Blog, Family

A tough day … and a great guy!

April 8, 2015
dad-kate-hammock-title

Today is a tough day.  Amongst all the birthdays we celebrate in our family during the Spring and early Summer months, there is one day that isn’t quite so joyful.  And that day happens to be today.

Today marks two years since we lost my Dad.  A day I’ll never forget.  A day that is etched so vividly in my mind that it seems like it all happened just yesterday, but also like a million years ago.  I’ve never really blogged about this before, and sometimes I feel like that’s intentional.  Sometimes I feel like I purposely pour myself into other things to prevent the sad memories from creeping back in … or worse, the guilty feelings.

I think after these two years, that I’m finally ready to write about it.  About that particular day and the memories and feelings I have from it, but also about my Dad as a person, father, and Grandpa.  This post is about how he left this world, but also about his life.  About what a great guy he was and about all that he taught me about living.  It’s emotional to write.  It was emotional to gather pictures for.  And I know it will be emotional to read (and probably for my siblings and aunts and uncles, too), but it feels right.  It feels like now is the time to share, to document, and to actually lay out all my feelings in one place.

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My Dad dealt with various health issues his whole life, but you’d never know from meeting him.  He was diagnosed with Juvenile Diabetes (Type I) when he was young (maybe 8 or so), and had to give himself insulin shots ever since.  In my mind, I picture my Dad and his mini cooler in hand everywhere we went (apparently insulin needed to stay cool??).  Along with the insulin shots, my Dad would also prick his finger several times a day to read his blood sugar level.  He got so good at managing it, that he could call his number within 10 points every time.  Odd thing about all this … my brother and I used to like to prick our fingers to test our blood sugar, too.  Key words there … liked to prick our fingers.  What?!?  I guess we just wanted to be like our Dad?

Diabetes was tough on his body throughout the years, and he had is first heart attack at age 48 (though, according to him … “it wasn’t really a heart attack”).  I should mention that he was also the worst patient a doctor or nurse could ever ask for.  Consider this my sincere apology if you happen to have had him as a patient somewhere along the way.

He recovered just fine from the ‘minor heart attack’ and was fine for another 5 or so years when he had to have quadruple bypass surgery.  He went in for an angiogram, and went immediately into open heart surgery.  I was in London at the time doing a quick 3 week study abroad program when this all happened.  I remember calling his office because I couldn’t get through to his cell phone and them telling me that ‘he won’t be in for at least 3 months’.  My heart sunk, and when I finally found out what had happened I was terrified.  I clearly remember sitting down on the bathroom floor in my then-boyfriend-now-husband’s apartment bathroom sobbing and scared and wishing I was there with my Dad instead of an ocean away.

He recovered decent from the surgery, and got back to living.  His health, however, did start to go downhill about 5 years ago.  His kidneys were failing (mostly from the diabetes), and was put on dialysis three times a week.  Next came the diagnosis of Prostate Cancer.  And on top of that he was dealing with bouts of anxiety as well as more severe neuropathy (chronic pain common in diabetics … his mostly in his feet).

We had discussed the possibility of my Dad moving in with us, and Matt was fully supportive.  As time went on, it became clear that he needed someone on a more full time basis to help him out.  While this was a tough subject for us all to talk about (because he absolutely loved his home and his independence), he knew that he needed help.  Matt and I began planning out where he would stay, how to make his room comfortable, how to best allow him some privacy, and how we would arrange to get him to his dialysis.  My Dad wasn’t excited about the move, but he knew it was best.

I went to see him at his house Monday night (April 8th).  He needed groceries, more prescriptions picked up, and I hadn’t seen him all weekend and wanted to find out how his pain was doing.

He wasn’t in good shape.  He didn’t get out of bed.  He handed my his wallet (with cash and his insurance cards in it), and I went to Target to get him medicine and food.  When I got back I offered to make him dinner.  I set out his medicine with water.  He didn’t say a whole lot, and I figured he was just not feeling well.  I asked him several times if he wanted me to just stay the night with him since I was coming back first thing in the morning to take him to dialysis.  He said no.  He said, “go be with your boys.”  He said, “I’m fine.”  I gave him a hug and walked out the front door.  I got in my car, called my sister and immediately started bawling.  I hated seeing him like that.  I hated not knowing what to do.  I hated wondering if I should leave or stay.  But I went home.  A decision I still a little guilty about.

