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Monday, March 19, 2007

My Dad Part 3 -- Finale, The Curtain Must Close

Part 1 -- Impact of Childhood Lessons

Part 2 -- It's a Great Day


It was March 19, 1994.…13 years ago today….and my alarm went off at 6:45am. I was in Liverpool, England, directly on the cold, dark Irish Sea, and beginning day three of our Rehearsal Camp for the British Continentals,a group that I was going to be directing on a musical tour through England, Scotland, The Netherlands, Denmark, and Germany. As I lay there trying to get every minute of sleep possible, there was a knock at my door. A telephone message had been received during the night by the camp operator. I was supposed to call my sister. My heart was broken already, I knew what message was waiting. I was exhausted. Physically but also turning like a butter churn internally. I knew I should be in a hurry to return the call but I wasn’t. I had left Boise only four days earlier after throwing myself across my father’s lap as he sat in his wheelchair at the airport -- his oxygen pumping away. And me on my hands and knees in the boarding area, bawling like a child, my luggage tossed aside. I got up from his lap and went around behind him. I put my face against his cool, old skin and bones and held him as he grunted, groaned, and tried to wave me toward the airplane. I knew the inevitable was soon coming. My god, it couldn’t be….could it? Never again would I see the life in his eyes.

As I made my way out into the early Sunday morning, I remember thinking how warm it felt especially being, literally, just across the road from the sea. I breathed deeply and heavily, trying as nearly as I could, to propel myself into calmness. The phone was ringing thousands of miles away. Her shaky, monotone, and dark voice said that “Dad passed away two hours ago.” The doctors had wanted him to stay in the Portland VA Hospital for his dehydration. But he wrote “Boise” on his notebook. He wanted to go home. A place of comfort, respite, if any were to be found. The doctor finally agreed to let my mom drive him the 450 miles to the VA Hospital in Boise and check him in. She drove through the drenching rain having to stop repeatedly to fix the windshield wipers. My amazing parents spent the last night of their 33 years together in an old roadside motel just west of Pendleton, Oregon. You just never know where the road you’re traveling is going to end up. Dad couldn’t breathe while laying down any longer so he slept in a recliner, upright. I still have the handwritten notes he wrote to the doctors and family that last afternoon. It is incredible to trace his journey by reading scribbled notes. That evening ,carbon dioxide began building up in his body. “Your husband is in critical condition and probably won’t live through the night” the nurse told my mom in the hallway outside his room. “Call your family together.” How could this be? Can’t we just put in a feeding tube…that should take care of it. Did he actually hear them saying that he wouldn’t make it through the night? His last words on paper: “I have to go to the bathroom….pee….it’s hot.” My brother and my mom were on either side of the recliner that my father was resting in. They sort of “looked at each other” at 10pm and their tired eyes told each other that he wasn’t breathing any longer. Lewis was gone. Damn that wretched Lou Gehrig’s Disease….it would never haunt him again. I walked back to my room in the warm wind just as the sun was making it’s way up over England. I’m glad it wasn’t raining that morning. I returned home the very next day. All of the way back across the globe to where I’d just come from a few days earlier.

He lay in his Navy uniform, glasses in place, and hands folded just so. You wouldn’t have believed the red, white, and blue flowers that were jam-packed into the small viewing room. The morning of his funeral, I took the car to get it washed….well, at least that’s what I used as my excuse to go, by myself, for one last visit with my father. I slipped into the Alden-Waggoner Funeral Home, turned left, and down the hall where he and I had a chat. I kissed his cold hands that had worked so hard for 62 years. And I leaned into the wooden box as far as I dared and hugged his face as tightly as I could. I thought it may break….no, wait, that’s my heart. That blip in history, my friends, will wring water from my eyes forever. The rest of the day was spent with 500 of his dearest friends at his completely overwhelming funeral--45 minutes for their long, wan faces to file past his casket. The moment or two before the lid was closed permanently is one moment of time that etches itself in my memory. “Wait,“ I wanted to shout. I would never see him again. Never. And, that was it. The lid closed and locked. His essential life lessons to me were over. Class was dismissed. There were so many of his fellow Navy men and women who volunteered to salute him that day that they had to turn them down. His impact on the people of this earth was dramatic in a horribly simplistic way. As the seven rifles cracked three times with their 21-gun salute, we jumped…but in silence…on the hillside above Boise that spring afternoon with the wind blowing. It still blows there today. The flag was folded with precision by the Navy and rested gently on my mother’s lap. As we drove away, my determined and self-assured mom staring, almost glaring, in silence--her voice broke, the wind seemingly sucked out of her lungs, and she sobbed. “I told him to wait for me but he couldn’t.”

My father never met a stranger. His infectious smile broke across the deepest of divides. I have no idea whether he knew about my sexuality or not. I have no regrets. None. I do wish that I’d done more to open myself up to him…not only in the last few short years…but throughout my whole fleeting lifetime. I wish I’d allowed him to see me for who I truly am. Time is short, my friends. Very. Don’t waste it. I wish that he’d been able to know me as a gay man….his gay son. The man that I know I am today. His spirit lives on in me, that I know. I find myself thinking like him, acting like him, even, possibly, looking like him. And, in the greatest of honors, I now use his name for my own when I can. He would be proud, I know he would. I can see his smile, his crooked teeth, hear his bright laughing voice, and feel his positive energy even today. I loved him dearly. My world isn’t the same without him in it. But in some crazy, unexplainable way, it is. He lives on in me….and that, my dear comrades, makes my journey on this earth complete.

