My Journal – The End;The Beginning

The End/The Beginning  –  Dad’s Death/My Mission

 My normal routine on Sundays was to go to 7:30 AM Mass at Holy Cross Church in Salamanca, a few miles from where I live in Kill Buck, NY.  I liked this time as the church was not heavily attended and the people who do go to that Mass are not people that I know that well so I am better able to concentrate on what I am there for and can more easily reflect on what I am thankful for and what I need help with.  Sometimes people that you know are a diversion and it’s more difficult to focus.  After Mass every week I would go to the Unimart on the corner of Broad Street and State Park Avenue and pick up four cups of coffee for my mom, dad, Aunt Antoinette and myself.  Hazel, the girl that worked Sundays, was always ready for me with a fresh pot of decaf and a carrier. 

It was customary each Sunday – I’d get 3 – 12 Ounce cups and one 20-ouncer.  Mom and Ant liked just cream and dad and I liked flavored creamers, usually french vanilla.  Hazel would even come around the counter with the fresh pot and carrier and pour the coffee for me and then dump the rest in the carafe.  I guess we are creatures of habit.  I always put dad’s cup with the flavored creamer between mom’s and Ant’s so I couldn’t get them mixed up.  Of course I knew which one was mine always – the 20-ouncer.  However, on occasion – and rare occasion  I might add – if I commenced to talking and didn’t pay attention to which cups had which creamer I could make a mistake.  That could be a problem because mom is a diabetic.  What I would do after collecting the coffees was go to my mom and dad’s and just take dad’s cup into the house along with the previous day’s Times Herald newspaper and give them to him.  (I always dropped the newspaper off each day on my way to work.  If I ever absent-mindedly forgot – dad would say he may have to cancel or get a new carrier.)  

On these Sunday mornings dad was always sitting at the dining room table watching TV but when I’d walk in with his coffee and paper, he’d give me his full attention.  I’d ask “What’s new?” and he’d proceed to tell me.  He might tell me about the football games he watched the night before or some breaking news story that he just heard or an update on the war in Iraq.  He might tell me how my niece, Caitlin’s, team was doing in softball or basketball and when the next game was or how my nephew, Corey, was wrestling.  He would give descriptions of plays.  He might tell me what new birds arrived at the feeder in the yard. 

Dad had a way of expressing himself and I loved it.  His voice would change according to what he was telling me about – an excited tone when talking about games.  He’d raise his eyebrows and his eyes would get bigger and he’d look right at me while telling his story always using his hands to exhibit better what he was explaining.  He may point at me while talking and say something like, “she made a beautiful throw to second” or “Bona’s is really looking good this year” or “Boy, did you watch any of the Duke game?  They’re great!”….and he’d always elaborate.  He loved telling about things.

 He could also show great compassion in his face…in his eyes….when telling about disturbing things that happened to someone we knew or even someone that we didn’t know.  He was such a caring individual.  Dad always asked me what was new with me and always inquired about the kids.  On these precious Sunday mornings we may not talk for a long time but we got a lot talked over in a short period of time.  

 Mom and I would continue from their house to my Aunt Antoinette’s house around the corner with the remaining 3 cups of coffee.  We left dad to eat his toast, cream of wheat or oatmeal and drink his coffee in peace.  

I treasure my memories of those precious Sunday mornings as the last time that I would have a good conversation with dad was Sunday, May 2nd, 2004.  I remember telling him about something that happened to me that was upsetting and he told me what I wanted to hear as was usually the case.  However, of course, on rare occasions even though the truth may hurt, he would give you his real opinion or feelings on the matter at hand and it may not be the favorable comments that you had hoped for.  An example of such an instance was the conversation in which I informed my dad that we were getting a puppy.  We had 2 dogs already and Nick, our son, wanted a Chessie and was going to buy it with his own money so we thought it would be okay.  He let me know how he felt about another dog mentioning how they ruin your house and why you would want another dog when no one is home all day.  That was when I was still working.  He was right as usual.  It was not easy taking care of the 3 dogs on my lunch hour.