The next morning I was back at a little before 8am, and here’s where it all becomes a blur.  Usually, he was ready with his blanket and bag when I came to take him to dialysis.  This morning, however, he wasn’t up.  The door was unlocked, so I let myself in.  He had fallen next to his bed, and was slurring his words but he awknowedged me there.  I ran over to help him onto the bed, but he wasn’t helping me out, and that’s when I knew it was serious.  I told him I was calling the ambulance … and then he perked up and said, ‘no, It’s too expensive.”  He told me to, “Call Jim,” to help drive to the hospital.  And so I did.  I distinctly remember telling my brother to get here NOW, and I’m pretty sure he left work like a mad man.  With my brother on the way, I managed to get my Dad back into bed and he muttered a few words.  I paced back and forth waiting for Jim.  It seemed like forever, and I found out he was stuck in traffic.  I can’t remember what exactly my Dad said, but something caused me to panic and call 911.  I remember going outside since I was worried he’d be mad about me calling an ambulance (after he said not to).  I distinctly remember telling the 911 operator that ‘he’s not going to be happy when the paramedics arrive, but I don’t know what to do.”  I even told the first responders on the scene that he was probably going to give them grief for being here.

I was wrong.  He was unresponsive from the moment they got there.  I didn’t know what was going on in there, and luckily my brother showed up soon after.  We were pacing when they came out to ask us about ‘next of kin’ information.  This was honestly the first time it occurred to me that he might not make it.  I remember asking the paramedic, “why are you asking … what’s going on with my Dad?”, and he said “well, right now he doesn’t have a pulse.”

In that exact moment I was so thankful that my brother had arrived so I had someone to grab in disbelief, shock, and fear.  We called my sister who was teaching that morning and told her to get here.  We said he didn’t have a pulse and I just remember her hanging up in a rush (I’m pretty sure she bolted out of her kindergarten classroom in a full out run).

Between the time we called her, and the time she arrived, they had declared my Dad dead.  Again … thank God that my brother was there with me when they told us the news.  It all happened so fast.  It went from me thinking I was taking my Dad to dialysis and then home to stay with us to the paramedics telling me THIS.  We met my sister at the bottom of the driveway on her way in, and I just remember shaking my head saying, “he’s gone.”

Matt showed up next and I think I said the same thing to him.  Then my sister’s husband, Chris, and my brother’s then-girlfriend (now soon-to-be-wife), Jess.  The hours following were numbing, confusing, overwhelming, but also comforting knowing that there were six of us all huddled around trying to figure out what to do next.  I have never been so thankful for my husband, my siblings, and their significant others.  Matt did one of the hardest things at that time, and offered to make the call to my Dad’s sister.  I didn’t even ask him.  He just said he’d call her.  The thought of telling her the news made my heart sink even deeper, and I am so grateful that Matt stepped up.

When a loved one dies unexpectedly, it’s overwhelming how much there is to do.  I am so lucky that I had two siblings along with all three of our significant others to help figure out what to do next.  Over the five days following my Dad’s death, I was basically with my siblings from the time we got up to the time we went to bed.  And while it was an incredibly sad time, in a way it was also nice to spend all that time with them.

Though I feel guilt about leaving my Dad that night before, I also take comfort in knowing that I was there the next morning when he passed.  He didn’t die alone (although I don’t think anyone dies alone), and he knew I was standing there beside him.  He also said something that made me think he saw my brother and sister standing there beside him in that moment, too.  I think he went out on his terms, and just when he was supposed to.

>>  A LOOK BACK ON HIS LIFE  <<

My Dad had a great life, though, and we really did want the funeral to be a celebration of that life lived.  We put together this video with our favorite pictures of him put to songs that reminded us of him:

>>  GROWING UP  <<

My Dad grew up in south Minneapolis with his parents and three siblings:

Dad - A Celebration of A Life Well Lived

Dad - A Celebration of A Life Well Lived

My Dad is on the right, and together with his brother, Doug, they had quite the hair-do’s, huh?

He graduated from Washburn High School, and was quite the track star from what I hear (and he was still running races well into his 30’s that I can remember watching).

