It’s the kind of thing everyone knows will eventually happen, but I don’t think I ever really felt ready for it. He reached out to me back in early January to tell me that he was feeling unwell and wanted us to talk more frequently, but feeling unwell is something he’s been telling me about for the past 15 years. Whenever he was feeling left out of family affairs for too long, he would call my mom, sister or I to tell us he wasn’t well and that he needed to talk to us. When he didn’t really need us, he was nowhere to be found.
He had a weakened immune system and contracted an infection that rapidly spread through his body and to his brain, within a few days, he was starting to act confused and was starting to show signs of problems. By the time we realized how serious it was, he was having a hard time knowing where he was, or who members of his family were, the first time I saw him in the hospital, he couldn’t remember what my name was, although he seemed to recognize me. He was going through the ebbs and flows of treatments and early on, it seemed as though he would make a recovery. About a week later, he thought he was living in the 80’s and couldn’t figure out where he was.
The last time I saw him, I went to visit him alone. By this point he was no longer responsive, but I was hopeful that somewhere he was still able to hear me. I sat with him for a few hours and just talked at him. Those who know me know I have a really hard time talking for the sake of talking, so talking to my dad who wasn’t responding at all made me question what I was even doing there. I decided to persevere through, and talk to him about things that I wish we had talked about when he was still himself. I told him about my love of snowboarding, described to him the scene I see whenever I’m alone on the mountains in the quiet of a beautiful day, surrounded by the trees, nature and snow. I explained to him that this feeling of quiet retreat from everything and everyone, of interior peace is the reason that I go out there, hoping that somehow sharing this experience would paint a picture in his mind if he could still hear me. The last thing I told him about, was my earliest memory in life of him rushing me to the hospital when I was only a little boy. I told him how I remember him holding my hand and telling me everything was going to be ok, while doctors were stitching my head back together. I told him that things would be ok, and I left. He passed away less than 2 hours later.
I wrote this speech to commemorate him at a celebration of life held in his honour:
In many ways, dad reminded me of a true gipsy, he picked up old stuff all the time, moved around a lot and was always trying to work on some kind of angle, finding ways to beat the system, whether it was casinos or governments. Whenever we were at restaurants together, he would send me home with some packets of ketchup or pepper, telling me: “you never know when you’ll need them”. I remember once he showed up at my house, with a huge bag full of miniature bottles of whiskey, or rye, told me a long story about how his boss liked to stay at hotels and take the bottles with him, then had given all these bottles to dad and that he thought I should have them. It took me years to get through those.
He loved buying old beat up cars, fixing them and selling them. I’m pretty sure he technically has stolen a car from each of his direct family members at some point in the past 15 years. I remember the day clearly where the transmission on my VW rabbit died, he told me he was towing it to his place and that it would be fixed up in a few days, and that I could come by and pick it up then. Well weeks went by, I stopped at his house and let me tell you, that car was long gone, never did find out what happened to it, though he denied ever having it.
He moved around, a lot, most of the time because he was always trying to find a better life for himself and his family. Many know that we ended up in BC by packing everything we owned in the back of an Econoline van, we got in there with our 100lbs german shepherd and essentially lived in it as we crossed the country and found ourselves a new home.
My relationship with dad was complicated, I know, so are a lot of family relationships. I learned at lot about life watching him and learning not by following his example, but by doing the complete opposite of what he did, learning from his mistakes. The most important lesson he thought me is how to fend for myself, and although I didn’t realize it at the time, it’s one of the most important lessons to teach. Like many men of his generation, dad didn’t talk about his feelings much. We didn’t have many talks where we got to share how we felt, but I think those talks are probably the ones I remember the most.
He didn’t have an easy life. Dad was one of the hardest working people I know, so many people he worked with over the years admired his work ethics. He was brilliant at understanding the inner workings of mechanical systems, whether fixing things around the house, cars or giant truck engines, there was nothing he couldn’t figure out. I always admired that about him.
I wish he would have been around longer to spend more time with his grandkids, I know how excited he was to become a grandpa. But I guess it’s up to those who knew him to keep the memories and lessons he’s leaving behind fresh in our minds and hearts in his honour. To dad