Sunday, March 24, 2019

His Final Lesson

Recently, my brother shared a piece that he wrote about our dad. It is one of the most heartfelt, poignant things I've ever read. Beautiful, succinct, and touching, may you be blessed by this lovely writing:

His Final Lesson
“Rick, come here.” Typically, words and even commands spoken by him did not elicit a heightened reaction from me, but there was a specific tone that made this sound different, possibly more imperative. 

Please don’t believe that I am someone who is not reactive. My main priority in life shifted from one of being cared for to being the caregiver. I still wonder how I took that responsibility without being more overwhelmed or more mystified. Because it was me – the boy who could not go to school without fear of being away from his parents; the boy who crumbled at any potential illness – my own or theirs; the boy who could not stick to any activities such as Boy Scouts or band. Yet, when the time came, I gracefully accepted the role as the caregiver, the boy now who could be called man. Although I did not see it, I embraced it. His lesson was that of a teacher – quietly teaching valuable lessons of being a man without me even knowing that it was occurring.  

The response to my expected question “What’s wrong?” was one of unknown pain that was to eventually take him away from me. We started what would be our last phone call to 911 and subsequent collecting of the home items for another hospital stay. 

Despite my fears, years of concern based on the reality of mortality being a few steps away, possibly a few minutes away due to him not being in touch with his body or his needs associated with the plethora of health issues related to heart trouble, I always reacted with a calm nature and, in my heart, believed that it was not the end. Regardless of the severity of some of the hospital stays or diagnoses, I must admit that I never believed it would end. Naivety is not usually my forte. But with him, I always felt like there was another day, another month, another year. This was a testament to another lesson – the lesson was grace regardless of the surroundings and circumstances. 

The ensuing diagnosis, required surgery, and many ups and downs in his physical and mental health took a toll on all of us. It only lasted three weeks, but felt like many months had gone by. He was tired, frail, and, no doubt disappointed that his body was failing, but he never complained and never once did he say he was in pain. 

I was young and full of anxiety. My concerns ranged from my own physical health through the rest of the family being ill or diseased. He did not understand mental health issues such as this. He had dealt with others’ issues, but he never quite understood the “why” behind them. Yet, when I needed him to be there to tuck me back in at night or to pick me up from school when the worry was beyond normal, he was there. He never made me feel bad for the worry, or for being bullied, or for the irrational concerns about death, monsters, and such.  This lesson was to understand and accept, sometimes even if you don’t truly understand. 

I watched him in bed daily – some days intubated, some days awake and able to talk and listen. Reality of this being our final hospital stay became more and more tangible as the weakness grew and no interventions had a lasting effect. A doctor had called me and sternly said, “We have to be open and prepared if God is calling him” since some of their interventions were not having that magical effect we had come to expect. Still, the grace of handling this without falling apart had overtaken me. I cried, I begged to have it be different, I used up my bag of tricks that had always kept his quality of life high, but this time was to end in an unfamiliar way and I was letting that reality make me stronger. 

I had not been formally acquainted with death. I had heard stories of all of the loss that my family had handled, but most of this occurred before I was born. Distant relatives, friends of the family, and others that we had known were gone and the sting had been there, but it was a fleeting pain, yet all their memories would remain fond to me. His mother had died many years ago and I watched him handle it with quiet compassion and reverence for who she was to him and to others. His lesson was unending love and the value of legacy.

I received a call from the hospital that he denied intubation. He was still present, but the intubation would be necessary to continue life. I had no choice but to go and find out if this was truly the end. I cannot recall my thoughts on my way to this visit, probably an amalgam of potential outcomes at that point. I laid eyes upon him in his bed, the way that I had for these few weeks, and even hours prior, but I knew this held more weight than those other visits. Upon seeing me, I should have known that he could not lay eyes on me and say “okay, I give up”.
Each time that we had a “scare”, I suppose it was evident that I was giving every fiber of my being to positive outcomes, never once admitting that there were any options beyond continued life. And I lived that way from day to day, for many years. Regardless of how high he had gotten in age, there never was a day that I let on that he was aging. Regardless of how he was unable to do certain jobs or activities, I never let on that he was more limited. I was his biggest cheerleader. I had gone from being the frightened little boy to his champion in all ways that I could. There were ways that he adapted to still be functional and express his love, despite any limitations.  This could also be attributed to him – the lesson of adapting to your environment and accepting change. 