Dad - A Celebration of A Life Well Lived

There he is all dressed up (maybe for Prom?!?) standing on the steps of the house they grew up in.  We used to drive by that house all the time on our way to Lake Nokomis and Minnehaha (with a stop at Mello Glaze for a donut, of course).

My Grandparents also had a lake home on Spectacle Lake a couple hours north of the Twin Cities.  I’m pretty sure they spent a lot of time on the water growing up:

Dad - A Celebration of A Life Well Lived

and he was quite the water-skier to show for it:

Dad - A Celebration of A Life Well Lived

I definitely inherited the love of waterskiing from my Dad, though I was never nearly as good as he was!

>>  LOVING LIFE  <<

From what he used to tell us, and from what I’ve heard from others, my Dad had quite a twenties.  He loved a good time:

Dad - A Celebration of A Life Well Lived

Dad - A Celebration of A Life Well Lived

My Dad (center) and his best friend, Bob (left)

He was adventurous and loved the outdoors:

Dad - A Celebration of A Life Well Lived

My Dad ... an awesome life, and a great guy.

He loved, loved, loved rock climbing

 

He was also an awesome downhill skier, though I can’t find any pictures of him skiing!  He spent a good deal of time out West skiing in Steamboat, Alta, Tahoe, and various other resorts in the Rockies.

>>  BECOMING A FATHER  <<

He also fully embraced the next chapter of his life … becoming a father.

Dad - A Celebration of A Life Well Lived

This is one of my favorite pictures of my Dad and me (don’t we look peaceful?):

 Dad - A Celebration of A Life Well Lived

He was a wonderful father to all three of us:

Dad - A Celebration of A Life Well Lived

Dad - A Celebration of A Life Well Lived

Dad - A Celebration of A Life Well Lived

He taught us to be adventurous and to love the outdoors, as well.  From watching my Dad bungee jump, to hearing his tales of cliff jumping in Mexico, to deep sea fishing in the Caribbean, to the story of hanging by a ski and broken leg on the slopes of a double black in Colorado, to lots and lots of snowmobiling in the winter, he loved action, adventure … and being outside.  Maybe that’s why I jumped at the chance to go skydiving with all of his coworkers on the 4th of July one year while home from college on Summer?!?  Or why I begged to go parasailing in Mazatlan on Spring Break freshman year.  Maybe why I went cliff jumping into the St. Croix River in Taylor’s Falls with my friends senior year of high school or jumped off a bridge into Lake of The Isles (um …. not too long ago)?

My Dad ... an awesome life, and a great guy.

Looking right at home with a fishing pole in the ocean!

 

When I look back at growing up, I can see that I learned a lot from him … and more than just the desire to jump out of airplanes.   He was very good at saving his money.  He worked hard, had an entrepreneurial spirit, and saved for the things he loved and wanted out of life.  He took pride in his good credit and instilled that value in us.  One of the things he saved for was family vacations.  Enjoying new places and bringing us along to experience them was another important value for him.

Whether it was somewhere tropical to get us out of the long, cold winter months in Minnesota:

Dad - A Celebration of A Life Well Lived

Dad - A Celebration of A Life Well Lived

Or a summer road trip to Arrowwood, Duluth, or fishing in Canada … he loved showing us new places:

Dad - A Celebration of A Life Well Lived

He also managed to make most all our sporting events while growing up.  I knew he’d be standing right on the other side of the fence at the finish line of every race I ran in track.  And during those last 50 meters of the 300 meter hurdles, I could hear his voice cheering me on every. single. race.  Then, when I quit figure skating to pursue hockey instead, he was fully supportive and showed up cheering at every game (even though I was terrible):

Dad - A Celebration of A Life Well Lived

Yep, I played girl’s hockey in High School

He even showed up for all my band concerts during middle school.  I can distinctly remember him sitting front row with a pink sweater, purple collared shirt underneath and cowboy boots on.  He probably also had one of his awesome fringed leather jackets (he loved to shop at the Native American stores up near Lake Mille Lacs).

Dad - A Celebration of A Life Well Lived

At my High School Graduation

My Dad was also pretty handy in general, and a forever do-it-yourselfer (maybe where I get some of my DIY yearnings?).  He helped put in this awesome in ground pool in our backyard when we were little:

Dad - A Celebration of A Life Well Lived

Testing out the new pool … even before the concrete was poured around the outside!

