My Dad suffered, and eventually passed away from Type 1 Diabetes. There are many things that people don’t know about this disease, it is widely mistaken as a disease that only affects people who are overweight. For the sake of time, and to understand this list, I will simply say that: my dad was diagnosed at the age of 8 years old, almost the entirety of his life was spent trying to stay one step ahead of this disease; eventually, he would lose his vision, suffer from heart disease that lead to quadruple bi-pass surgery, he would have his right leg amputated at the knee, and the loss of his kidney function would put him on dialysis. But I’m not writing to complain about his ailments. Rather, I would like to share with you, from the perspective of a child with a sick parent, what he did to make things easier on me and my siblings.
1. He kept us laughing – If you knew my Dad, you’re in no way surprised that this would be the first thing I list. He had that Dad humor that belonged (in the past!) on the 3 Stooges. He was always making up songs about us, and repeating the same jokes over and over (and over) again. This is something I will never forget and can never thank him enough for. Sometimes I catch myself repeating one of my Dad’s jokes, and now that is when I feel he is most with me, when even after death he can still make me laugh. He would make a joke about anything, and he was his own best audience, because he would laugh harder than any of us – especially when my siblings and I were teenagers.
I remember when his vision started to get very bad, his best new joke was every blind joke you can imagine, “I can even see that – and I’m blind,” “don’t ask the blind guy for directions,” ect. He knew how to take the hand he was dealt and laugh it away. I do not remember when I realized my Dad was going to die and that is because he never changed, no matter how bad things got, he always kept us laughing, he was magical in that way.
2. He never complained – Perhaps the reason why he never complained was because he had suffered for as long as he could remember and had become accustom to doctors’ visits, bad news and pain. But whatever the reason, it made our lives much easier. I know this is not an easy task, which is why I brag about it. There must have been times when he bottled up much of what he was feeling to spare us the mental burden of having to worry about him – something we did regardless – I wish I could have been there for him emotionally, but I know now, as an adult, that there was no way for me to carry that weight as a child. I cannot imagine the torture and worry he felt, and that breaks my heart, but I am thankful that he allowed us to live our lives as though the dark cloud was not there. He allowed us some normalcy, despite the inevitable crushing pain we would feel at the loss of a parent.
3. He made us feel special – When you lose someone, there are days that will forever be hard, maybe an anniversary or a birthday, or the day they died, maybe all of the above. For me, the hardest day in that first year that I lived without him was my birthday. I had no idea, no warning, I woke up on my 28th birthday, almost a year after he passed, and felt the enormous void of his loss. It would never be the same again, and the reason I felt this way was because he knew how to make us feel special. My dad was our best audience and our biggest cheerleader. My Dad was the parent that woke us up at 11:59pm the night before our birthday just to be the first person to sing HAPPY BIRTHDAY as loud as he can. He would usually imitate Marylin Monroe singing “Happy birthday Mr. President” and we would scream for him to “go away I’m sleeping!” As we grew older the tradition continued with phone calls at 11:59pm, and a recounting of our birth story, it never ended. Until one day it did end. And only do I now realize the magnitude of what was happening, he was always putting himself second to make us feel special.
As he grew sicker, when we would receive bad news he would always say that he was glad it was happening to him. That he would bear the burden of this rotten disease if that meant that none of his children or grandchildren would have to suffer.
4. He kept dreaming– My Dad owned a roofing business when we were young, and after his heart attack he was no longer able to keep his business. I am sure it was hard for him to watch my mom work to raise the 5 of us without being able to contribute but he kept trying. He always had a new endeavor he was working on, he never gave up on himself, and I will always remember watching his passion sway from idea to idea. He was a philanthropist because most of his ideas were focused on helping others, but he also held a few odd jobs, for a brief period of time he had a talent agent and would do modeling jobs, he even got a few small campaigns.
This may not seem important, but it was, because he truly never gave up. When you’re a child you see things, you’re aware of things even if they aren’t told to you. I knew my Dad was sick, I knew things weren’t going well, but I watched him fight to have a life, and it taught me so many things. It taught me about perseverance, about fighting for what I want, he taught me to live in the moment, and he taught me that nothing is beyond my reach. He also taught me that I cannot always control my circumstance, but I can control my disposition, and that is the thing my Dad is most remembered for… rising above. The priest that said his burial mass was a good friend of my Dad’s, his name is Father Hillary, and he described my Dad’s disposition best when he quoted the popular saying “Life is not waiting for the storm to pass, it is learning to dance in the rain.”
5. He left us with happy memories – This is, probably the most important, and the hardest to achieve. When my Dad passed, after suffering for so long, there was a sense of relief. It took me a long time to allow that feeling to take place in my heart but it is ever-present today. I miss him every moment, but I am relieved that he is not suffering any longer. This is important to note because, despite his suffering, I still have so many happy memories of life with my Dad. About a month before he passed may have been the happiest, my family and I were on a long weekend at the Jersey shore and he wasn’t feeling well. We told him to take a nap and we were going to the amusements at the boardwalk, we would be back in a few hours to have dinner with him. Well to our surprise he showed up at the boardwalk and went on the amusement park rides with us all afternoon. He laughed with us, rode in the bumper cars and on the roller coaster, and gave us one happy memory to hold on to forever.
I’m wise enough to realize he probably did not have the best day that day. He probably would have felt much better if he gave some rest to his suffering body… jolting around on the roller coaster and walking on his prostatic all afternoon was probably not as great of a moment for him. But that was my Dad, he smiled through bad news, and fought through the pain, to ease our hearts. He left us with a million happy memories, and tucked away his pain when he could to smile and be with us.
There were bad times too, many of them, probably more than I could ever count. But when I reflect on life with my Dad, it is impossible to only think of those bad times, and he worked hard to make it that way. He worked to have a legacy that went beyond an illness and chose to be alive, every single day that he was dying. I hope that if I am ever in a position that my fate is decided for me, I have the strength of my Dad and make a life that goes far beyond my circumstance.