out. In the past three years, I have gotten to know a softer side of my dad and for that, I am grateful to Parkinson’s Disease. His recognition that he will not be healthy forever was a great gift and allowed us to grow closer than I ever would have imagined. Through the years, we had traveled together, to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, with my best friend, Stacy, and to the Florida Keys for my 30th birthday, so I could swim with dolphins. He took my and two friends to meet Duran Duran for a record signing when I was 13 in NYC (and got us in, despite the enormous crowd, likely due to his height and visability) took me to see Julian Lennon at 16 and many other concerts throughout the years. This past November, he and I traveled to Deerfield Beach together, to see if he was healthy enough to travel alone. The answer was a definite no, and I worried the whole time, but, we talked, we laughed, we ate and most of all, got to spend time together as father and daughter for the first time in a long time. After my parent’s divorce, we would go on what we called “dates” but as time went on, our together time usually involved other people, as well, so, this trip to Florida was a true blessing and allowed us to re-connect as a daddy and his little girl. It was wonderful. I don’t think there is any relationship quite as meaningful as parent and child, and as we both grew older, I think we understood this in new ways. My father told me he was proud of me, that he thought I was a great person. What is more meaningful than that? I can say that I truly felt the same way about him. The love that I have in my heart will keep him alive to me forever and the memories will never fade. His sense of humor, generosity and commitment to those he loved will be a part of who I am for the rest of my life. I miss him tremendously already and don’t look forward to the coming week. But, I know we will all be met by an outpouring of love and that the spirit with which my father approached life will be alive and well in all those who come to honor him. So, in addition to the sadness, I will be filled with a gratitude that may not fill the emptiness I feel and the hole left in my heart, but, will make it that much more bearable.


3 responses »

  1. How lucky to have had all those good times together, to have built up a storehouse of wonderful, loving memories. His was a life well lived, and well loved.

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