I can honestly say that that pool was probably the best thing of my childhood.  I have so many memories of that pool.  During the summer months my hair would be green from the chlorine as I was in the water from the time the sun came up until it went down.  My mom still lives there now, and we’re still making memories in that pool with our kids!

He also was very, very good at golf, and took us golfing often.  It’s one of the only sports that I can beat Matt at (thanks, Dad!).

Dad - A Celebration of A Life Well Lived

Lots of Golfing …. also, why is my 9 year old brother driving the golf cart?

Dad - A Celebration of A Life Well Lived

Well … we grew up!  My sister was the first to get married, and I can remember how proud my Dad was that day:

Dad - A Celebration of A Life Well Lived

And … 6 years later came my turn:

Dad - A Celebration of A Life Well Lived

Dad - A Celebration of A Life Well Lived

It’s with a tear forming in my eye that I think about my brother’s upcoming wedding this Fall, and how my Dad won’t be standing there to see his last child say ‘I do.’  But I know he’ll be there in spirit.  And I hope my brother knows that, too.  He knew Jess (my brother’s soon-to-be-wife), and was so happy that Jim had found ‘the girl.’

Just as he embraced being a father, he also fully took on the role of Grandpa:

Dad - A Celebration of A Life Well Lived

My Dad at our wedding with 17 day old Carolina!

Dad - A Celebration of A Life Well Lived

Grandpa and Owen … Fall 2010

Grandpa and his granddaughters!

Grandpa and his granddaughters!

Dad - A Celebration of A Life Well Lived

Christmas 2012

And all the grandkids (less new Baby Ben) on his last Christmas … 2013:

Dad - A Celebration of A Life Well Lived

He really was the best Dad you could ask for.  He loved his family with every part of his being.  Even down to the last days, he lit up when I brought Owen and Charlie over to see him.  And they loved Grandpa.  They didn’t care about his eye patch, or the fact that he didn’t move around too much near the end … they just remember Grandpa and how much they loved him (and the toy ambulance and firetruck Grandpa had at his house).

Still to this day, Owen remembers Grandpa.  When I explain to him that ‘Grandpa is in Heaven,’ I can see him thinking hard about that.  When we last talked about it a couple months ago, Owen asked me how Grandpa got to heaven.  Before I could respond, he just plainly stated that “Grandpa probably rode on a police car or firetruck there.”  I didn’t correct him.

When I think back, I have so many memories of my Dad.  Like the time I broke his nose while he was trying to spot me doing a back-handspring, his corned beef hash (one of the only things besides pancakes I remember him cooking), him tipping over the snowmobile with my friend and I on it, a helicopter ride in Duluth, ice fishing and the fact that he always managed to melt or burn an article of clothing on the propane heater in the ice house, the fateful ‘road to Hana’ on a vacation in Maui that involved kicking my brother out of the car for a period of time and threatening to leave him there, and cribbage … lots and lots of cribbage:

Dad - A Celebration of A Life Well Lived

Cribbage with his Dad and granddaughter, Samantha

My Dad taught us how to shoot a shotgun, drive a stick shift (when we were far too young), waterski, fish, golf, and shuffle cards (another thing I happen to be much better than Matt at).   My siblings and I also inherited our great sense of direction, and our love for dogs and country music from my Dad.

My Dad also taught us some unintentional lessons in his time here.  He taught us that importance of keeping close friendships … because in the end that’s all that matters.  He also showed us to live life to the fullest … everyday.  To not wait for retirement, or some other milestone to start doing what you want.  He make us realize that life is precious and that we shouldn’t waste any moments of our time here.

Dad - A Celebration of A Life Well Lived

While the funeral was hard, it also brought a sense of relief to us.  We were able to compile all our memories, our pictures, and our stories of my Dad and to truly celebrate his life.  One that was too short, but lived to the fullest.

The most helpful and comforting thing that anyone said at the funeral was actually from my Mom (her and my Dad had been divorced for nearly 15 years).  While the snow was piling up that day, my Mom came up to me at the funeral and said that, “Dad is probably golfing with Grandpa up there right now and having a great day.”  That was exactly what I needed to hear that morning to help me through the day.  And it made me smile to think about.

