I just returned from an unexpected trip back to the United States. After only one month in Thailand, I received word that my dad passed away. He left too soon, and not only was he my father, but he was also our biggest fan.
Dad Died – Our Biggest Fan
My phone rang at 6am on a Saturday morning. The first time it rang I silenced it. Although I recognized the area code as that of my parents, I didn’t recognize the number. I rarely answer the phone unless I’m expecting a call. I actually hate talking on the phone, and I never answer the phone on a cold call when I don’t know who it is.
Since my family and I usually just text each other, a phone call with my parent’s area code raised a sense of dread within me.
Then, almost immediately, the phone rang again. In the couple of seconds between the time I picked up the phone and actually answered it, the thought went through my head. “Who died? Who could it be? My mom, brother, sister, dad?”
I remember those couple of seconds vividly, as if they happened in a slow lapse of time that allowed me to analyze every detail. I felt my heart pick up pace in my chest.
When I answered the phone, it was my sister on the other end. In the slow drift of time, I remembered that I didn’t update her phone number when she changed it recently, and that’s why the caller ID didn’t show me a name.
“Johnny”, she said in a shaky voice. “Dad died. Me and mom are at the hospital with him right now. He’s dead”.
I simultaneously felt feelings of shock and relief. Relief that it was not my mother, or my siblings that I had momentarily feared, and shock that it was actually my father.
Although it was shocking, it was not a total surprise. He had diabetes that he did not attend to well, and I always feared this call would come sooner than later.
Later, the coroner would confirm that he had a heart attack.
I finished the brief phone call with my sister, and told Ali what had happened. She held me as I laid in silence for awhile. I didn’t know what to do, say, or feel.
I decided that I had to get to St. Louis as quickly as possible, and that I would go alone since both Ali and I going back at the last minute would cost us 2 months of living expenses.
I felt alone and isolated from my family on the other side of the planet. I decided to make a Facebook post because I actually wanted the thoughts and prayers that would inevitably be offered. I needed some acknowledgment and comfort from my friends and family.
As I looked at my dad in the photo, the emotions hit me like a flood.
That’s when it really hit me. I posted our recent family photo along with a caption of what had transpired. As I looked at my dad in the photo, the emotions hit me like a flood. I began to cry uncontrollably, and would continue to do so for the next 4 or 5 hours.
I refreshed my Facebook feed, constantly scanning all of the comments and condolences. I browsed through photos, and was consoled by the support that rolled in. I was grateful for Facebook, and the ability to be instantly connected to the compassion that was expressed.
I tried to remember the last time I had spoken with him. I supposed it was when he dropped us off at the airport the last time we visited. I recalled how he hugged me tightly, and told me I did good for marrying Ali. We had a good visit, and parted on good terms.
Although I found it a chore to talk to him on the phone, we texted each other frequently. We have a family group on Facebook messenger, and randomly communicate through that.
Return to St. Louis
I returned to St. Louis to be there for my family. After having cried so much on that first day of the news, I felt mostly devoid of emotion. It’s as if my well had gone dry. I was numb and coupled with exhaustion from jet lag, I could offer no more tears for a couple of days.
I offered to speak the eulogy at my dad’s memorial service. I was the oldest, it would be expected of me. I didn’t think my siblings or mother would be up to the task of public speaking. I’m a yoga teacher. It’s what I do.
Oddly, on a couple of occasions over the years, I had morbidly envisioned giving my father’s eulogy. What would I say about a man who often insulted people with crass comments and crude humor?
I was overwhelmed by the amount of people that showed up. Friends of my dad’s past arrived. Names I knew from the endless stories he would tell. Being one of eight children, our rather large family came to honor his memory. Despite my father’s shortcomings in respectable banter, a lot of people cared about him and cared about us.
The pastor that was overseeing the memorial service called me up to speak sooner than I expected he would. It was almost immediately.
As I walked up and stood in front of everyone, I looked around. I knew I had to avoid too much eye contact with my immediate family less I should break down. I took a deep breath, and reminded myself to keep doing so, and to take my time to say what I needed to say.
I recounted the phone call with my sister. I acknowledged my dad’s often insulting life commentary, and noted that his words had likely pissed everyone in the room off at least once. That got a laugh…
I surmised that this way of his was likely a defense mechanism that he used to hide hurt feelings. He would lash out instead of telling you how he felt. He had a big heart, and didn’t know how to appropriately talk about things that bothered him.
I talked about how my dad would have done anything for me and his family, and that he had come through for me in a big way on more than one occasion. I mentioned that I made it a point of not asking for too much from him for fear of taking advantage of his generosity.
I had a good childhood. I’ve had a great life. My dad is a huge reason why. He has always been there for me: coaching sports, family vacations, offering supportive encouragement. I acknowledged him for this. Told him that I loved him, and that he would be missed.
I didn’t say everything that I wanted to say. I was beginning to lose my composure, and had to wrap it up.
It was a really nice service. It was also emotional and exhausting. It was one of the hardest days of my entire life, and I was glad when it was over.
Even though my parents were still technically together, they lived separately. It’s odd, but it worked for them.
My dad was laid off in 2008 like a lot of others. He never returned to work, and settled on retirement. Despite his free time, he did little to upkeep his home. It’s like he just quit on it.
One of the things I decided to do while I was home was clean his house. I felt that my mother would not be up to the task of going through all of their things in an objective manner, and took it upon myself to accomplish this task.
It was as if he hadn’t cleaned in 6 years. The place was filthy!
I rented a 20 foot dumpster, and began to systematically go through the house throwing everything away that would not likely be used within the next year. Every closet and cupboard was full. My sister and I found things in the closets that we had left when we moved out over 20 years ago. It wasn’t quite as bad as I’ve seen on Hoarders, but he definitely did have a problem with throwing things out.
I filled that dumpster up. I pulled out every piece of furniture and deep cleaned the entire house. It took me the better part of a week to complete it.
My brother, sister, and mom all helped, and symbolically there was comfort in cleaning everything from top to bottom. It’s as if we were closing a door on a chapter of our lives. It was a bonding experience for us, and it kept our minds occupied.
Back In Thailand
Now back in Thailand, it all seems like a blur. It’s as if I have to wonder if all of that really happened. Ali has been amazing. She is there for me in every way and so supportive. I hope that it’s a long time before she has to experience something like this.
We have been overwhelmed with living here and besides our Instagram account, haven’t been as prolific about documenting the experience as we had initially planned. We hope to change that. Next week we’re going to spend some time on an island to recuperate, and renew our focus.
I do miss my family already, but I have always pursued my own life as earnestly as I could. My dad would want it this way. After all, he was our biggest fan…