This time of year always brings mixed emotions for me. I love watching the snow melt while it exposes the green of tulips bursting through the ground. It also means pretty soon my favorite flower will be blooming; Lilacs. There's something about the fragile petals, and lingering scent of lilacs that reminds me about life and how beautifully fragile it also is.
My father is buried All Saints Cemetery (Des Plaines, IL) next to a beautiful lilac bush. When I lived in Illinois I would visit his grave almost weekly. I would kneel next to where he laid, and silently tell him about Justin growing up...and then when the time came, I would let him know how there was another grandchild (Kyle) on the way. I would fill him in about everyone and everything, and I always left with a tear in my eye and saying, "I miss you daddy."
My father passed away when I was just 27 years old, and Justin was only 2. I was extremely close to my father; Daddy's Little Princess. He was quite a remarkable man, and I was/am proud to be his daughter. A perfect man he was not, but the one thing I always knew growing up was he loved me unconditionally...where my mother lacked nurturing qualities, my father provided them.
He never raised a hand to me in anger, and when my mother would go on a rampage, I would run to him if he was home, and he would pull me in close and tell me not to worry, no one was going to hit me. I felt safe with my father and not because he was a walking wall of a man with his sturdy German 6'4" frame, but because I knew he loved me.
He was a hard working man, and a loyal friend to the people in his circle. He worked as a machinist in a plant where he was also the president of the UAW. It would be nothing for him to work overtime...double time..on the job, and then be in meetings fighting for his fellow union member's rights. I can remember being just a little girl and visiting him on the strike line more than once.
Perhaps all of that, plus his love for "highballs" that at the young age of 41 he had his first heart attack...I was only 9 years old at the time. When his heart gave out he had while working double time on the job and on a Saturday afternoon. Looking back I am pretty sure it was his alcoholism that contributed to his poor health at such a young age. Yes, daddy was an alcoholic. He never got mean when drunk, actually he was kinda funny at times....but of course living in an alcoholic family brought other problems.
It was just a few years after the first heart attack that he was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis, a condition that showed it's ugly head while he was grieving his own father's passing at the wake. His fingers ballooned up, and the pain in his joints brought him to his knees. Doctors told him that stress can wake up the sleeping giant of Rheumatoid Arthritis. He numbed his pain with more highballs.
Then only a year or so after that diagnosis, another one came; testicular cancer. While he wasn't surprised by it as many of his fellow workers had been diagnosed with cancer in the recent years, it was an announcement that was about to change our family's future.
It was while he was recovering from surgery, that he received the announcement he was terminated from a job he loved. A place he worked at when he was a young man who just came back from the Korean War, and then again when he moved back to Illinois with his young family..his wife, his three step children and me who was only 2 at the time. He spent most of his adult life working there...it had become his life, and part of his identity.
His union didn't back him like he had supported them throughout the years....it wasn't the members who backed down, but rather the attorneys who didn't see the payoff in a long legal battle.
His world shattered...this strong man...this loyal man....this family provider....was now being labeled as "disabled" by his doctors and told to go on social security. I remember one of the first times I saw my father cry; he had been drinking and talking about how it felt to be in a store during a week day doing grocery shopping, and how he felt like everyone was staring at him and wondering why this strong man wasn't working. Yes, being that loyal worker, and family provider was my father's self appointed identity...and without it he felt he was nothing...chronic depression soon set in, and was numbed by more highballs.
It was hard for me to watch this happen to a man I so admired. Doctors that treated him and the ambulance drivers that would pick him up and rush him to the ER for all the numerous heart attacks he suffered, soon called him the miracle man because he survived so many of them. Many times he died in the back of the ambulance only to be brought back to life. To me he was a miracle man for other reasons- it was because of the love he always showed me..and during dark years when he didn't know what had happened to me by hands of strangers....that I think I survived life as well. He was and is still, my hero.
I watched my father go through all those heart attacks, the pain of the Rheumatoid, the cancer, the mental illness (including a nervous breakdown that almost cost lives) and alcoholism...to finally watch him die from congestive heart failure on our bathroom floor during the early morning hours. He was my best friend in many ways...my mentor in life in so many more ways...and the last couple years of his life we spent everyday together as we lived with him so I could care to his needs.
He provided me with not only a home and love, but also an interest in politics and fighting for the rights of others, and in doing so I received his sometimes blunt sarcastic humor...that loving ..unconditionally giving heart of his, lives in mine. His life taught me so much...how one minute you can be on top of the world...living and laughing...and in the next moment it all can be taken away from you...additionally his life taught me how you should appreciate all that you do have, all the lives you touch, and the ones that touch yours.
Yes, pretty soon those lilacs will be blooming, and I will be thinking about where my father lays to rest next to that lilac bush...and the peace that picture brings me will soften my heart once again.
I miss you daddy!