Sunday, August 23, 2015

In Loving Memory of my Dad...

When I moved back to my childhood home in May of 2013 it was with a lot of mixed feelings and more than a little relief.  Yeah, I know I swore I wouldn't be doing that ever and it's another lesson on never say never.  When I saw dad for the first time in about 4 years, I couldn't believe how much he had aged.  He looked as if he's aged 20 years, shrank a few inches and had lost so much weight that I had a hard time reconciling the last image I had of him with the man I now saw before me.  I knew he was sick but didn't know with what and it was hard getting him to tell me that he didn't feel well much less go to the doctor to find out anything.  I think he knew what was wrong but didn't want to be a bother, which he wasn't in any way. I began to do as much for him as he would let me, hoping I could restore some of his health by feeding him good food, and taking care of the responsibilities of the home.  For about a year he seemed to get a little better, putting on a little weight and the color was coming back in his face.  It also seemed as if his hair was not as white as it was the first day I came home and gave him that hug that said how much we had missed each other whether I knew it or not.  

As some of you know I had not intended to move in with dad because I had purchased the RV and had planned to live in it any where but here.  There were many things happening all at once as is par for the course and as things came to a head at my previous residence it became clear that I had run out of time to finish the things needed to be able to make that move.  One of the things I wanted to do for dad was finish one of his bathrooms so that he could comfortably take a shower and clean up his house so that he could live in peace.  It was really hard for him to do things around the house as it was and I wanted to make sure he could feel a modicum of safety.  I also bought him a new chair because the newspapers holding up the one he sat in was not helping his hip in any way.  Mid way through the construction clean up, I asked dad if I could move in with him and move the RV here and he said of course, he'd be happy to have me home again.  As it turned out, it was the right thing for both of us because dad needed me far more than I needed him... at least at first.

During our time together we talked about so many things from the past, including the issues we had with the con from Kentucky who had caused so much heartache after Trey died.  I told him how sorry I was for not staying to fight the con no matter the reason, yet dad felt he was the one to blame for the whole event.  Which is so not true, I knew what he was getting into and felt powerless to stop it.  I guess it was both of our lessons that we needed to learn...  But in an odd way it brought us closer together, something I had wanted for a very long time.  

Dad talked about Trey, Danny and everything that had happened during that time we had them in our lives.  He also talked about his time in the military, his childhood in foster homes, his relatives and of course mom.  It allowed me to see a glimpse of the pain he carried most of his life that caused his drinking to be a problem for so many years.  But only a glimpse because he always tried to remember the good times and the best parts of a very difficult life.  I began to understand the PTSD he suffered with that started with the trauma in his childhood and going through the roof after coming home from the wars were the root of most of the problems but not the entire story.  As throughout my life I had to hear some of the more heartbreaking stories from others who knew him and was there during the time they were going on.  

But as is life things needed to be dealt with such as looking for a job, researching what could be done to protect dad from the cons that were just waiting for their chance to pounce again and of course dealing at all the damage to the house that was done while they were here.  The not so surprising thing was that dad helped with everything that he could to make things easier and when I needed help, he offered it without me even having to ask.  It was something that I had learned was so very important when it came to relationships and explained why I had felt that way for a long time but just didn't know where this feeling had come from.  Despite what dad had gone through or did in his life, he was able to see what was important, at least while I lived here during this time.  

I know some of what dad was capable of doing when he was younger and I'm not going to put him on a pedestal because he was human and I have done too many things I'm not proud of myself.  I can only imagine what it was like for him growing up with hunger, violence, instability and betrayals from the very people he loved the most.  I could see even now that he was brought up to hate certain groups of people based on what he was taught from his family, environment, the military and the friends he kept after his tours ended.  It bothered me greatly over the years when he would let a comment or two slip about how he felt.  Eventually I came to understand that he was programmed to feel those things and never knew how or why much less how to change his mindset.  Of course the drinking never helped because his goal was to forget not to remember or examine these things.  I guess that why I feel so touched when I saw him help others in his later years.  Because if he could still reach out to someone in need through his own pain and anger without a thought of asking anything in return, it meant that the kindness had not been burned out of him.  Dad considered himself a broken down old paratrooper and said as much many times over the last years.  I saw much more than that even if he couldn't see it in himself. 

I remember going to work every morning early and I would see this rabbit on the side of the road and a few times there would be two of them.  It was something I looked forward to on the way and I would be disappointed if I didn't see them.  I know its odd but I would greet them and then wish then a safe and good day during that summer.  But there came a time when I stopped seeing them all together and that was in the last week of June.  I started to get upset over something that seemed so small at the time but now I think it was just another sign of what was to come...  

Toward the end I was getting more worried about his health and looking back I can see that the constant coughing when he was laying down to sleep was a huge sign that he was losing a yet unnamed battle.  So in early July, I convinced him to go see the doctor at the VA and we went twice, first for a consult and general tests with x-rays and then for the CT scan that showed he had stage 4 lung cancer.  But instead of telling us in Charlotte they made us drive to Salisbury for the test results which was 3 hours away.  It was a hard ride for him because of his hip and the time of day the appointment was scheduled.  Dad had a routine and this made it impossible for him to maintain it and he was not happy about it to say the least.  So as we were sitting in the doctors office the last time thinking that this would be the first of many visits, the doctor came in with a solemn expression and without preamble told us about the lung cancer.  He then showed us the images of the CT's and pointed to many different clusters of tumors throughout his lungs and them preceded to ask dad what he wanted to do.  

