Thursday, February 18, 2016

I Still Can't Say Goodbye

(I began this post a year-and-a-half ago.  I never got around to finishing it.  Probably because I still have trouble reliving it and saying goodbye.  Time to finish this and begin healing...or at least letting out a good cry.)

Today is my daughter's 11th birthday.  I should be writing about happy things and memories of her over the years, but as my time for personal introspection and documentation (blogging) is so limited, I feel the need to get my thoughts down about one of the saddest moments of my life: losing my dad.  I was going to address the events of the missing past 2 years chronologically, but this is the one even that has - and likely will always - keep coming back to me the most.

My dad and I have always had a good relationship.  Not always close, but good.  When my dad came out as transgender and my parents split, I was 12.  I was already the fat, picked on, bully target of the neighborhood, and heading into adolescence with this additional bullseye on my back was not something I looked forward to.  My mother decided to move back in with her parents in Michigan, and I saw this as an opportunity to reboot my life and social standing in a new town. Besides which, as my mother was totally blind, I figured she could use the help. I moved to Michigan with her while my sister elected to stay behind in Jersey with my dad.

Being a teenager, I had no thought of how, or even IF, this would affect my dad. I know she understood, and if she didn't, I even explained it to her later on, but to this day, I still don't know what went through her mind when I moved away.  At the time, she was just beginning her transition to living as a woman full-time.  She had a lot on her plate legally, professionally, socially, and emotionally, so I don't know if parenting a teenage boy as well would have helped or hindered.  I do know that having most of your family abandon you while you dealt with beginning your life from square one with the majority of society against you, for me, would be devastating.

But I digress....

Despite the miles and infrequent visits, my dad and I stayed in touch through weekly (more or less) phone calls.  Over the years, as we both grew into the people we wanted to be, we grew closer.  When I joined a barbershop chorus, we suddenly had a LOT more to bond over, as she (as Bill) had sung in barbershop choruses in the 60's and loved the artform.

She was able to see me get married, have children, join a chorus, join my first Society quartet, start my own quartet, take lead rolls in chapter shows, direct my own chorus, get divorced, and I know she was proud of the man her son had become.

The day after my birthday last year,  I hopped on Facebook and saw a post from her saying she wasn't feeling quite right.  I knew my sister was there in Topeka visiting her for the first time, so I didn't worry much.  I called my dad just to check in, and after talking to her, I suggested she go to urgent care to get checked out. She refused. I called my sister on her cell and asked her to take dad to the urgent care.  Dad still refused.  When my dad's partner, Mary, came home from church, they ganged up on her and took her in.  The next several hours were a whirlwind of phone calls. My dad had pneumonia, and her  condition was rapidly declining.

And here I was in Michigan...unemployed.

Danielle and I were on the way back from dropping off her daughters with their dad, when I got a call from my sister: Dad is getting worse and the doctors aren't being encouraging.  I sat there in the passenger's seat of Danielle's car, stunned.  Danielle immediately insists she buy my a ticket to Topeka, as she had some frequent flyer miles. I arrived early Monday morning, my sister drives me from the airport to the hospital, and there's my dad.  No glasses. No wig.  No makeup.  No jewelry.  Hooked up to machines and looking ashen and pale.  I could barely recognize her.

She wasn't breathing on her own.  Her blood toxicity had resulted in multiple organ failure.  Extensive brain damage was likely.  We had a decision to make.  Was this really happening?  I had just talked to her yesterday!  We all had a great visit not 2 months ago!  She had quit smoking 2 years ago!  There was no seeing this coming.  No preventative measures.  No warning signs.

It was simultaneously the easiest and hardest decision I have ever made.  We knew exactly what she would want, but none of us wanted to let go. Thankfully, we all were in the same mindset, and able to strengthen each other for what we knew my dad would want us to do.

The doctor turned off the machines.  I remember whispering in my dad's ear, "It's okay.  We'll be fine. We love you. You can go," and kissing her forehead. I played a recording of "Let There Be Peace On Earth" - one of her favorite barbershop arrangements.  Danielle flew out a few hours behind me, and was able to join us for the last 1/2 hour of my father's life. Within that half hour, she was gone.  My dad passed away surrounded by her closest family, her beloved partner, and the church pastor she loved and respected, all telling her how much they loved her.  There was no long term suffering, no loneliness.  Just love.

The next week was spent trying to finalize her affairs and cleaning up her house for Mary, who, understandable, found it all a bit overwhelming.  She allowed my sister and I to take any personal affects, family photos, and documents we wanted.  We took my dad's multiple jars of quarters and all celebrated her life with a trip to the casino.  We laughed, cried, drank, and celebrated all the things that were Paula Elizabeth Keiser and William Meyer Keiser Jr..

The death of my father changed me forever.  Even Danielle has commented that I'm a bit more sullen, more prone to moody episodes, and more aware of my own mortality.  I know she's right, but as the past two-and-a-half years have progressed, and life has gone on, the moodiness has slowly been replaced with fond reminiscence - the sullen demeanor with...well, the same demeanor, when that mood strikes me, but those moods are fewer.

These days, rather than missing my dad and wishing I could just call her up to ask random question or chat, I can remember her clearly and know what I'd hear.  Her laugh, smile, bad jokes, sarcastic jibes (both at my and her own expense), are all a part of me.  I'm lucky, because I knew her well enough to know what the answer would most likely be when I ask, "What would dad do?", whether I'd like that answer or not.

In many ways, I've become a carbon-copy of my dad (gender preference aside, of course).  My "dad jokes", social perspective, insecurities, interests, passions, some bad habits, even facial expressions, are all the result of my love and respect for her.  When I look in the mirror, I see my dad, and I know she's not really gone.  She lives on in me, so I don't think I really have to say "goodbye," per cest.

More like, "I gotta remember to tell you this story, someday..."