December 31, 2021

Dear Dad,

I am beside myself realizing that it has almost been a year since you passed away. Never in a million years did I see this coming. I always saw you as invincible. But just like that, you were gone.  The progression was very fast.  I kept the last text you sent me before the hospital informed me that you had been put into an induced coma and intubated. You said, “I’m really sick…”.  That was unlike you.  Even the last time I saw you at home, sitting in front of your computer, you answered my query about how you were doing with, “I just got to shake this rotten cold”.  I knew something was wrong.  You always come to the door to greet me when I come over.  But not this time.  You were pale.  That was also unlike you. Looking back, I now know that it was because you were not getting enough oxygen through your Covid ravaged lungs. I can’t tell you how much I miss your friendly “Hi Curt!”, whenever I would come over.  You were always happy to see me.

I was at the hospital every day, minus one, while you were in the ICU.  They had moved you a couple of times and at one point you shared a room with another Covid patient because of the volume of people getting sick. Then lastly you were moved into a corner room in the children’s ward which was taken over as an overflow for Covid patients.  I thought it was appropriate that you got a corner office.  Walking through there to get to your room was eerie.  Room after room of intubated individuals.  Some young, some middle-aged, and others older.  One older couple was in a room together, both intubated.  Neither of them made it.  I held your hand and talked to you about what was going on.  I placed my hand on your chest and asked God to heal your lungs.  Little did I know he was going to not only heal your lungs but give you an entirely new body.  On Christmas day, I was allowed to bring my phone into your room but it had to be in a bag.  Thankfully it still functioned that way and I played that Elvis Christmas album that you always played at Christmas.  I don’t know if you heard it or not. It wasn’t scratchy like your record, but it was the same songs.

Over the two weeks, you were there, I didn’t even consider the possibility that you would not get better.  For a short time, it looked like you were recovering.  The nursing staff didn’t have to invert you to help open your lungs and your O2 levels were starting to go up.  But then things just stopped getting better. The stats had plateaued. Each time I would come in the nursing staff would bravely try and tell me that things were…the same.  Then, one day, while I was in with you, the attending physician tried to call me, but my phone was outside the room in my jacket.  The staff saw him and told him that I was in with you.  He gowned up and came in.  I don’t recall exactly the content of the conversation we had by your side.  I think he provided me an update on your progress, which was very little over the last number of days.  He then indicated that we needed to talk.  I told him I was at the end of my visit with you and so I said I would come out.

It still doesn’t seem real.  I was escorted into a small room with a couch and a few chairs.  The Doctor brought a nurse in with him.  I guess it is protocol when they are about to have an end-of-life conversation with a family member.  He told me that you were not getting better.  That, Covid had severely damaged your lungs to the point that there was no chance (he revised that to say that you had a less than 5% chance) of recovering. He said that even if you did recover, that you would be in for years of debilitating treatments as a result of the damage to your lungs.  Then he asked me if I knew what your wishes were regarding end-of-life. Because of that day we met at Wendy’s, and we talked about this, I answered yes; that I knew what your wishes were.  You made it clear to me that if you were not able to maintain the things that you loved to do; that if you were not going to leave the hospital at least close to the capacity of before you came in, that you did not want to continue for the sake of continuing. The doctor indicated that it was entirely possible that you would pass away on your own at some point soon.  

I’ve had to make a few arduous decisions in my life up to this point, but nothing even comes close to this. I knew what you wanted Dad, and the weight of this nearly crushed me. Growing up I watched you conquer a lot of things: business, bankruptcy, smoking, alcoholism, broken relationships.  And now, here I sit, knowing that a tiny little particle, something too small to see with the naked eye, got into your lungs and brought you to the brink.  I could just wait and pray and hope that a miracle would bring you back from the edge.  If I waited, there was a greater chance you could die alone, without any of us there.  Tears streamed down my face.  For a second, I was angry that you were so clear about what you wanted.  How can this be happening? The doctor had said to me that because you had made your wishes so clear to me, that it was not me making this choice, but me carrying out your wishes. 

It’s hard to describe the emotion I felt when I conveyed to the doctor what you had so unmistakably dictated to me.  I have never felt so alone.  We agreed that I would come back the next day and they would remove the life supports that were keeping you alive.

Jerrid and I met at the hospital the next afternoon and slowly dressed in all the protective garb we needed to be safe from the virus. Gown, mask, shield, and gloves.  And in between each item, you sanitize your hands.  By this time, it was almost second nature. We sat on either side of you and the nurse came in and turned off the machine that was providing nearly pure oxygen to your lungs.  You began to breathe on your own again.  In some small way, I think you would have wanted it that way, on your own, not with the machine breathing for you.