I remember looking at dad trying to keep my emotions under control as he asked what were the options which were the standard chemo and radiation because surgery was out of the question.  The doctor said the chemo would most likely take the last little bit of quality of life he had and would not extend his life expectancy significantly if at all.  The doctor then asked if he would quit smoking and dad said probably not.  He also asked if we wanted to be given a time line and while dad said no I said yes so the doctor took me out of the room and told me dad had about six months.  Up until that time I had held it together but the flood of tears came on so strong it took a long while to get them back under control.  My mind was racing with all the information I had learned about diet and health, the true cause of cancers and the hope that I'd be able to help prolong his life if even for a small while.  But the doctor advised that we call in hospice immediately.  

When I heard that I was extremely upset that they were just giving up without any fight whatsoever and while I was relieved that the doctor was honest about the effects of chemo and radiation, I still thought much could be done to help him.  I was mad at the system because they once again failed dad as it was done time and again from they way he was treated by our own government after he got out of the military to denying him medical disability because he was too sick to get to the Salisbury office when I wasn't here just to be evaluated by another set of doctors.  People in that shape physically and mentally couldn't hope to unravel the bureaucracy that is the norm for a very sick society that we live in.  But I was also mad at myself for not being there when he needed me at the beginning and felt a huge wave of shame at my own actions.  It was a very long drive home that day from the doctors office and dad was pretty quiet most of the way.  

On the outside he seemed to be taking it much better than I was and even started joking around some the closer we got to home.  I was amazed and at first thought it was shock but later began to think that he knew how sick he was and having it confirmed was just something he did for my benefit.  After we got home and settled where he could open his first beer of the day he actually said... "I'll be just fine, don't worry about me and don't get upset."  Right!  I told him that I know you'll be fine dad, it's me that is not alright and I had to leave the room so he wouldn't see me fall apart again.  After a while we talked a little and I do mean a very little about it because he didn't want people to know how sick he was... at least as first.  So life went on around us in the way it always does without me confiding in anyone but my childhood friend who had lost her own father the past August.  And for about a month that was how it was, other than me reading more on lung cancer and supplements as well as calling hospice to come to the house, things remained as normal as I could make it for him.  He didn't like taking the supplements because there were a lot of them but he did take them even if he made an awful face.  He didn't like having the hospice nurse come and check on him but he did it and I am grateful that she was a kind and caring person who took the time to explain so many things to us and let me know she was only a phone call away.

One day dad was reading the paper as was his daily habit and he read the obituary of his Aunt Mary and then showed it to me.  The detail of the service were there and I decided to go for both of us where I reconnected with several of the family members I hadn't seen in many years.  It was bittersweet but we all went to lunch and caught up with each others lives.  We all joked that we finally knew how old she really was because she always told us 29 and counting.  I did tell them about dad and all had hoped they could come see him but there just wasn't time.  I did promise to come see one who lived in Wilmington soon but didn't think it would be as soon as it turned out being.  When I returned home, I told dad all about seeing the family and he seemed glad I was able to go and hear about how they were doing.  He again started reminiscing about some of the times with this side of the family and had a huge smile on his face as he did so.

Toward the end of the first month after the diagnosis he started to tell his bother and sister about it and they came to visit but he waffled on whether to tell mom or not only once.  Despite his bravado I could tell he was scared, hell I was scared and had my childhood friend come and check on him a lot while I was at work because dad would fall and not be able to get up.  On one of the last coherent days he had, I was off and set in the living room listening to his old stories of some of the men he worked with over the years and some of the jokes they used to play on one another and I thought, this may be the last time I get to hear these stories and relished every moment I could.  Little did I know how much time we really had left because the next night was a bad one and I had to call my friend to help get dad to and from the bathroom.  She told me that it was time and I had to call work and tell them I needed off for the foreseeable future and that was that. Every day after he was a little worse until that Saturday morning.

On Saturday 08/23/14, I slept lightly and that's not very normal for me but I got up early and made some coffee, gave dad his meds and went to sit with him for a while.  He was unconscious at that point but I felt he could still hear me so I started to talk to him in a way I couldn't if he had been awake.  I told him some of what I had been reading since Trey had passed and what he might expect when he crossed over and that he could let go of all the pain he had carried around for so long.  I told him to not worry about me that I'll be okay, even if I wasn't.  I told him so many things that day having to take a few breaks just so I could get the words out but I wanted him to know that he was loved and that I wanted him to be at peace finally.  I think he held on just to let me talk to him because when I went to get his next round of meds, he died as soon as I left the room.  When I came back I was heartbroken but wished him safe travels and promised I see him as soon as I could...

Dad didn't want a service so I didn't have one.  The following days where very lonely and the house didn't feel complete without him here.  I missed him terribly and thought that maybe I could have done more for him but again in looking back I realized that dad was ready to go.  He had hung on as long as he could have and nothing would have made a difference.  He was tired and wanted to see Trey and others that had gone on before him.  I can respect that so much that there is little more to say about it...  Dad was a fighter in many ways but sometimes the fight gets to be too much to bear any longer especially when you are fighting the demons within.  

I cherish the time I had with him and will always be thankful that I could help him in whatever way I could but again dad helped me more than he would ever know while he was here.  His acceptance of me was the very thing I had longed for from both of my parents all my life.  He gave it freely and with as much love as he had to give.  I couldn't have asked for anything more...

So I made the plans to go to Wilmington to see dad's family and as I was looking for directions I saw how close it was to Kure beach where dad wanted his ashes scattered and knew things would work out.  It was an emotional trip and one I won't forget any time soon.  I got to scatter some of his ashes at the beach where he loved the most and some around the house where he loved to be since he couldn't get to the beach.  I got to hear more stories about dad when he was younger and be with the ones who remembered the man he used to be.  He was many things but the most important one was being my dad... 

Bobby Gene Forbis 
05/20/44 - 08/23/14