Wednesday, November 2, 2011

His Favorite Color Was Red

My father died this summer. I don't think I'll ever be able to stand outside on a hot, humid day again without remembering the first moments of my grief. Smoking a cigarette, walking in circles in the grass, just trying to get it together enough to drive home.

He had been sick for a long time, kidney failure, heart attacks, diabetes, liver problems from his medication an occasional seizure thrown in just for fun and scariest of all, a stroke. He started getting sick when I was in high school; we actually celebrated my 16th birthday in his hospital room, so we had been living with the reality of his illness for almost 20 years.

You think that you're prepared for something like this. We all know it would happen, and as more time passed we knew that it might happen soon. But we never really believed it would happen. When he went into the hospital for the last time, in mid-August we all assumed he'd be back home soon, maybe on dialysis, but home.

On August 29th, I stood in the ICU, where I had visited so many times, and watched my mother let him go. They had been trying to revive him for at least 30 minutes, while we drove to the hospital, and when we arrived she told them to stop, that they had done all that could be expected. She thanked them, and I cannot imagine the strength that must have taken, to thank the people who couldn't bring him back and to be the one to make the decision that it was time to stop trying.

I miss him so much, and whenever I see a photo of him it hits me again. The thought that I'll never hug him, never feel the scratchiness of his stubble as he kisses my cheek or hear his laugh, it's like a punch to the gut that takes my breath away.

We talk about him every day. I'm determined that Alex will know how much his Papaw loved him and hopeful that he will remember how much he loved his Papaw in return.

This is what I remember:

flying through the air as a child, as he swung me in his arms, knowing that he would never drop me

floating in the ocean with his hands under my back, learning to swim

sitting on his shoulders in that same warm water as a storm rolled in, feeling the waves crash over us, but never being afraid because his strength would keep us safe

sitting in our kitchen, watching him cut up the steak for the stroganoff my mother would be making for dinner

learning to shoot - his large, calloused hands wrapped around my small ones

climbing on his tow truck in the summer, "helping" him wash it, but mostly just getting squirted with the hose

Christmas mornings where the joy in his eyes outshone anything my brother and I were feeling, just so happy to see his kids happy

walking down the aisle towards my soon-to-be husband, my hand on his arm, it felt like floating

the first time he held my son, so tiny, and the gentle love I could see as he cradled Alex in his arms

the way he loved my mother and how they showed me, together, that marriage isn't always easy but it's so worth the work

a million more small moments - the wonderful, which I will hold on to as tightly as I can, and the fights and friction that come from strong, conflicting personalities living in the same house, which I will let go of

I will miss him for the rest of my life.

Love you, Daddy.


  1. Very well spoken Rachel.

    I only met your Dad during our December, 2008 Disney World trip. But what I loved about Tim is that he helped make you who you are.

    He will live on through you and your actions just as Alex will live on through you.

    What you have learned is that life is short and we must live every day as if it's our last.

    Patti and I wish you nothing but peace and love for you, Jym, Suzanne and Alex. I am glad that you guys have come into my life.

  2. Thank you, Rachel, for writing this. I was so afraid that the bad memories outweighed the good ones.

    Tim was not always an easy person to live with, but he was a very loving person, and he loved you more than you can ever imagine. Your love for Alex comes close, but I think your father felt everything, both good and bad, far more than the typical person.

    I loved, and continue to love, Tim, through good and bad; but there were some days that I liked him more and some days that I liked him less. Such is the fabric of a long-term relationship.

    He was such a fighter, healthwise, and I'm so glad that we got to have him as long as we did. None of the doctors expected him to live as long as he did. But I wish we could have had more time with him. I miss him so much. I know it was time for him to go, but I don’t have to like it.

    Each day, I play through, in my mind, those last days in the hospital, asking myself what I might have done differently, what I could have insisted that the doctors do, what I should have said to him during that one semi-lucid day that he had, the day before he died. There are so many things that I wish I had told him, but all I said was, "I love you. It's going to be okay," while I cuddled him as best I could with all the tubes and machines. I didn’t want him to worry or be scared. And, like you, I wanted to believe that it was, in fact, going to be okay, just like every other time he’d been in the hospital.

    Tim and I hugged and kissed a lot, probably more than the average together-37-years-couple; but the one thing I regret most, I believe, was that I didn’t hug and kiss Tim more. I so very much wish that, for just one more time, I could hug him, kiss him, and tell him that I love him. So, tonight, before you go to sleep, give Jym an extra hug and an extra kiss. And when you put him down for the night, give Alex an extra hug and kiss, and tell him that it’s from me. And while you’re at it, give him a hug and kiss for Papaw, too. There’s no such thing as too many hugs and kisses. I know your dad would agree.