Thursday, June 9, 2016

On Dying

Hi. I've missed you all. All six of you (because at some point, my readership doubled. In my head, at least). Here is the long list of excuses as to what may or may not have kept me away:

Monster truck sized fire ants
The ballet
Day drinking
Real life responsibilities (family, work, day drinking, what have you)
My father dying

Most of these are probably true in one way or another. Though the only things I'm day drinking are coffee and water. I have only been to the ballet once and it wasn't recent (though I did go see Elvis Costello in April. The only thing that really has in common with the ballet is that they are both performances).

Before I delve into the sadness and complexities of grieving over a relatively estranged parent and explaining death to a 2.5 year old, I would like to start with good news. I earned a promotion at work! It's bittersweet because I've spent the past decade being a damned good trace metals chemist. I've always been a laboratory scientist and now I'm the QA/QC Coordinator for the metals lab. With great power comes great amounts of bureaucratic bullshit responsibility. It's been a big learning curve. But that also means that my time at work is spent working. Pretty much nonstop.

I'm also one of the representatives for my department on the City's team (kind of like a mini congress) that creates and informs policy recommendations to the actual people with the power to approve those policy changes and we are starting to offer 6 weeks of paid family leave to all permanent employees, paid at 100%! This is huge because, with Cthulhu, I was only able to take seven weeks off. Another six would have been perfect. And it stacks with family medical leave which means a new parent (for birth or adoption) could have up to 18 weeks off to bond with their child!

And now, sadness.

I don't really know how to grieve. I keep hearing there is no wrong way to do it, but it seems strange and complex when the person you should be grieving wasn't very close to you. My brothers have been writing all of these epic "You were my hero, the best father in the world" kind of things, but that wasn't my experience. I mean, he was all right. And he was my father. But my parents divorced before I was born and I never had the feeling my dad really wanted to be a father. At least, not more than the summer holidays he spent with us. A lot of stories and things come out after a death. What's done is done and a lot of the stuff seems petty to even write about, but I do have a better understanding of my dad, who died on Leap Day.

Some of you know that he had been diagnosed with stage 4 cancer the summer of 2014. He lost his hair, his teeth, his jovial youthfulness, his hearing in one ear and his vision in one eye to the cancer and its treatments. Watching him go through chemo and radiation and the bone marrow transplant helped me see why someone may choose to forego treatment when diagnosed with late stage cancer. I think his quality of life would have been better, though he possibly wouldn't have lived as long.

He was on maintenance chemo when this terrible bronchial infection swept through the valley in February. When my dad caught it, it turned into pneumonia and he wound up in the ICU at the veteran's hospital. My oldest brother came from out of state and we all gathered around his death bed. I think he probably liked that. He always wanted his family gathered around him. When death was imminent, the ICU staff let me take young Mr. Chumbercules to the hospital to see grandpa, who he was always asking about but wasn't really allowed to spend time with because of chemo and toddler germiness.

Before we went to the hospital, I talked to him about how grandpa's body isn't working very well and he won't be able to pick him up or hug him and he will be connected to machines and tubes and if Chumby gets scared, just to tell me and we can leave. I told him again when we arrived at the hospital. I left Cthulhu at home. My dad seemed glad to see Chumby. He held out his shaking hand and Chumb grabbed his finger and proclaimed, "Your body isn't working." because toddlers and young children have this beautiful ability to plainly speak the truth. And my dad died the next day.

Every day since then, Chumby has said, "Grandpa is dead. We can't see him anymore. His body stopped working." Which was much better than his initial question of "Who shot grandpa?" when I told him grandpa was dead.

We aren't a religious lot in our house, but the Little Miss goes to church with her mom and stepdad and I think she and Chumb were talking about death and grandpa because after one of her visits, Chumby declared, "Someone taked grandpa." And I looked at him, confused, and said, "No one took him... well, I guess the coroner did." And he asked if the coroner was a person and I said yes. So, the daily story changed.

It became, "Grandpa is dead. His body stopped working and the coroner taked him away."

Sometimes he tells me he misses grandpa and we talk more about death and the more involved his questions get, the more information I provide him. Mr. Adventure tried to talk to him about cremation, but I don't think we are ready to talk about burning bodies yet.

The funeral service, which happened in March, was nice. I was kind of surprised by the turnout. I didn't realize my dad had so many friends and had touched so many lives. His old commanding officer from the Airforce was there and spoke. Then there was a potluck back at my stepmom's house. We didn't stay long since we had all the kids, including the Little Miss with us. My younger brothers came, too, even though they have a different dad. Which was nice because I was able to make fun of my youngest brother, turning 28 this year, for still living with our mother.

So, there's that.

Cthulhu has his 9 month exam tomorrow. He is very different from Chumby as a baby. In addition to having a much smaller head and being smaller over all, he has hair. And it's dark. And he plays. Chumb never really played at this age. Not like Cthulhu does.

And this made me laugh yesterday.

And that's what I have time for today. I'll be back soon with updates on Cthulhu and life with two boys and how I never seem to be able to find the time to touch up my damn roots so I kind of look like Courtney Love's fat younger sister.

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