Up until this point you always “looked” good.  Since the machine was providing oxygen, you always had color in your face when I would visit. You didn’t look sick (minus the plethora of tubes and machines around you). We sat with you for the next three hours each holding a hand.  We reminisced about several things during that time.  We laughed a little.  Cried a little.  But mostly we just were quiet and spent time with you.  I looked at your hand a lot over that time.  Rugged yet gentle.  I recall looking at photographs in the days that would come and the one that really got me was one of your left hand.  You had put your hand on your leg, and you had on your wedding ring, that ruby pinky ring, and your Timex watch.  Over the three hours, you began to lose the color in your face and your breathing got shallower and shallower.  And then, the nurse came in and told us that your heart had stopped.  That huge heart of yours – now - silent. 

You had gone to your eternal home.

Empty.  I felt empty.  Empty in a way that I had never felt before.  Painfully, empty.  Grief is cold.  Wickedly cold. And silent. Blaringly silent.

Jerrid left the room first.  I stayed for a little while and just sat there.  Tears of grief and disbelief. I knew how hard things were getting for you.  You loved to be active in the yard, spending time in your garden.  I remember when Elvis died, you said, “It would be hard to see him get old…”. Although you were in your mid 70’s, I didn’t see you as old.  But I did hear your suffering.  And now that suffering was over.  I took a small amount of solace in knowing that you would not struggle anymore. 

Jerrid and I left the hospital and went to the house to tell mom.  Jerrid knelt beside her in that chair she would sit in, in the living room and broke the news. I think she was in shock. I still can’t believe that it has happened. I drove home that night in a blur.

Nine days after you passed, Tim and Tylo got married.  Outside.  In January.  In Alberta.  It was stunningly beautiful that day, just below freezing, and hoar frost on everything.  It was a spark of joy in what had just been a horrible Christmas/New Year. You would have loved it.

Next came the onslaught of funeral arrangements.  You would have been angry with what went on there.  Not all of it was covered as you thought. Things went back and forth, and they charged for things they did not deliver.  The funeral home made me bring clothes for you to be cremated in.  Then, they made me come back to the funeral home the next day and verify that it was you.  An image I have not been able to get out of my head.  I had to purchase the box that they cremated you in.  You would not have liked it. The construction would not have measured up to your standards.  It was a little tight.  I remember looking at your cold smile and noticing that they had buttoned your shirt up one too many buttons.  So, I un-did one so it would be how you liked it.  Yes, it was you in that box.  How is this reality?

I remember having to come and get your urn.  That was a hard day.  I had a song on repeat in both directions.  It was Cochren & Co.’s - One Day.  The part I sang out at the top of my lungs, through tears was:

“One day there'll be no more lives taken too soon
One day there'll be no more need for a hospital room
One day every tear that falls will be wiped by His hand
We will see the promised land, mmm

Hallelujah, there will be healing
From this heartbreak we've been feeling
We'll sing in the darkest night
'Cause we know that the light will come
And there will be healing, hallelujah”

I sat your remains on the seat beside me.  I just can’t believe that this is happening. When I got home, I placed you on the hearth in our family room.  Later, I brought that round table to my house, the one that was by the bar in your home.  When that arrived, I placed your urn in the middle of it which is where you stayed until the day of your internment.

You didn’t have a plot either.  Not that we would need it right away.  The travel restrictions were making it challenging for Rhonda, Darren, and Charlie to get back.  After some discussion, we decided to plan your internment on what would have been your 75th birthday.  I didn’t pay attention to the fact that this year your birthday landed on a Sunday.  They don’t do internments on Sundays.  So, we opted for the day before your birthday.  I picked a nice spot, not too far from a tree in the back corner of the cemetery.  Mom later told me that it was close to where she thought you had wanted to be. 

The funeral file was thick.  It seems that you had made a bunch of changes.  I know there were all kinds of issues around the stone/plaque, and you had gone back and forth with the funeral home – I don’t know how many times.  Well, in the end, there was no stone or plaque.  So, I designed you a stone monument, with mom’s input.  So many things to handle Dad.  I know you didn’t want it that way – but it’s how it ended up. 

The funeral ceremony was just the way you described it to me.  Immediate family only.  Pretty sure some family was upset with me about this, but none of that mattered.  My only goal was to do what you asked me to do.  And I did.  I think you would have liked it. Rhonda did an amazing job on your eulogy.  I did the service.  Then we gathered, as your immediate family, at my house and we celebrated your life. Laureen helped me take about a dozen of your shirts and turn them into pillows, which we sprayed with your Giorgio cologne.  All your grandkids, kids, and Mom received one.  Something of yours they could hold onto. 

