Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Tribute to a Father, Part II: The Day My Daddy Died

The Day My Daddy Died

I woke up this morning, as I do many mornings, with a song in my head. Only the tune that landed in my head today was related to what was going to happen in just a little while. The song, "Papa Was a Rolling Stone", by the Temptations opens with the lines I'm still hearing now as I
write this:

"It was the third of September.

The day I'll always remember,

Cause that was the day my daddy died."

Today George Myers, my father, passed on, and I awoke this morning knowing that it was going to happen. We'd been dreading it for four days now, knowing that any hope of survival was near zero percent. From the moment he was taken into the hospital, we were told that he had gone far too long without oxygen and that his brain was no longer functioning. As the hours and days passed, we knew this was the one time he wasn't going to beat it.

We'd decided late last night to remove the support machines keeping his body alive, but we had to put it off for today because one of us was unable to be on hand. It was an unpleasant situation, to say the least. We all wanted to get past this anguish. And having to wait until morning, waking up with the knowledge that your dad was going to die, is just too odious a circumstance to be in.

Twenty eight years ago, my dad was diagnosed with Diabetes. At first, none of us had been too familiar with the disease, but what we did know it was controllable one if you followed the guidelines associated with the having the condition. In the beginning, dad was great about it. He quit smoking. He stopped drinking. Changing his dietary habits, though, proved too difficult for him and this allowed this debilitating sickness to attack his body slowly and steadily for so long.

Early on, dad's kidneys began to malfunction and he was sent to undergo dialysis treatments three times a week. He was placed on a list for a kidney transplant. I hadn't known what dialysis was at first, and I don't wish to speak of it here, but I know from dad's experiences that it is not pleasant.

As is common with diabetics, one problem invariably leads to other problems. To make things easier for his dialysis treatments, his doctor placed a plastic shunt in his arm. I recall almost immediately there were infections, blockages, and other problems associated with the multiple shunts that were eventually placed within his arms. These problems foreshadowed the more serious and painful things to come. I can't possibly recall the numerous problems dad's experienced over the years, but here are some I remember:

-While working in a local supermarket, a 2 liter bottle of soda fell off a shelf and landed on dad's big toe. An infection began to materialize. That was in May. By August, the infection had gotten so bad; he had to be hospitalized for over six weeks. It was the first time we thought we were going to lose him, but he persevered and eventually pulled through.

-A little over ten years ago, dad got a call that a person with a donor kidney had passed and he needed to get to the hospital ASAP. In what turned out to be his happiest hospital stay, dad's surgery was successful and he got to spend Christmas with the greatest gift he's ever received. Dialysis was now a thing of the past.

-About two years ago, dad began to have trouble hearing in his right ear. It was soon discovered that he had a massive, benign tumor growing on his cerebrum. With his state of health, surgical treatment was not an option, so he underwent 39 radiation treatments. Soon after the treatments had finished, his hearing improved once again, but his new kidney had begun to fail. In what turned out to be the beginning of his end, dialysis treatments once again became a necessity.

-A more recent infection on his foot hadn't been responding to treatments. Intravenous antibiotics were no help as circulation problems were preventing the medicines from reaching the infected site. A surgical bypass on his leg was ordered by his vascular doctor. During pre-surgical testing, though, a blockage was found in his heart and a resulting angioplasty put off the vascular bypass. The cardiac procedure was successful, and he was released from the hospital with the infected ulcer still oozing and painful on his foot.

-Two weeks ago, and six weeks after the angioplasty, dad was brought back in to the hospital for the original vascular bypass to help fight the infection, which had gotten so bad that he had developed tendinitis in his Achilles tendon which prevented him from walking anymore. He had had to give up his job and his car, which crushed him. This surgery was successful, and the infection had begun to heal.

These episodes represent only a fraction of the seemingly countless health-related issues dad has had to contend with. Late night phone calls became all too familiar. Every time there was a new emergency, the situation led from a dire to insignificant, a false alarm. Dad took each case in stride, with rarely an utterance of complaint, even through two toe amputations (Though he always hated the needles!). We became too used to these episodes, expecting the same result each time. We'd lulled ourselves into a belief that dad was a fighter who'd always bounce back and be around for years to come. But it wasn't meant to be this time.

