This post is written for my dad.
Seven years ago today I watched my father take his last breath. It was a moment filled with, not only great sadness but, a small amount of relief. The years leading up to my father’s passing were difficult. The body of a once vibrant and gregarious man had been ravaged by the effects of years of alcohol abuse and the subsequent illness that followed. My mom became his primary caregiver and we could do nothing but watch as the disease progressed and introduced new complications. My father began having seizures and, after several weeks, he was finally hospitalized. My brother spent most of the night at the hospital with us but in the darkness of early morning my mom and I sat at the end of his bed during his last few hours and talked to him, telling him it was alright to let go. And he finally did.
The image of my father lying lifeless in that hospital bed is still strong in my memory. It wasn’t until several years later was I able to replace that image with thoughts of my dad as he was – full of life, always smiling and loved by everyone. He oozed charm and was always the life of the party.
I knew from a young age that my dad had a drinking problem, but it wasn’t until I was in my early thirties that my dad confessed something to me that I will never forget. He told me he didn’t think people would find him fun if he wasn’t drinking. I had always seen my dad as a man brimming with self-confidence but the man who sat before me, confiding his truth to me, was a man so unsure of himself that he resorted to a habit that would eventually steal his soul.
The phrase “courage in a bottle” was thrown around by friends during our college years, but until that exchange with my father I had never conceived the weight of its meaning. On the outside my father was the guy everyone wanted to be around because he made life enjoyable. He enriched the lives of people he touched and left them with lasting memories of laughter, songs and love. But on the inside he found himself trapped under the canopy of self-doubt and he quieted his demons with alcohol.
The memories of the good times with my dad far outweigh any negative thoughts about his illness. The way his eyes twinkled when he laughed, the daisy covered speedo he would carelessly throw on the dock so he could suntan naked, the ballroom dancing in the living room and the blueberry muffins I would bake every Sunday morning so we could all have breakfast in my parent’s bed – those are the things I hold close.
Several months after his passing, our town council honored my dad with a plaque and a newly planted tree for his dedication and commitment to the Communities In Bloom project. There was a small service at the park and I wrote this poem to read at the ceremony.
I miss you dad. Your light will always continue to shine.
As Seasons Change
We give these gifts of nature in your name,
to forever keep you near,
to take root in a place you kept close to your heart,
and represent the things you hold dear.
Your rock will remind us to always be strong,
and to remain solid in the lives we love.
And follow in the examples you gave us in life,
as you look on us from above.
Your tree will remind us to accept the changes,
of seasons that come and go.
As the tree becomes bare at times in our life,
new leaves will blossom in time to show
that nature is beautiful and life has a season,
but all things do come to an end.
And with each change and leaf that is lost,
family and friendships help mend.
Branches sway in the winds of time,
and your whispers will be heard in the breeze.
Your memory lives on in the nature around us,
the air, the rocks, the trees.