In writing this, I do realize that I am a little late writing a goodbye letter to 2021. Here we are, 7 weeks in to 2022 and I am still hung up on the end of 2021. This could be for several reasons, but mostly 2021 was such an awful year and I am in a lot of ways still struggling to process all of it.
I know that I am not the only person who had a rough year in 2021. For many, they might say a lot of people had it worse than I did. That is true, I know there are people who had it worse than I did. However, this thing we call life is not a competition. I think sometimes we all get so caught up in it, and think even to ourselves that “so and so had it harder than I did and I should be thankful for what I have.” Let’s remember that just because someone else may have it harder than we did or do currently, that doesn’t mean our struggles are not important. We are allowed to have pain and to grieve. Even if someone else has it worse than us.
At the end of 2020, my father got very sick. We knew he was sick, but did not realize how severe it was. He was struggling and we tried for weeks to convince him to go to the hospital. We knew some of the pain, he had some swelling all over his body which made it painful to walk. He couldn’t get his pants on or his shoes. He had a hard time breathing. He was incredibly stubborn, and being alert and oriented he outright refused to go to the doctor. After the first of the year he got a little worse, and eventually took himself to the hospital.
Dad had always been a stubborn man, and secretive to a fault. Maybe not so much secretive, but he did keep a lot of things to himself. He did refuse to tell anyone how bad he was feeling and exactly what his ailments were. This all came to a head when he drove himself to the hospital. Immediately upon arrival, the staff knew he was in bad shape and they jumped in to action. He was immediately placed on a ventilator to take the stress off his body while he labored for breath, and they began treating his ailments.
Over the course of his three week hospitalization, we learned several things about his health. These were things that we had suspected up to this point, but he had not been officially diagnosed with. Dad had a very bad infection of double pneumonia, which had progressed to the point that it exacerbated his other underlying issues. They were able to clear the infection out of his lungs and get him back on the right track. However, he was diagnosed with Congestive Heart Failure (CHF), emphysema, and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). We had suspected that he had those ailments already, but it was confirmed with this hospital stay. He left the hospital with these new diagnoses, in a much weakened state, unable to continue working as he had done his entire life.
The entire rest of 2021 was spent watching the man who I had always viewed as the strongest person struggle to come to terms with the thought of being dependent. He had always been independent, doing everything himself that he needed done, rarely asking for help. Now, he could not walk to the door some days.
Like with anything else, some days were better than others. We did have many a Saturday or Sunday morning breakfast, a couple of fishing trips, and Sunday afternoon lunches at his house watching the kiddos play in the dirt. He would often send us pictures or texts after finishing a motorcycle ride letting us know that he had a good ride. I like to think he had a good summer.
We spent time last summer reflecting on some of the important things that we learned from Dad, or things that we got from him. Dad spent his life taking care of others, that was his legacy. He helped raise his brothers and sisters, then he raised my brother and me. It wasn’t always easy, and we were poor. I believe with every fiber of my being that he did the best he could with the resources he had available to him. He was a good dad, and did what he could to teach us.
From my dad, I got two major things: my love for music and my love for books. Some of my favorite memories were days as a kid that we were loaded up into the pick up truck and drove around singing along to the radio. Dad loved music, one of his favorite things was watching American Idol and trying to pick the winner early on in the show. Most seasons, his pick made it to the top ten. He always made sure we had access to books, and encouraged us to read anything and everything. He would always send us with money for the Scholastic Book Fair, and we made a lot of trips to the library, used book store and my favorite Barnes and Noble. Most days, he spent his evening reading and often fell asleep with a book on his face.
Dad was a man of few words. He didn’t say a lot, and really taught me to try to see things from other people’s perspective. If I had a dollar for every time I went to him complaining, and he explained how the other person might feel, I would have a lot of dollars.
Dad loved teaching other people. He was a manager at his job for along time, and in that time one of his greatest joys was taking the young employees under his wing and teaching them. He treated them like they were his own kids, and many of them came to see him as a father figure. He loved taking them fishing and teaching them. Many of those young men came to his funeral service. We cried together, and I told them how much my dad had loved them.
Despite always being so strong, Dad grew tired towards the end of 2021. He couldn’t do the things he loved anymore, and struggled with even the most basic of tasks. He was tired and weary, and ultimately ready to say goodbye.
On New Years Eve, we called an ambulance for him. He was still alert and oriented, and refused any care other than to be made comfortable. He was adamant that he did not want to be on the machines again. He passed away at around 3 AM on January 1.
I still do not believe it is real, and can’t fathom that I will never hear his voice again. I will never again receive one of his text messages that ended in ROFLMFKNAO (rolling on floor laughing my f*****g a** off). I will never again get to hug him, or watch him play and laugh with his grandbabies.
One of the last things that my dad said to us was “don’t have a service or anything for me, I didn’t like anyone anyway.” We all knew that wasn’t true, and we were all humbled by the amount of people who showed up and showed support, shared stories, shared pictures, and shared love and comfort with us. He would have loved that.
Gone from this world, but never forgotten. Rest in peace, Dad. Love you always.