Since today is the 8th anniversary of my dad’s death, I thought it would be fitting for this week’s post to be about him. I’ll go over a little bit of his life leading up to his death, but I think mainly I’ll be talking about his death and how it affected me. WARNING: there are some very upsetting details, so please proceed with caution if you are sensitive to the subject.
He was a career firefighter and EMT for 28 years and struggled with alcoholism for my entire life. He was an amazing man with a beautiful heart, but just could not gain control of his addiction. If you have not experienced addiction first-hand, whether you yourself or a close friend/family member, you may not understand how difficult it is and how it truly is a disease. You cannot force someone to go to rehab and get better just like that. The addict must want to get better and seek treatment themselves. My dad went to rehab on multiple occasions, and it just never clicked for him. My parents divorced when I was in 7th grade, ultimately because of his alcoholism and that sent my dad spiraling. Eventually, he ended up living with his mother because he let his alcoholism take over his life and health. He retired from the fire department because of “disability,” and from then on, he stopped taking care of himself. He was in and out of the hospital so often and he just never got the wake up call we all wish he would have.
After I think about 8 years of living with my grandmother, he moved out into his own apartment again. I had a terrible gut feeling it was a bad idea. I think he lived there for maybe a month when I got a call from my grandmother one morning. I still remember every single detail of this day. My husband (boyfriend of less than a year at the time) and I had stayed the night at his parents’ house. I was asleep on the couch and let my phone go to voicemail when she called. When I woke up and listened to the voicemail, my heart sank. She said my dad was supposed to pick her up two days before to take her to get groceries and did not show up. She had tried calling him multiple times, but it kept going to voicemail and he was not calling back. My grandmother was no longer driving at the time, my sister was in Florida with her family, and my uncle lives out of state, so I was the only one who could go. I did not have a key, so I had to just knock on the door…no answer. I could hear the TV on loud…baseball, of course. I tried opening the door, as well as the sliding door on the patio, but both were locked, and the blinds were shut. I kept calling his phone, which was going straight to voicemail. I was talking through the door to try and get him to hear me. Eventually, I called the police and explained the situation. A policeman showed up, and by then, the neighbor across the hall had come out saying she had seen him a few days ago on the 4th of July (it was the 7th) and had invited him to a little party they were throwing, but he did not show up…that didn’t surprise me because he had terrible social anxiety at this point. The neighbor went to the main office to have maintenance come let the police officer in. The police officer had me stay outside while he went in for what seemed like forever. He eventually came out and said that my father was deceased. He told me I could stay if I wanted while the coroner came and they took the body out, but my husband and I thought it best I didn’t see that. They think he died on the 4th or 5th, so his body sat there a few days. I cannot express how happy I am that he never gave me a key. I have no idea where I would be right now if I had walked into that situation. I have so much respect for our police officers for having to see the things they see and keep their composure when talking to family members.
I had to call my sister to break her the news as she and her family were driving home from their vacation in Florida…at least they were already on their way home and got to enjoy their vacation. My dad’s best friend from the fire department was already at my grandmother’s house when we got there to break her the news and he had thankfully already told her. I don’t think any of us were surprised that it happened this way, but of course it was still hard to accept. The funeral went perfect…the funeral director was able to get the makeup exactly right so we could have an open casket to say goodbye properly. He received a traditional fireman’s funeral where his fellow fireman escorted his body to the grave on an old firetruck. They do a “last alarm” or “last call” where they sound the alarm over the dispatch radio as he signs off for the last time. My grandmother was handed the American flag that was draped over his casket…the Honor Guard folded it in front of us. My sister was handed his Captain’s hat, and I was handed his Captain’s badge. It was all exactly how he would have wanted it. I cannot tell you how hard it is to see that many strong grown men cry. They were like a family at the fire station, so for them, it was basically losing a family member.
With how hard the funeral was, the hardest part was cleaning out his apartment. Not because there was so much stuff, because there was not…he hadn’t lived there long. It was the smell. When someone dies, their bodily fluids usually expel and the body starts decomposing fairly quickly, and his body sat there for 2-3 days. Even after a few days of being empty, the smell was overwhelming. The apartment complex had to have completely deep cleaned that apartment…possibly fresh carpet and fresh paint, because I’m not sure how they would be able to get that smell out. I’ve had nightmares about that smell.
I am writing this in so much detail because I want everyone to know that no matter what happens, you can get through it. Just keep your family and friends close and always seek help if you feel you need it. I should have seen a therapist sooner than I did…I just started going a couple years ago. I used to get so depressed during every single holiday or his birthday or the anniversary of his death and could barely get through the day, but now I have accepted it and am living my life for myself. It is still hard to accept the fact that my children never got to meet him, but at the same time, I’m glad they didn’t see him like he was toward the end, because he just wasn’t really himself. I will write more posts about growing up around alcoholism and the therapy I did that made me have such a positive outlook (it’s called EMDR therapy if you want to look it up before I write about it).
RIP daddy, I will always miss you and love you. March 6, 1957 – July 7, 2013.