Dad was a great listener and I depended on his honesty to no end.  He seemed to almost always take my side in things that I would tell him about and I don’t think it was just because I was his daughter.  I felt that he thought the same way as I did about many things or perhaps it was vice versa as I most certainly learned volumes from watching my father live life as he did.  He thought that the sun rose and set on his children and grandchildren and he would exhibit those feelings many times over in his actions.

On May 3rd, I worked during the day and that evening attended my one class that I was taking at Jamestown Community College in Olean.  I was taking a class at the age of 54 to test the waters – to see, because I was nearing retirement from my current occupation, if I might be capable of going back to school.  It was our 2nd to last class and was going to be a fun evening with pizza delivered.  I was feeling comfortable with the other students even though they were younger and this particular night I felt was going to be more fun than work – just a relaxing night.  I had just arrived and settled into my seat and started visiting with a couple of my friends when a lady walked into the room and asked for “Candy Brown”.  She gave me a message to call home.  My heart was in my throat as I knew that what I was about to find out – the words I was about to hear – could never be good.  What possible problem could not wait until after class

 I hesitantly borrowed a cell phone, went out into the hall and called my husband, Brad.  I will never forget the fear that I felt when he told me that my father had taken ill at my niece, Caitlin’s, softball game and was at the emergency room suffering from a possible stroke.  I was told that my nephew, Justin, was going to pick me up and take me to the hospital.  That was the beginning of a night that I will relive a thousand times.  I felt fear for what I would find yet I remember thinking, and I may have even told my classmates that they think my dad may have had a stroke but I was sure he’d be okay and maybe I would even be able to come back to the class for pizza.  I was hoping for the best because nothing was going to happen to MY dad. 

Justin picked me up and what I was about to experience was to change many lives forever – something that just could not be happening.  It was a bad dream – it had to be.  I walked into the emergency room and there lay my father.  He had on an oxygen mask.  As I observed him, I noticed he was talking lucidly.  He mentioned the softball game he had been watching and was cracking jokes and talking to everyone which made me think – he’s talking – he’s making sense – he knows everybody.  Thank God he’s going to be okay.

I stood by dad and hugged him and told him I loved him.  I couldn’t help but notice that his voice was different. He was talking rather quickly and choppy and moving around quite erratically and I was scared to death.  I could see the concern on everyone else’s face and that frightened me even more.  Some were crying.  My poor mom.  This just could not be happening.  

The doctor told us they could not do anything for dad there and he would have to be taken to Erie County Medical Center in Buffalo and could go by ambulance or Mercy Flight.  Of course we wanted the quickest way possible so he could get the attention necessary to save him.  We explained to dad that he would be going via helicopter and that we would drive up to meet him.  He said in the newly-acquired peculiar voice “I’m afraid to fly”.  (He had not flown since his return from prison camp at the end of World War II).  

During the moments that dad was talking, although differently, he was alert to the fact that we would be driving to the hospital.  He commented about whether I should drive to Buffalo having had brake problems two weeks previously.  That was a good sign wasn’t it?  Dad’s tone of voice was a different pitch and it was hurried.  He would look to the side when he talked – not directly at us.  I would never see the Sunday morning facial expressions that I cherished so much again.

The doctor took us into his office to show us the picture they had taken of dad’s brain.  He showed us the area where there was some bleeding occurring.  I think this is the point when it really hit me how serious this was.  I found a stool to sit on and leaned my head forward on the shelf as I was feeling so light headed.  They put me in a wheelchair and wheeled me away from everyone where a kind gentleman listened to my growing concerns about what was going on with my father. 