You had a lot of things to deal with Dad.  I was kept busy for about 6 – 8 months dealing with estate matters.  Even a year on, there are a few items still left to complete.  It’s been exhausting.  One of the biggest things was dealing with the house.  I was worried about Mom being alone in that place with all those stairs. At one point, Laureen and I went over with some KFC to have dinner with Mom.  We sat down around the table and I was asked to pray.  At that very moment, I realized I was sitting in your place and there was no way I could speak.  Tears streamed down my face.  I really miss you Dad.

You wouldn’t believe the miracle that happened.  We were looking online and found that the condo unit right next to Laureen’s Dad came on the market.  We went to look at it and it was a fantastic two-bedroom.  I brought Mom to see it and we eventually bought it.  There were multiple offers, but we included a letter that described the situation and that our families would be close together.  We were told later that the letter is what made the deal.  Moving Mom in was a big job but we had lots of help.

Selling the house was hard.  Personally hard.  Almost all my growing-up memories were made in that house.  And the fact that you built it for your family made it extra challenging.  Prepping it was a colossal effort.  I hired a concrete guy to finish the concrete that you had broken up in the backyard.  The pool heater was in a state that we could not sell it the way it was.  I know you would not have liked that – but I had no choice.  The repair was very costly, but in the end, it got done.  I also rented a metal detector to see if I could find that diamond cut ruby ring you used to wear.  Someone thought you lost it in the gardens in the back.  But Rhonda figured you said you lost it at the Show Home we built.  All I can say is that I tried to find it at the house – but to no avail.

Did you know that you had eleven carboys of wine in the sub-basement?  Eleven.  Given that you started this hobby after I left home, I had no idea what to do here.  Another little miracle story.  We were selling those metal tent signs you used to use for Real Estate open houses.  A lady came to buy one and I noticed the decal on the side of her car door said, “Gypsy Moon Winery”.  We ended up having her come into the house and look at what was there.  She explained that it appeared as though you had all this wine about ready to bottle and that you were likely just aging it. 

Her business is an offsite winery for folks who don’t have the room to have all the equipment to make wine at home.  All the bottling stuff and the like.  So, she said we could come by with the wine, in batches of 4 Carboys, and bottle them all.  I made up a label that she printed for me and that we put on all the bottles.  In the end, we had over 330 bottles of your wine Dad.  Some went to Mom to give away to people.  The rest was split between Jerrid and me.  I toast you with each one I open.  I wish I could have asked you why you had so many on the go.  I share them with people that I think you would have wanted to have some.

The day before the house turned over, I went there with some of your ashes.  Yes, I kept a little for something that I want to do.  I sprinkled some in the garden where you spent so much time and I went into the sub-basement, and I rubbed some into the cement wall where you stored your wine.  You will always be a part of that place now.  I have not been back since, but at some point, I’ll drive by to see it.  Although there are a lot of memories there, it’s not the same without you, or Mom, being there.

I had a horrible experience at the Bank of Montreal.  When things were looking bad for you in the hospital, two doctors signed the Power of Attorney so that I could go and get your will, which was in your safe deposit box. I didn’t have an appointment, but time was short so I went there with all the documents and asked if I could get in there to get your will, that you were on your death bed.  They brought out a business guy who told me he was busy.  That people had made appointments and that he could not help me.  That I needed to make an appointment.  So, I left and made an appointment online.  You died.  The Power of Attorney was no longer valid, but I was caught because your will was in your safe deposit box.  So, I waited the week and went to the appointment.  I was never really asked about your condition, and when one question came close to that, I answered in the past tense.  They never caught on.  I was let into your safe deposit box, and I took everything.  I was not going to leave anything to chance now that I was let in.

At some point in dealing with this bank, they indicated your age was 75.  I noted that was incorrect, you were 74.  It seems the year they had on file for your birth year was 1945.  Then I remembered the story you told me about when you were just starting out and you went into the bank to get a loan. This was back in the days when the bank manager took the risk, not like today where it’s all centrally managed and someone in a distant office coldly would deny your request.  The bank manager took a liking to you and even though you were only 17, he “adjusted” your birth year to make it look like you were 18 and gave you the loan.  The rest is history.  Based on how coldly I was treated when I went in there, I will never deal with that institution. They trusted you when you needed them.  They turned me away when I needed them.  Funny how that worked out.

I don’t know what it is supposed to be like when you lose a parent like this.  What I do know is how heavy a burden it has been.  The amount of work and things to deal with has been…indescribable.  But I committed to you that I would handle these things. That I would make sure that Mom was ok.  And I have done these things.  There are a few more items to deal with.  Partly because, as things slowed down after the house sale, I didn’t want to pick it up again.  I can’t tell you how many meetings I’ve had with the 5 different banks you had things at.  So much time. But the end of this road is nearing.  For that, I am thankful.