The day after dad came out of the hospital, he experienced this episode which ultimately led us to today. Now I've skipped ahead a bit from the first part of this story, but this part of dad's story is more pertinent to the freedom from suffering he earned today. Having been faced with the decision we all made, we knew we had no choice. Dad deserved no more pain.

In the end, he passed peacefully with his wife, his six children and other significant people in his life all around him. The room was filled with anguish, devotion, love and a sense of collective relief as George finally let go of all that pain.

So long dad! I love you!

It was the sixth of May...

Tribute to a Father, Part II

Tribute to a Father, Part II
Today George Myers, my father, passed on, and I awoke this morning knowing that it was going to happen.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Tribute to a Father, Part I

George Myers is my dad. I want to share his story as a tribute to him, an acknowledgement to a man often overlooked by the people around him. My father's always been a simple, unassuming man, whose mere existence invoked few accolades. As a human being, he's had a lot to offer: a strong work ethic, a sense of humor, and a kindness towards others. As a father though, he showed another more personal and not so pleasant side to his personality. His influence has had far reaching consequences for those around him, namely his wife and his six children. At the moment, he's fighting for his life in the hospital, and it doesn't look good. It's clearly the latest, and most serious, of what seems like a lifetime of setbacks.

My relationship with my dad was very tumultuous during my formative years. In younger days, he and I clashed often, so often that for many years I wholeheartedly despised him. I used to pray to God nightly that mom would divorce him so that we could all be happy without the misery he brought to all of our lives. Growing up, life was miserable whenever he was around. None of us ever received the fatherly love that those around us always seemed to get. Looking back all I can remember is resentment towards his children that we all felt as the source of the financial burden he lived with for many years.

Life is the greatest teacher, and one of the things I've come to learn in subsequent years is that we all tend to mellow with time. Problems fade from memory and are no longer pertinent to our daily lives. My relationship with my father is no exception. As I grew older and eventually moved out on my own, things warmed up between him and I. As he began his long suffering bout with diabetes, his acrimony towards his family began to diminish. For the first time in my life, in my mid-twenties, I was able to have personal conversations with my dad, all the while looking him straight in the eye.

Over the years I came to realize a lot about my dad, and I began to understand the circumstances surrounding our tumultuous childhood with my father. I've come to recognize that in many ways the mistakes he made were not his fault, but were derived from the circumstances of his own upbringing. Here's some of his story:

George Myers was born on April 2, 1941 in Trieste, Italy. Trieste is a small city located in the northeastern tip of Italy, and has had a chaotic history of war and occupation, much like my dad's life. Though no one, including him, knows the true story of his birth, we believe he was fathered by a Hungarian soldier passing through the city during World War II. Whether this man was killed in the war or simply was an anonymous donor of sperm none of us will ever know.

Dad's early childhood years were marked by War. Nazi's occupied the city for two years, and my grandmother Vittoria, did what she had to do to survive. Eventually, once the tide of the war had turned, Allied troops moved in, and Vittoria met an American soldier, Norman Myers. Norman fell in love with Vittoria and eventually brought her back to the States along with George, whom he adopted. Dad was seven years old when he arrived in the US.

For the next ten years or so, the Myers family lived a soldier's life, moving around from army base to army base in various parts of the country. I recall photo albums of happy, albeit brief, times spent in places such as Kentucky, Alabama, and Alaska (one of dad's favorite places!). Apparently, after several years of marriage, Vittoria, for reasons none of us may ever know, began to have extra-marital affairs. The result was a bitter divorce from Norman. Once again, Vittoria and George were on their own, settling in the Bronx, New York. The bitterness of the divorce had been so deep that Norman never contacted my father again.

To this point in time, although there had finally been a father figure in dad's life, daily living still centered mostly around George and his mother. Dad was left to learn life's lessons on his own, as Vittoria tended to her own needs over that of my father's. The consequences of this childhood led to an adult life full of heartache, financial trouble, and hardship as the head of his own family of six children. He unwittingly created a difficult life for himself and his family without the valuable foundation needed to raise a family.

As I watch his lifeless body in the hospital, I feel remorse for all he's been through in his life. He never deserved many of the pains he got in life. The past twenty-plus years of his life have been filled with a lot of anguish for him, his family and those around him who love him. Much of the mental pain experienced in the past is now nothing but a distant series of insignificant memories. We're all here with him now, giving him the love he deserves.

To be continued...