I told him how much we needed my father and how important that it was that nothing happened to him.  It was as if I thought this man could make everything better by expressing the urgency of dad’s recovery to him – as if he could talk to the doctor and direct him to exercise his healing powers.  It was like I thought he could make the decision to keep dad alive if I could convincingly give him all the reasons that my father should survive this bleeding in his brain. In my haze, the clarity of the picture that thrust me into my present state kept flashing in my mind and I could not help but wonder if the bleeding would cease but in my consciousness thought – and oh how I hated thinking – I wondered is it possible that the bleeding could not spread any further?  I knew that it would take a miracle for it to stop and began praying for this necessary miracle.  This could not be happening to my mother – to us.  Mom needed dad – we needed him – our husband and father who was the backbone of our family. 

My lightheadedness seemed to have left me along with the joy I had felt just minutes before in the classroom with my young friends and I needed to see my dad again.  I needed to be with him and was taken back to the room he was in where I stood by him briefly.  He was getting progressively worse.  I repeated “I Love You Dad” several times and the last words I would hear him say in response were “are you afraid I’m going to die?”  I know that he was trying to say it jokingly because it was unusual for me to keep telling him how much I love him.  I had a kleenex in my hand and he reached out as if he was trying to grab it.  He kept reaching and reaching for it and it was obvious that his condition was worsening.  We were all crying – so afraid – but not in front of him.  How heart wrenching to see my mother – she needed more time to talk to him.  He started getting sick and then in a matter of moments he appeared to be asleep.  He was no longer making jokes so that we wouldn’t be scared and he was no longer responding to our words.  We all watched in shock as dad was whisked away to be transported to the other hospital, the realization of what had just taken place chilling our hearts.  

I still felt like I wasn’t there – like I could see what was going on but it wasn’t real.  We were going to meet at my sister, Dawn’s, and continue to the hospital after we stopped home.  I was numb from all of the ominous visions that were developing so quickly in my mind.  Justin took me to get my car and while with him I made a quick call on my sister’s cell phone to my cousin, Sharon, to tell her what was happening. 

My father’s sister, Helen, Sharon’s mother, would need to know how sick that dad was and we didn’t want her to hear it from anyone else.  My dad thought the world of his sisters.  I didn’t have his sister, Jean’s, number but Sharon would also let her know.  I told her that I would keep her posted on dad’s condition. 

Justin dropped me off at the campus and as I drove home – what I would see is burned indelibly in my memory.  I still clearly picture the helicopter that was transporting my father in his “last flight” gaining altitude as it left the hospital grounds.  I remember crying repeatedly as loudly as I could, as if my tears, my words and the volume could affect the outcome of this nightmare.  I tightly gripped the steering wheel repeating and repeating and pounding intermittently, “Please God, don’t let him die – Please God don’t let my dad die.” 

I had to stop in Vandalia for gas as I needed it for the drive to Erie County Medical Center.  The gas attendant looked at me strangely and I knew that it was obvious that I was so distressed.  I explained that my dad had a stroke and I was going to ECMC to meet him.  He told me that I shouldn’t drive and he hoped that I could get someone else to.  He then kindheartedly wished me well.  Oh how I needed good wishes for this journey I was about to take.

I stopped at home and Brad drove my sister, Dawn, and me to the Erie County Medical Center in Buffalo. My sister, Angel, drove mom and her son, Corey.  Dawn had given the Mercy Flight attendant her cell phone number so they could call us when they arrived at their destination.  They called her while we were on the road and said that dad had made the trip and they were going to do another cat scan to evaluate him. 

Dawn received a second call within minutes and it was very apparent by her side of the conversation that the news that she was receiving was not what I had been praying and wishing with all of my heart for.  When she hung up she said they told her that the bleeding spread and that dad was in a coma.  Our greatest fear had been realized – there was no hope.  I hated those words – “coma”, “no hope”.  It seemed that I slipped into a dream world for the remainder of our drive as the visions of the previous hours replayed over and over.  I wanted my father – I wanted to meet him at the hospital and talk to him again with his eyes open and with him talking in his normal voice.  I wanted him totally recovered and able to go back home with us so we could talk about things again just as we always had.  I wanted my father and I knew in my heart that he would leave me. 