29 comments:

SlyD said...

Wow that is so touching. You've got me crying once again. lol But it's a good crying... a remembering all the good times and great memories crying because your post reminded me of my grandma. Thanks a bunch for sharing this with all of us. Big big hugs!

Trailhead said...

Beautiful.

Not so Single Guy said...

THat was very sad..made me cry. Shame your dad was never able to read it.

Not so Single Guy said...

THat was very sad..made me cry. Shame your dad was never able to read it.

Billy said...

What a wonderfull, beautifully written series. My parents have become an integral part of me and my partners lives, also after a health scare with my dad. This has just, once again, confirmed that it's just not worth sweating the small stuff. Live every day, every moment as if it's your last. I'm sure your dad is very proud of you Lewis!

sortedlives said...

Very nice tribute to your dad. He was a wonderful man!

Wayne said...

Lewis, that got my day started with a good crying. I was out of town yesterday, so I read your last two posts this morning. It flooded me with my own memories of what my Dad went thru before he died of cancer at the age of 59.
But also the good memories of things we did.
Thank you for writing this, for your readers, and for yourself.

JoeL said...

Again so beautiful and touching.

I'm glad to hear you had a good relation between you guys.

It makes me wish...

tornwordo said...

That made me cry. In a way, I hope I go before my parents.

dbv said...

what a great and powerful story! I'm sure your father would be very proud of you!!

CTOcity said...

Well written Lewis. You have a way with words. I have kept a journal of many of the events in my life also... writing seems to be helpful to me to get thru difficult chapters of my life.

Big hugs... C

Blair said...

Your dad would be so proud of you today. The way you live your life, the way you support others, the way you live each day to the fullest, and the way you share your experiences with us to make us all better people. I am so proud of you and proud to be your soulmate and partner.

This truly makes me wish I had the same kind of relationship with my 81 year old father that you did with yours. I know now to never loose hope or faith.

Kevin said...

Amazing. How lucky you each were to have each other.

Shaney said...

An amazing tribute, filled with love, understanding & fond memories...Lewis, so beautifully captured, your words, your Father would be proud. Thankyou for sharing your memories, such a gorgeous friendship that you both had...big hugs xxx

DEREK said...

I believe he's smiling knowing he still lives through your heart. No one can take away those beautiful memories my friend.

Nathan said...

I finally get it... the Spirit of Saint Lewis.

It was nice of you to pay tribute to your Dad today. He would be so proud of you, just as I am proud of you :)

You are truly an inspiration honey.

LSL said...

Lewis. I'm finally catching up on my friends and I'm overwhelmed tonight with your stories about your dad. I've been reading through the entries and getting chills. Gosh, I don't know how much I can put into words, but thank you for sharing this. He sounds like an amazing man, and his love for you is beautiful, as is yours for him. I feel really lucky to be able to read this - and I think that's all I can say! It's overwhelming (in a good way). Thank you.

Al said...

Impressive piece Lewis. Impressive not only for the well written prose, but for the courage it took to be as real as you were.

Beliefs about the afterlife aside, I have no doubt your father knows you for the man you have become, and currently are. And of course, I have no doubt he is very proud.

Brad said...

Wow that was touching very beautiful.

Will said...

A beautifully story, gorgeously told, Lewis. I'm another man whose father never knew--our relationship was complex as the father-son dynamic can be--so I understand and share your feelings. You are a lovely man and so must he have been to have such a son.

troy said...

i need to take a walk now, i need to realize how short any life can be, i feel i know you even more, even though we've been close friends for years, thank you for sharing your fathers legacy with me

K-A said...

That was a wonderful story. I believe those life lessons are still with you and I am certain you continually have experiences, which remind you of him.

He's not truly gone from your life.

Ryan said...

the posts on your dad were just awesome. seems like what u did is open up the gates for all of us who read see your dad is still working his magic i just know he is very proud of u as we all are. awesome job bro but thats why we come here 4 the words of wisdom!

The Thunderbird said...

i will send you something privately

Robert said...

The final parting is indescribable no matter how many words we put down.

It's been 13 years, and I'm so sorry you had to be far away from your dad when he passed. Thanks for sharing your experience Lewis. xoxo

A most loving remembrance.

knottyboy said...

I put off reading these other two posts since I was an emotional mess this past week. I knew I'd be a wreck, jesus...still am. How do you say goodbye when you have no choice? How do you summarize a life and the gifts it has given to you in a glance or a kiss? It's impossible, I believe that's the science of a connection; one that will live on in you forever.

I thank you so deeply for sharing this, even though my eyes look like handbags. Thank you baby, thank you.
kb

travelling, but not in love said...

Gosh. It's such a moving post. I cried. Lots.

Cubby said...

I'm very sorry for your loss. Thank you for directing me here to read this.

Palm Springs Savant said...

Thanks for sharing this- I didn't remember reading it. Makes yesterday's ALS benefit even more meaningful to me.