I can’t tell you how many times I have thought about you over the last year.  There are a couple of images of you burned into my memory.  The moment you died.  When I had to go validate that it was you for the funeral home.  I also found a photo of you I had never seen before.  It was lodged between the pages of a very old insurance policy booklet.  It was a black and white picture of you dressed up in a suit, tie, and overcoat.  You were looking down like you were deep in thought about something.  I have no idea how old you are in this photo.  If I had to guess, I would say 17-ish.  I wish I knew what you were thinking in that photo.  I scanned it and made it bigger.  It now sits in my office beside your prestigious real estate award, the shirt pillow, and a large glass ruby, your birthstone. 

I wish we had more time together Dad.  It’s not that I have things left unsaid or unforgiven.  We were good, you and I.  Even through building homes together. We were solid.  It’s just I wish we had more time.  More time to hear more of the stories about when you were growing up or just anything.  Just more time.  I see things in me that I know came from you.  Mannerisms.  Quirky things like how you moved your thumb when you were in thought about something.  You never leave me.  And I’m OK with that. I like to think I can carry the best part of who you taught me to be for the rest of my days.

There is a giant tear right across my heart.  It’s healing.  Slowly.  And it’s going to leave a scar.  A big one. You will always be a part of who I am.  I miss you Dad.  I really miss you.  Knowing you are completely healed now brings a small amount of comfort.  But it still hurts. I am told it gets easier with time.  All the firsts are hard.  I started writing this in mid-December, where a year ago you were in the ICU.  And on January 1, it will be one year that you went to your eternal home.  I don’t mind that it gets easier, but I want to make sure that I never forget the man that you were.  The man I knew.  The man who shows up in all the better parts of me. 

Shortly after you passed away, one of my favorite Christian bands came out with a song that seems like it was written just for me.  Not just a verse, or a catchy part of the chorus, but the entire song captures the situation perfectly.  Every time I hear it, it reminds me of you.

“If I had only known the last time would be the last time
I would've put off all the things I had to do
I would've stayed a little longer, held on a little tighter
Now what I'd give for one more day with you

Cause there's a wound here in my heart where something's missing
And they tell me that it's gonna heal with time
But I know you're in a place where all your wounds have been erased
And knowing yours are healed is healing mine

The only scars in heaven, they won't belong to me and you
There'll be no such thing as broken, and all the old will be made new
And the thought that makes me smile now, even as the tears fall down
Is that the only scars in heaven are on the hands that hold you now

I know the road you walked was anything but easy
You picked up your share of scars along the way
Oh, but now you're standing in the sun,
you've fought your fight and your race is run
The pain is all a million miles away

The only scars in heaven, they won't belong to me and you
There'll be no such thing as broken, and all the old will be made new
And the thought that makes me smile now, even as the tears fall down
Is that the only scars in heaven are on the hands that hold you now

Hallelujah, hallelujah
Hallelujah, for the hands that hold you now

There's not a day goes by that I don't see you
You live on in all the better parts of me
Until I'm standing with you in the sun, I'll fight this fight and this race I'll run
Until I finally see what you can see, oh-oh

The only scars in heaven, they won't belong to me and you
There'll be no such thing as broken, and all the old will be made new
And the thought that makes me smile now, even as the tears fall down
Is that the only scars in heaven are on the hands that hold you now“

Scars in Heaven
Casting Crowns

I love you Dad.  I miss you like crazy.


PS.  As I noted to you before, I started writing this in mid-December, a year after you went into the hospital.  I don’t know why I wrote this. I only know I felt compelled to do so.  It took me a few nights, but I got it to the point where I could sign my name to it.  Up until this point, I had been thinking about you all the time.  Anticipating the arrival of December had me in constant thought of you. I would wake up with one of those images I described in this letter in the foreground of my thoughts.  Day after day.  And that is when I decided to write this letter.  No.  I had to write this letter.  To get some of these thoughts out of my head.  There was so much more I could write here because there were so many other things that happened this year.  But this was enough. The day after I signed my name to this letter, I stopped waking up with one of those images of you.  I mean, it just stopped.  It’s not that I’ve forgotten about you, because that will never happen.  It’s that I seem to have been relieved of the weight of the situation by just writing this.  And for that, I am truly thankful.

In a couple of days, it will be New Years Day.  A year ago, I sat beside your hospital bed and watched you die.  The most painful day of my life. I don’t think you would want it to be a sad day.  And to be honest, I don’t know exactly how it will feel.  I will remember you on that day for sure.  But I think that day will set me free a little.  Free from all the things that came my way after you passed. 

They say it gets easier as time passes and that the first year is the hardest with all the firsts that happen without you.  Well, that is about to come to an end, and I will move on to year number two without you.  Less painful.  More memories.