Thursday, June 9, 2011

Rest in peace, Dad

I wrote this yesterday in the hours after my Dad died. I was going to add family photos. But now I'm busy making and taking calls and placing obituary notices, and I just want this to be posted. Photos will have to wait for another day.

I was my Daddy's first-born little girl, and I was only eight months old when he was called to serve in World War II. He sent gifts--a little Scottish wool tam that I still have, and a china doll for which my mother sewed a bridal dress closely resembling the one she had worn just a few years before (still have the doll and dress, too). Eventually there would be six of us siblings (two girls and four boys), and he loved us all, but for the first three years of my life I was His Little Girl and I knew he loved me best. I think that's a special gift that many first-borns enjoy without ever realizing it.

Bud Peterson, gentle man and gentleman
Mom was the driving force in our family. She took the initiative, provided the discipline, gave the advice, wiped the tears, sewed the clothes, played catch, got involved in the youth organizations, made sure we got together regularly after we'd left the nest. Dad was mostly busy working. But he wasn't an absentee parent, and he got many things right. As a family friend said today on Facebook, "He was a gentleman, and a gentle man." He worked hard, but if there were complaints about his bosses we heard them from Mom, not from Dad. I don't remember him ever arguing with her, either - a mixed blessing, since most of us siblings never really learned to voice our feelings or argue constructively. On very rare occasions when he'd held his tongue as long as he could stand it, he would explode - sudden, fuming, maybe sputtering, but never violent.

He read to us children at bedtime. One of my favorites was a nonsense rhyme, Bobbily-Boo and Wallypotump (a sanitized version, I learned recently, but that's another post). He read it often enough that I memorized it...and now I recite it to the grandkids. He taught us to fish (and taught me to clean them) and he taught my brothers a little about working in his basement tool shop. He paid my sister a quarter every time she made his favorite crescent rolls from an old family recipe. He took my mother dancing and bowling, and he dressed up in his tails and chapeau to participate in Knights of Columbus activities at church. (I loved the dress-up aspects but never did figure out what the KC was all about.)

Probably the single greatest thing he did for us (aside from earning a living and being a nice man) was to build a cabin about an hour from where we lived. He designed it; he and Mom built it. Our family spent weekends and Augusts (his vacation month) there for more than 30 years. It's where we had our best times as a family, where we built the memories that flood the mind with sunshine, the smell of jackpine and blueberries, the tug of a crappie on the line as the waves lap and someone says, "Grab the net." We thought we had a 99-year lease on the land, but the state changed the law and we lost it. By then Mom was dead, Dad had remarried, we all took on other obligations, and opportunities to get together as a family greatly diminished.

Last year on the first of June, Dad and my stepmother moved to an assisted living facility just over an hour from my home. It was an excellent move; instantly they were surrounded by caring staff and new friends. They no longer had to haul laundry up and down the (dangerous) basement steps or negotiate icy sidewalks. No danger of him falling from a ladder again, and spending months in rehab (for a time he forgot his own name). No facing months of isolation because of cold temps and those same icy sidewalks. The facility organizes occasional trips for fishing and, at his request, to Dad's favorite casino, along with more sedate activities like bingo and tea time (I have seen my future and it includes jigsaw puzzles). In addition, it was easier for my siblings and I to visit and for Dad and Kay to "host" us without having to make special preparations.

In January, Dad got much weaker. He fell, had trouble breathing, landed in the hospital, was told he had pneumonia and colon cancer, and then congestive heart failure. We understood, if he didn't, that the colon cancer would not be the thing that killed him. I began driving up every Tuesday afternoon, spending several hours with him wherever he was...at the hospital, in their assisted living apartment, and for the last couple of months in the nursing home just upstairs from the apartment. I got to know their friends and the cheerful, caring, overworked staff. I pushed his wheelchair to the big glass finch cage, or outside for a breath of air, or to the dining room for malts or cookies (Tuesday afternoon at 3:30 is snack time; I'm no dummy). I saw how everyone greeted him and wished him well. I saw how he kept his sense of humor, even when he was clearly not feeling well. I rubbed his back, and I set him up with an iPod Shuffle onto which I'd loaded Sinatra, Perry Como, Tommy Dorsey, Ella Fitzgerald, and the like. Gradually he spent fewer hours awake and lucid, and by yesterday afternoon he was incommunicado, lulled by Ativan and Bing Crosby.

