One year ago this week, I headed to Florida to spend time with my Dad. He had just replaced all the windows in his condo to the tune of $25,000. It was an altruistic deed, as he was well aware that his Doctor had told him the odds of making it back to Michigan were slim. He had placed his Florida home, which he loved madly, into a trust for the 6 kids, along with funding for the first 3 years' costs. He wished for us to enjoy his paradise, and more to the point, he wished for us to weave ourselves together for a common purpose: family. The first family activity for my sister Judy and me was scraping a hundred gooey stickers off those windows, and washing the glass. I was not 100% on board the concept of a family clubhouse, suspecting that conflicts and disparate personalities would erode our unanimity. So far, so good.
Oops. The window installers stored the new glass on the grass. Burn, baby burn. A special meeting was called. Sprinklers were procured. Watering shifts were assigned. Dad laughed himself silly.
As it turns out, Dad was prescient. He could not have known that his son Mike would use this place to strengthen his body and soul after triple bypass surgery. He did not imagine Paul putting new grips on his Florida golf clubs after 20 years, and shipping his Michigan golf clubs down. He did not envision sons and grandsons dragging them to the Pompano municipal course, the site of his Snowbird Senior league. He had no clear image of his silver Buick taking grand daughters up to Ft. Lauderdale Beach for some sunshine, or chugging to Miami for a step-grand daughter's volleyball game. He never would have guessed that another grand daughter would plant a garden outside his unit, or that his West Point grand son would find some "at ease" time with his folks. He could not have known that after many years, Marie would head South with her husband for a rare family vacation. Sisters and brothers are talking about a "family meeting" on the premises next year. Dad's getaway may be a hub for us all- who can know? All of these actions would please him.
Dad worked hard. I never saw him stay home from the office. Ever. He loved to work, and until he was 83, his feet hit the carpet each morning at 7:00 am with a purpose. The last few years, he frittered away much of the workday with networking (visiting) and internet activity (joke forwarding) but his spirit made the office more joyous. My brother had bought the company from him years ago, and he continued to pay Dad a (far too) generous salary despite Dad's occasional added digit on order forms. Paul patiently stored whatever excess Dad imported with a smile. When Dad got his skeddadling shoes on in January, Paul could relax a bit, confident that Dad was happy, and the warehouse space was safe. Dad vacationed as hard as he worked. The four months that he idled by the pool, reading voraciously, golfing maniacally and happy houring regularly, were bliss to him. Mid April, when his Royal Oak course thawed, he would return. If he flew home Thursday, he would be at the office on Friday. Should anyone wonder if he was tired, he would remind them that he had enjoyed plenty of sun and relaxation, and he was "tip top." Whatever the day held, Dad could twist it into a gift.
It is odd that this upcoming visit haunts me, since I have already been back once. Last March I see-sawed from fear to gratitude each morning as I checked on Dad. My sister in law and I existed in a state of panic as Dad's heart struggled to pump away the fluids. Marietta and I both wanted to fix what was broken. We were frightened. Dad knew. He would not go to the hospital, and he shushed us when we nagged him about the doctor. We fiddled with his lasix and made him take mucinex. Marietta made Dad good meals and politely ignored him as he recited how to make a three minute egg. She was so nervous, she knit about fifty pairs of slippers that week. He hugged Marietta good bye on Saturday,as she returned to Michigan. The next day he sat still as I headed home. He was too weak for hugs. By then, Marie was there- the baby of the family- and the person he depended upon most. She has a way of taking charge and managing things. That was just what Dad wanted; he placed himself in her hands. Steve drove them to the hospital on Monday. Paul arrived shortly thereafter, urged down by Marietta. All of his kids had made a pilgrimage to spend time with Dad. He closed out his days in Broward County, a place as close to heaven on earth as Tom Joliat experienced. This visit places me back in the same time space continuum, but this time I know what is ahead.
I think everyone has moments when they have a question that can no longer be answered, a joke that cannot be retold, or joy that cannot be shared. Loss happens in a day, but it pervades every day after that. At the same time, each happy memory reawakens gratitude. It is the roller coaster of adult life. You ride it, throwing your hands high with the knowledge that you cannot change things- you enjoy them, or endure them. When things are scary or sad, a loud "whee!" ventilates your soul. Then you go on. And so I will, in the same footprints I made on past visits. Dad made elaborate plans that we should all enjoy the view from his Condo. I scraped all those stickers to clear the way. I am going to look to the sun, and appreciate the beauty of a perfect sunset. I'll let you know how it works out.