11132013Windwashed406AT1wpWind Washed An image taken on the day my dad died, 23 years later. I took 31 images that day. This is my favorite.
November 13, 2016
Today, 26 years ago, November 13, 1990, my father died alone in a hospital in Madison, WI. He was 69 years old. For several years after his death I held a resentment against my mother. Dad had mesothelioma, probably acquired while on one of the few commercial jobs he worked as an electrician.
He had one job in Green Bay, WI., in the early ’60’s, wiring a new hospital there. He came home on weekends, and spent the week in the fall and winter living and working in Green Bay. Mom hated it. She finally convinced to find work in Wausau.
I think that is the job where he first inhaled asbestos while working. You do not need to inhale much of that stuff. Asbestos was used in many public buildings as insulation at the time.
Fast forward to the late 1980’s. He started mentioning a constant pain in his chest, and being short of breath a lot. He said it was probably just a cough and it would go away with medication or just be gone soon. It didn’t.
He would wake up at night and not be able to breath, except when he sat up in bed. When it got to the point where he couldn’t sleep he went to the doctor. The doctor sent him to Madison for a biopsy on his lungs. He had several biopsy’s, each one lead to the sole conclusion of mesothelioma.
By now Bobbi and I and the boys had moved to Rochester, MN. She applied for a job at Mayo Clinic in the surgery ward and was accepted. We were out of jobs at the time, managed to sell our house and move there. I worked as an Asst. Manager of the video/photo dept. in a grocery store.
We went back home often on weekends and visited mom and dad. At the time there was hardly any treatment for mesothelioma. Dad was in and out of the hospital in Madison a few times. He finally straight out asked the doctor how much time he had. 18 months, maybe less, maybe a little more.
When we found out, I calculated how long he had been in pain before going to the doctor. He had put up with the discomfort and gradually increasing pain for about 18 months before seeing a doctor about it. I remember him and mom getting ready to leave our house after a visit near Watertown, WI., when he first complained of his chest pain.
We were all standing in the living room. I gave him a big hug, and he pushed me away saying, “Not so hard.” He’d never done that before. Intuition told me something was wrong. But I denied it, let it go, and pushed it to the back of my mind.
After one of his visits to Madison, he came home and he and mom attempted to resume their life as best they could. We drove down to visit with them at Fort Atkinson, WI., when we were able to get days off on weekends. A few days after coming back from one of our visits, we got a call from mom. Dad had fallen in the living room and couldn’t get up.
Mom had called the ambulance and they had taken him back to Madison. He was there for about a week, maybe a little more. We got the call early one morning while still in bed. He had died earlier that morning.
After the funeral I got to thinking about mom calling the ambulance and having him taken to the hospital. I got upset. I thought she should have left him at the house. She could have stayed with him and let him die in her arms on the floor in the hallway.
I carried that resentment around for awhile. She could have let him have the dignity of being with her, of him letting go in familiar surroundings with someone he loved all of his life. He died alone, in the middle of the night, in a strange place with people who did not know him, and probably did not care.
It took me a while to understand mom was clinging to a life they had led together for many years. She didn’t want to let go of that. Who would? She was hoping he would hang on longer, at least for a few weeks or a month more.
I let go of my feelings of resentment and abandonment. Mom did the only thing she knew to do to keep him alive longer. She was hoping it would work out in his favor, one more time.
After so many years together a person grabs whatever straws are available, even the thinnest ones, hoping they won’t break. Letting go of a loved one, even when you know they are going to die, is probably the hardest part of any loving relationship. So you fight the reality with as much denial as you can muster.
Now it is a fast forward to today. Today is a day to celebrate his life, to remember him as a strong, quiet man with a gentle sense of humor who always, like mom, found the good in people, and did his best to help others do their best.
I am grateful for your visit. Thank you.