This visit lasted only about twenty-five minutes. He would allow them to place the ventilator back on. We had moments of communication, despite this final intubation. So many words were spoken before this point, yet it was down to a few final lessons. Though it was only a few short years ago, the memory of all words has faded a bit. However, significant words were spoken at that time. I told him that we would not torture him anymore after this attempt. I wanted him to know that he had fought hard, but I also wanted him to know that I, the one who had fought so hard to keep him alive for so many years, was giving him permission to no longer suffer or fight, when it was so clear that he was ready to let go.  Our last exchange was one in which I initiated my expression of love. In all of my years of life, the words had never left my mouth toward him and neither him for me. It was clear as day, though, that was how we felt. But, on this night, I felt that it was time. I knew it was the right time. And, he reciprocated. 

His last lesson was finding out if I could be not just a man, but the man; the man who could let him go despite giving so much to ensure that he lived; the man who could be strong enough to use words of love because the actions were no longer possible. This lesson was his most valuable, because we both needed it to move on; for him to move on past this life and for me to move on past him to a life which would have to garner new meaning and understanding and use the tools provided since childbirth to continue the cycle of love and kindness.  

Author: Matthew R. Mattia (Rick) 

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Nonsense Language

Me, my brother and son have come up with a list of my father's imaginative language. Those of you who knew him best will understand.

We were called Toy, Toots, little Tenya. We were called Boy, Mattie, and Raymond. Others were called Fritzie, Nemon, Hage, Johnny Boy, and Rollo. There was Magruter, Ollie, Donelda, Cherley, Merdet and Peppay.

When you drank too much pop and left cans around you were a "Socack." When something came crashing down during rough play with your friends, you heard "Save the pieces!" When you wanted someone to leave because you were tired of them, you heard "Bid it!"

"Flutes" were little kids and not an instrument to be played. "The Serps" were my nieces as they ran around the house having fun. When you couldn't hear something you were called "Orville!" And when sneezes came in rapid succession, sounds like "Warf," and "Whoosk" were heard instead of Achoo!

If you spent too much money on a gift for my dad, he would call you "Mike Money" or "Andy Mellon." Of course this was always said with love because Dad enjoyed gifts so much.

Sometimes my father would ask me, "Are you a good witch, or a bad witch?" with his best Billy Burke impression from Wizard of Oz. Other times he would make fun of those of us who had a few computer skills and ask if we went on the "corn.cob" site (pronounced corn-dot-cob). Really....

When someone had big eyes, or was staring, we heard "Beadie Lajolla" or "Heady la Eyeball." It's a wonder we children grew up sane!

If you washed too much, you were a "Cleanso Smith." If you preferred to keep something a secret you were "Mystero." Even pets were not immune from fresh new names given to them. Penny, the Pomeranian was "Bluto,"  Mya the dog became "Myers." Lynxy the cat was "Torberious." And cats did not have whiskers, but they did have "weeyers." And if Dad wanted a cat or dog to leave him alone, he'd shout: "Boorelea!"

Restaurants that truckers frequented were called "Greasette Spoonette" and not Greasy Spoons. That was far too ordinary for our father. And when Dad saw me in shorts in the summer, he called them "wearing my diaper." He called winter coats "buffalo skins." There was no end to the wonderful world of madness.

I remember when my brother Rick was little and Dad wanted him to behave. He would always threaten that he was going to give his toys away to "Francie Blaho." Now Francie was not a real person, but Rick didn't know that, and he would "Straighten up and Fly Right" as Dad would say...

When any child annoyed dad, he said he was going to turn into "Thrasheto, the Thrashing Monster!" My goodness! Everyone behaved then. This seemed to be worse than Godzilla or Mothra or any of the old monster movies.
 My son has often said that the father in A Christmas Story played by actor Darren McGavin, reminded him so much of "Lamp," his grandfather, my dad. For there were a few nonsense words that Ralphie always referred to as his father said them. No wonder we laughed so much.

There were many other wonderful, amazing nonsense phrases. Some we never found the origins, and just hold dear to our hearts: Cutasecalea, Feenstra Mageech, Baby Mosie, Muscala Majona, Boosskach, Guya Kibbee, Zoomba, Broofisk,Henna, Sasha good little dog. All words from the vocabulary of one of the sweetest, funniest men I've ever known or ever hope to know.

I miss Dad's zany words and the silly faces he made. I miss him mimicking my son, driving him crazy until Matt would shout, "Lamp!" (Which was his own made up nickname for my dad.)

My father lived simply in a quiet place within himself. He could be known as shy in many ways, and preferred family around him to friends and tons of company. He prayed quietly with a small prayer book he was given by someone years ago and never made show of his beliefs, but you knew he had a heart for God.

Dad  was one-of-a-kind and though he's gone from this earth, which hurts my heart to admit, there are his soft, quiet ways, crazy language, and strength from the good man that he was which we all hope to carry on.