As we left yesterday afternoon, we knew he wouldn't last more than a couple of days. I whispered in his ear, "Dad, we love you. We'll miss you, but we'll be fine. If you're ready to go, you go. Be at peace." Sounds just like the lovely little speeches you hear in the movies, doesn't it? But it was probably more for me than him, since the earbuds were still in place. Anyway, he was ready. A hospice volunteer was sitting with him during the night; nobody thought there was any need to summon Kay from the apartment downstairs. At a few minutes before 2 a.m., Dad's roommate woke up and sauntered over to say a few words. A nurse checked in. Moments later, the volunteer saw that Dad had stopped breathing. (We know this because that wonderful volunteer actually came back this afternoon to tell our family about those last moments, to reassure Kay that her husband had slept away and had not been alone. Thank you, hospice volunteers.)

Someone from the facility called my brother, our family's designated contact, right away. He called another brother, and each posted a "rest in peace" message on Facebook. At about 9:30, as I was just getting up, a childhood friend saw one of the Facebook posts and called her 99-year-old mother (once my Mom's best friend), who called me. She said something about my Dad finding peace and what a nice man he always was, and I said thanks. I knew that she knew he was dying; that's how I took her message. Then I looked at Facebook. "Rest in peace, Robert F. Peterson" would seem fairly unambiguous. But it took a couple of calls before I could reach a brother who confirmed that Dad had died. It's only a tiny part of the story, but it's a comment on our times. When he got bad news in the middle of the night, my brother turned to Facebook to make a quick declaration of his feelings.And because Facebook really is a network, a friend called her mom, who called me. I can marvel over that, and even be amused by it, and it doesn't have any impact on the bigger story, the fact that my dad, who never expected to live to age 65, has died peacefully at 95 in a setting where he was loved and supported and so were we all.

Over the last 25 years or so, I've spent some time feeling sad that my father often found it easier to spend time with my stepmother's family than with ours. I've spent some time feeling that she didn't treat him very well. During my "Tuesdays with Dad," I saw a new side of her - of them. I watched her nurture and care for him, and I saw them sweetly tell one another, "I love you," and their faces showed they really meant it. I let go of my resentment. And I spent enough time with him that in the end I felt no urgency to tell one more story or say "I love you" one more time. Equally important, I'd heard him say those words to me often enough that I believed it, I knew it.

Rest in peace, Dad. And thank you for everything.


30 comments:

Red Shoes said...

Oh man... I am SO sorry. Bless his Soul... Even when it is time, it hurts. I love how you write about him... Obviously, a gentle soul.

You are in my thoughts and prayers...

~jim~

Red Shoes said...

I also meant to add that his posture in the photo you posted SO much resembles your posture in your photo.

My daughter has told me about how much I look like my Mom... it's reassuring to look in the mirror at times and see Mom looking back at me.

~jim~

Teresa Evangeline said...

Oh, Nancy, I know how this day feels. It calls to mind my own dad and his passing. I've been missing him lately. You tell a story very similar to my own. What I heard was that you are very much at peace about your relationship and about his passing.

I have to tell you, the nursing home where my father passed has a large glass finch cage....

My best thoughts are with you as you move through the days ahead.
Teresa

Lo said...

So sorry, dear.

Grieve and mend well.

Emma said...

Sorry for your loss. I love how you describe the time at the cabin here. Beautiful.

Grandma J said...

What a beautiful tribute to a very worthy father.

Rest in peace, Robert F. Peterson

Retired English Teacher said...

I am quite teary eyed and very touched by this beautiful tribute to your dad. He sounds like such a dear man. He was definitely a member of the 'greatest generation.'

As I read this, I am aware of your losses. You've lost both parents now, and you lost some of the companionship with your dad that you had hoped for. It is a blessing that you were able to resolve your feelings about your step family by being at your dad's bedside. That is a gift.

Your dad was born the same year as my parents. My mother just turned 95, but I lost my dad nine years ago.

You have honored your father in such a beautiful way with this post.

Linda Myers said...

Sounds like you had a good dad. I'm glad you had no unfinished business by the time his life ended.

I'll be thinking about you these next days.

NV said...

Wow ... what a loving tribute to a special dad. In as lucky as he was to have you, please know you were super-blessed to have him and to have kept him for so very long!

(You seem to be right around my mother's age and she lost her parents more than 30 years ago.)

Thoughts and prayers to you and your family.

Far Side of Fifty said...

Ninety five years, what a journey! I am sorry for your loss, I am sure that Tuesdays will be hard for you for awhile. You wrote a lovely tribute..sending you a hug:)

Jeanie said...

A beautiful description of a live well lived and well loved.
I am sorry for your loss.

Jeanne said...

