Friday, September 11, 2015

Family Friday: My own 9/11

Today, while those around the US are observing the 14th anniversary of 9/11, I'm observing a 9/11 of my own.  My father died 22 years ago today.

Daddy died of Lou Gehrig's disease.  This is a neuromuscular disorder that attacks the spinal cord, resulting in slow, insidious, and permanent paralysis, and eventually, death.  Lou Gehrig's disease is the informal name of amyotropic lateral sclerosis (ALS), named after its most famous victim, baseball player Lou Gehrig.

My own 9/11 began on Saturday, February 29, 1992.  I still remember driving home on a cool February day in Miami, Florida, driving past the Office Depot at State Road 826 and NW 103rd St, heading home after working my Saturday shift.  I was the librarian at a small psychology school at the time.

I got home, and the answering machine light was flashing.  When I played the tape back, I found a message from my mother.  So I called back, got my dad, who said that he hadn't heard from me in a while.  We chatted for a few minutes, then he handed the phone to my mother.

Her next six words punched my gut.

"Your father has Lou Gehrig's disease."

My reaction:  "Oh, my God!"

She told me that they'd known since right around Christmas--and I'd been there, and I didn't pick up on anything.  Perhaps that was a sign of exactly how self-centered I was. She told me that Daddy was on sick leave, and that he was going to retire from teaching.  When she said that, I knew that it was bad.  Daddy never got sick and he never took time off for being sick.  She also said that he was "in good spirits."

I don't remember anything else she said . . .and then she asked me, how are you doing?

I thought, how do you think I'm doing?  You just told me that my father is dying.  I knew what Lou Gehrig's meant.  I knew it was a death sentence.  I knew there was no cure and no treatment.

When I hung up, I spent the next hour on the phone with friends.  I called my two best friends, and I called my now-husband.

That day, I wrote my father a letter.  I told him how much I appreciated what he taught me, one of them being that no one owed me a living.  And I told him I loved him.  The next week, I went to see my family and my father told me, as soon as I walked through the door, "I sure did like that letter I got."

He never complained, never talked about his illness.  To the end, he maintained his humor and his spirits.  Right before he died, I showed him the directions I'd written out for my mother to come to my wedding, and when he saw that I had had to spend a full paragraph directing her through the Golden Glades Interchange in Miami, he gave me a look that said, "All that?"  I busted out laughing.

He died on the night of September 11th, 1993.  I heard the phone ring just before midnight but just figured that it was a wrong number or prank call.  The next morning, the phone rang again.  This time I answered it.  It was my mother, saying, "Your Daddy's gone."

My fiance drove me to St. Petersburg.  The funeral took place three days later.

I have written all of this down as cold fact.  This happened, that happened, this happened, that happened.  Perhaps, even after 22 years, I can't completely bring myself to totally face reality, to totally face my feelings about that horrible time in my life.  How do you write about the loss of the first most important man in your life?  The one who gave me half my genetic material?  The one who raised me and taught me so many things?  Who loved my mother and worked for his family and tried to take care of them?

On this day, there are exactly two things I'm sure of:

I hate ALS.

And I miss Daddy.

Just my .04, adjusted for inflation.

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