Losing a parent is hard, but at the same time … it’s a part of life.  It’s how the world works and how the world is supposed to work.  I feel so thankful and grateful that he was my Dad.  That I got to grow up with his help.  To have his sense of adventure and love of life instilled in me and my siblings.

This day is hard, but 64 good years here on earth is something to be thankful for and worth celebrating!

I love you with my whole heart, Dad, and always will.

dad-kate1

{p.s. this day also happens to be one of my dear friend, Krista’s birthday.  Sorry to put a damper on your day, Krista, but I hope you have a great one!!!  Wish I could be down there to celebrate with you today!}

k-sign

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8 Comments

  • Reply Melissa @ A Prudent Life April 9, 2015 at 1:06 am

    I’m so glad you felt ready to share your story. I can’t image how hard the last two years have been for you. Huge kudos to Matt for calling your aunt. I had to call just one of my cousins to tell her when Gram passed and it was about the most awful thing ever. Writing about her did help me, and I hope it does the same for you!
    Melissa @ A Prudent Life recently posted…Bringin’ Sexy (or SWEAT) Back to the Garage Week 2 (One Room Challenge)My Profile

  • Reply Carrie @ Kenarry: Ideas for the Home April 9, 2015 at 6:55 am

    Oh Katie! My heart goes out to you. I can’t imagine the pain of losing a parent or how the grief washes over you with every passing anniversary of this day. Your tribute to your dad is beautifully written. I had tears pouring down my cheeks reading it and can see how much you loved him in every word. I’m sure this was one of the most difficult blog posts you’ve written, but hopefully it also brought you great joy to remember what a special man he was and all that you learned from him. His legacy of love and sense of adventure will live on in you and your siblings and of course your precious boys too. Sending virtual hugs your way today!
    Carrie @ Kenarry: Ideas for the Home recently posted…Think and Make Thursday Link Party #26My Profile

  • Reply Kristi April 9, 2015 at 8:05 am

    Oh Katie, I’m just so sorry. You told a beautiful story today – the love you’ll always have for him just radiates through each and every word. The second anniversary of my father’s death just passed us by in January – he was a “healthy” man with an unhealthy heart and suffered multiple heart attacks, subsequent brain damage and finally a stroke before moving on to a much better place. Your father’s journey reminds me of my own father’s in that it sounds like they were no longer living the happy life they once had. I always felt like those last years of hardship for him, the way he hung on through impossible things were his way of preparing us and making it “okay” for him to go. The time we get with those we love is never enough I think, but you’ve got such beautiful memories to carry with you. And each and every day you’re sure to have those triggers that just make you pause for a moment, smile (or cry) and remember that wonderful man and what he meant to you. Sending you hugs my friend! xo
    Kristi recently posted…One Room Challenge {Week Two}: Progress Makes PerfectMy Profile

    • Reply Katie April 12, 2015 at 9:16 pm

      Oh, Kristi … I’m so sorry to hear about your Dad, too. It sounds very similar to what happened with my Dad, and your comment brought tears to my eyes. Thanks so much for stopping by to read it. I hope your family is doing well, too. I’m sure your Dad is looking down and so proud of you! Hugs, Kristi.

  • Reply Amy April 9, 2015 at 10:47 am

    I’m so glad you were finally able to share with everyone! Sometimes it feels healing to write it out. It sounds like your dad was amazing man and it’s obvious how much he loved you guys! I’m sorry his time was cut short, but it sounds like you have TONS of wonderful memories to hold onto! Hang in there friend.
    Amy recently posted…How to Make Inexpensive CLAY KNOBS!My Profile

    • Reply Katie April 12, 2015 at 9:14 pm

      Thanks so much, Amy. It actually did feel healing to write it all out (even if it was super long). And, yes, we do have some wonderful memories of him! :)

  • Reply Eva April 13, 2015 at 8:59 pm

    Oh, Katie, my heart goes out to you. This June will mark two years since my dad passed away from cancer and it still hurts like it just happened. I don’t think it will ever hurt less, but I hope I will eventually learn to live with it better. I am sending some healing vibes your way. Take care

    • Reply Katie April 15, 2015 at 8:53 pm

      Oh … thank you, Eva! I’m sorry to hear about your father, too. It is hard, but they are in a better place! Sending love and hugs your way, too.

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