I'm sitting here with tears in my eyes. He sounds like a lovely man and you got to keep him long enough to really understand that.

A double blessing.

Linda in New Mexico said...

I am so sorry for your loss. As others have said be well, and allow yourself whatever emotions as they come. Sounds like you have yourself together on this.
Blessings, The Olde Bagg

Marion Williams-Bennett said...

Dear Nancy,

I am so sorry for your loss. I so enjoyed reading this lovely tribute and am glad that you found peace at the end.

It will be a difficult road ahead, but I wish you goodness and discovery as you make your way.


Blessings to you, good daughter!

Jenny Schouten Short said...

Nancy, I am so sorry for your loss but you posted a nice tribute to your dad. That is hard and I've been there, too. I will keep you in my prayers as you sift through the memories and find places for them to revisit. xo Jenny

IndigoWrath said...

Nancy, I'm sad to hear of your dad's passing. You have a wonderful perspective of his life, which is how we should remember those we've lost. Indigo x

DJan said...

You can certainly tell from this beautiful tribute to your dad that he was loved not only by you, but by everyone he touched. I lost my own father when he was only 62, and I grieved for a long time. He would have been 94 years old himself, if he had lived as long as your father did.

But it doesn't matter when it comes, losing your dad is a wrenching and heartbreaking part of life. My thoughts are with you...

400 Wakeups said...

It is a comment on your father's affect on you that, even in the hours following his death, you were able to sit down and write such a beautiful and articulate post about your lives together. I can just see the two of you catching and cleaning fish...opening up the cabin each August...finding those quiet moments where you once again know that you're Daddy's Little Girl. He lived an amazing life and to pass away at the age of 95 in your sleep after so much life is just about all anyone can ask for. He was loved and you were too. You have a million memories to carry with you for the rest of your days and that is such a blessing. Good luck on the coming days as they are ALWAYS busy and exhausting. I am praying for you, praying for your family, and hoping that your dad can teach my Shep a few things about being a man. I've got Tami's son, Chad, teaching him how to pee against a wall so he's got that one covered. ;-D xoxoxoo

Midlife Jobhunter said...

"I spent enough time with him that in the end I felt no urgency to tell one more story or say "I love you" one more time"

How many people can say that? I was in your place last summer. Difficult, but this post is so very beautiful. Prayers your way for the activities of the next few days and the time ahead.

Grandmother said...

Thank you for taking the time to post this wonderful tribute to your Dad. Good for you that you resolved what needed resolving and spent the time with your Dad that you needed to say and hear what was true. I've slipped your and his name on my altar for prayers. Blessings on you and your family at this time. I can hear you all sharing sweet memories together.

Boom Boom Larew said...

I can see the twinkle in your Dad's eye, Nancy! May he live on in your happy memories of him!

Lisa @ Grandma's Briefs said...

These were surely difficult words for you, but they're eloquent and sweet and a lovely tribute to your dad. I'm so sorry for heartache and have you and your family in my thoughts and prayers.

Deb Shucka said...

I am so sorry for your loss, and glad for you that you had such an amazing relationship with your dad. Also that you were able to close the door on some resentments at the end. You've painted a picture of a man worth knowing and one whose presence will be missed. Sending prayers to you and your family.

Colleen said...

What a beautifully written post. So sorry for your loss =(

Wow, that was awkward said...

Beautiful post by a beautiful daughter about her beautiful father. Time to celebrate a life very well lived, right?

gayle said...

You have written a beautiful post about your father! Yes.....we first borns are always the favorites for awhile anyway. I loved reading about all the wonderful memeories you have of your family. I told my dad the same thing you did and then he passed away. Makes you wonder doesn't it. My thoughts are with you! I'm very sorry for your loss!

Anita said...

I can see the little boy in his face; a sweet face.

Thank you for posting your feelings about his life and your relationship with him. My father has passed, but my mother and stepfather are still here. Some day, if there is natural order, I will say good bye to them. Hearing from you and others let me hear the things of the heart and that I'd be able to handle it.

Blessings to you and your family as you adjust, grieve, and handle affairs.

Colleen said...

I am sorry to hear about your loss. May your mind continue to be flooded with sunny memories of your father, and may he rest in peace.

I am so impressed with the eloquence of your tribute mere hours after your father passed away. This is an example of your finest writing and it really touched me.

Allen Peterson said...

Thanks Sis. It is a wonderful tribute. And I am so glad you understand the Facebook thing. :)

Donna Henderson said...

Hard to write. Well done. A credit to your dad. He's proud.

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