October 8, 2013

~ My Dad ~

Tonight as I climb into bed, with a pain so raw it doesn't feel real, I feel this tug of encouragement in my heart.  It's literally the only "good" feeling in my whole body right now, and it's there because of the people who love me and my family.  The people who send me hundreds of messages of hope and sympathy, the phone calls from voices I haven't heard in years, the friends who randomly drop by with chocolate cake, or glow-in-the-dark mustaches to make me laugh.  And the aunts and cousins on my "front line" of people who carry me when I can't walk any further.

I don't know exactly what I did to surround myself with such beautiful and caring people, friends and family.  I don't know what magic lever I pulled to have the parents, brother, husband and kids that I got.   I also don't know why I don't remind myself of this every single day.

My Dad died on Monday afternoon.  He had cancer.  Cancer that was supposed to be 80-90% curable.   He was not in that 80-90%.  This has come as a shock to a lot of people because it wasn't something I was comfortable talking about.  My parents are my best friends, and I have a relationship with them that makes people envious.  My Dad was the hardest working person I ever knew, which is why the situation we are in right now is all the more surreal.  

When I was growing up, he was a mailman and my mom worked at K-mart.  He worked days and she worked nights so we didn't have to go to daycare.  When I became an adult my Dad switched jobs and spent the last 11 years working for the local bus company…getting up 5 days a week at 4:30am and working very long split-shift days.

I can count on one hand the times my parents had the extra money to go on vacation.  The below picture was one of them, when they went to Lake Tahoe for my cousin's wedding a few years ago.  It was the first time my Dad had EVER been on a plane.  He was so excited- look at his smile. 



My parents have lived a very simple life.  They have a small 3 bedroom ranch house with no cable, no internet, no basement, but a lot of love and a huge backyard- the same house they've been in for 25 years.  My Mom and Dad pour their entire lives into their grandchildren.  Maw Maw and Paw Paw's house is anything my kids want it to be: a spaceship, a beauty shop...it's their oasis- a place where bad things never happen.  A place where they can eat king-size chocolate bars at 10pm or dig holes in the backyard trying to find China.  Maw Maw and Paw Paw just sit on their porch swing, watch them and laugh.   

(Paw Paw and Rocky)

I'll be the first to admit they didn't plan for retirement well.  Growing up, my parents lived paycheck to paycheck and they still do.  My Dad contributed to his 401K faithfully for a long time, but that was pretty much depleted when 2 kids went to college and 1 got married.  To be honest, I think my Dad just planned on being one of those folks who worked until he died…like the little old grandpas you see greeting people at Walmart.  Cancer wasn't in this plan.
(Paw Paw and Libby Lu)

In November of last year he was diagnosed with throat cancer.   His work allowed him 12 weeks of unpaid leave through FMLA.  When that was up -and he was still undergoing treatment- they fired him.   And away with his job went his medical and life insurance.    
(Paw Paw and Luci)

And overnight, here was my Dad;  my strong, gentle, humble yet prideful Dad standing in line at the public welfare office asking for help.   He did qualify for medicaid, and they were able to use it these last few months.  But let me tell you that our system is broken- very broken.  While it did help a little bit,  it also horribly humbled a man who was always able to take care of himself. 

And then, in a blink of an eye, he was gone.  We knew he was sick, but we thought we still had time.   A lot more time.  On Sunday afternoon he sang Happy Birthday to my son Rocky who turned 9, and less than 24 hours later he was dead.

And here we stand as a family, broken but united, with no life insurance and no health benefits for a man who worked every single day of his life.  I've read about these types of things happening to other people but I never dreamed it could happen to us.  We are left shaking our heads wondering how this happened to a man who worked every single day of his life

I really miss my life before my Dad got cancer.  I miss not seeing my mom cry every single day, or having really hard conversations with my brother.  I hate waking up every morning feeling like there is a brick on my chest and someone punched me in the stomach.  I hate grief... oh I hate you so much. 

But grief will subside with time and a lot of love.  And the sad memories of his final days and moments will get lighter and lighter until they fade away in my mind and are only replaced with the happy ones. 

To be honest, I'm too exhausted to write any more at this moment.  I have an entire eulogy to write tomorrow, to be delivered at his service Thursday, and I need sleep badly.  Last time I looked at my face it looked like I went 10 rounds with Mike Tyson and then someone cut slits for my eyes.

Hopefully I will look a little better before Thursday, or at least have a little wine before I speak.   Maybe both. 

At this time if you would like to make a donation to help my parents you can find that link here:
http://www.youcaring.com/davesumpter

We will also be having a trivia night for him on Saturday November 30th to help with medical bills and catching my poor mom up on her mortrage.  Please mark your calendars.  Details and sign ups for that will be coming next week.