Trying our best not to appear too distressed, we did not mention the second call to mom when we arrived at the hospital – it was too heartbreaking.  When we went in to dad’s room the doctor was there.  We were again shown a picture which now indicated that the bleeding had worsened.  The doctor told us that dad’s brain was no longer communicating with his body.  He was being kept alive on a respirator.  His quality of life had vanished – just like that – our father as we knew him was gone forever.  That beautiful human being who was our beloved husband and father, and our precious friend, lay in a coma – not responsive to our words, our kisses, our hugs. 

I repeated over and over “I love you dad” because he was still alive even though I knew he couldn’t hear me.  It was as though I thought that I could make up for all of the years that I would not be able to tell him how much he meant to me.  I also needed to make up for the many times in my life that I didn’t tell him how I felt because I took it for granted that he knew it without hearing it.  I wish I would have told him more often what a great father he has been and how much I loved him.  I feel certain that he could assume my love for him from my actions with the words unspoken and I would hang on to that feeling.

It was a horrible decision for mom to have dad taken off of life support – but the only one that could be made.  Dad had always reiterated the fact that he did not want to be kept alive on life support and he had signed a proxy.  In our haste we did not have it with us and I am not sure if we had thought of it that we would have taken it anyway because we were trying to think positive. 

 Mom would not need the bag she quickly packed to stay with dad until he was well enough to come home.  Her thoughts now focused on the urgency of a priest being present to give dad the last rights.  A priest arrived to pray with us until dad expired just after midnight. We all sat around with a loving hand on him, our gazes between dad and the monitor just waiting for him to expire as we prayed the prayers that now turned to “Please God, give him peace and give us strength”.  My dad passed away May 4, 2004. 

Suddenly, the opportunity to ever talk to my father about his World War II experience disappeared.  I would never have the longed-for conversations about that period of time in his life.  I had wanted him to write a book with my help and I told him so a few months before he died.  It would never come to pass now.   Any chances of realizing that dream had vanished.

The reason that I felt like dad might be willing to talk more recently about his experience in the Army Air Corps was the fact that he was interviewed in November, 2003, at the VA Hospital to determine if he should be awarded a Veteran’s pension due to his disability as a result of his months as a Prisoner of War.  This came about due to dad telling a neighbor friend enough about what he endured as an airman and prisoner of war to prompt the friend to contact the Veteran’s Administration and ask them to inquire into my father’s records to see if he might be eligible to receive compensation.  

Dad was contacted by the Veteran’s Administration and there was information that he would need to resurrect from his past as well as memories that this information would arouse.  After interviews and evaluations, dad’s long overdue compensation was approved and he was also awarded the “Medal of Merit”, nearly 60 years late, for his unselfish service to his Country.  It was becoming the perfect time to talk to him with everything having been brought to the forefront.  His checks began arriving in March, 2004.  In other words, he received 2 checks before he died. 

My father had always felt that he was one of the lucky ones because he returned home from the war and he did not expect any compensation.  After the war, he just wanted to put the hell that he had been through behind him.  He was actually embarrassed when he received his check in March.  He never felt deserving but at the same time he was thrilled to have it as he could live more comfortably and could do more for his grandchildren if that was possible as he and my mother were two of the most giving parents and grandparents that anyone could ever have. 

I will never forget the Sunday that my father said he had something to show me but made me promise not to tell anyone.  He had the biggest grin on his face – a look of an embarrassed shyness and happiness.  He handed me his first check.  He now had more money than he ever thought of having.  He also, in the weeks to follow would find that my mother was entitled to a monthly check.  The two of them were on top of the world.  Dad told mom to buy clothes or anything that she wanted.  My parents were always thinking of what they could do for you never expecting anything in return.  They could now make plans to do things for themselves that they had never been able to and then – in the blink of an eye – those plans emerged into the planning of dad’s funeral.