Sunday, May 10, 2009

My dad died yesterday morning at 5:30

It was sudden and not-so-sudden. When I saw him four months ago, he was cheerful and pretty sprightly -- for a man who drank a gallon of sweet coffee every day, smoked a pack of cigarettes every day, drank at least 6 beers a day, and sometimes ate not one bit of actual food during a day's time.

Then, two weeks ago, his body surrendered, shutting almost completely down from the decades of torture. My brother and I had been haranguing him for quite some time to change his habits and aim for a lifespan of 90 years. He didn't. He was obstinate and stubborn, as many of you know. He died at 68 young years. He spent two weeks in and out of hospitals. Got care-flighted once. Was on machines and morphine. His body expelled things that no person would want to see, though my brother, Mike, cleaned it up in the middle of the night at his Texas home, off and on for those two weeks. My father planned and lived for retirement. He got one year of it.

In Georgia, I'd been getting the daily updates on the "black tar" that came from his body. I was stunned to hear that my once-mighty father was succumbing so mind-numbingly fast to the inevitable. The doctors said his liver was 92% gone. His gall bladder was gone. His heart was barely able to beat and occasionally stopped. He had two malignant tumors on his lungs. His intestines were a mangled clump of infestation.

Perhaps any other person of lesser willpower would've slowly succumbed. Not Jerry Franklin Elmore. My father. He was a rather small but imposing man in my early years. The "Fifties" father -- remote, authoritarian, occasionally loving, domineering, chauvinistic, hard-working, non-communicative. He softened over the years, as much as such a man could. He never wrote, hardly ever called until two years ago, when he began to call every other week to catch up. He told countless jokes, none of them funny. His delivery was awful, and that was funny.

He was a wilderness man, a 19th century Davy Crockett with an edge. He had a wry gleam in his eye and could be charismatic, gentle and teary when talking to Mike and I in these last few years. He kissed us on the cheek whenever we parted. I would sometimes cry a bit when he did so.

Like many such men, mortality made visits and was the only thing that could get his full attention. On those occasions, his vulnerability was stark, and my sympathy was strong. Mike and I kissed my dad on the cheek each night before bed until we were 10 years old. I don't know how that started, but we liked that one soft physical contact. He had a tenderness that only those very close to him saw, but he let nobody near his center. I don't know if he ever really knew where his center was. His dad was often a brute and physically punitive, as many fathers were back then. My dad never recovered from that treatment. Mike says that when my dad was in a dreamy stupor in the wee hours a few days before he died, my dad gazed at Mike and said, "Daddy, will you take me fishing? Why won't you go fishing with me, daddy?" Mike balled, as I did when he told me the story.

I was asleep in a hotel during a business trip in New York City when my dad died. I got Mike's message when I woke up. I knew what the message would be when I saw that he had called. I didn't cry then. I did when I called Mike to talk about our father and reminisce. I found that it was mainly the good things about him that came to mind during all those years of acquaintance: that broad smile, the shoulder-raising chuckle, the bad jokes, the cheek-kisses, the bawdy talk, the occasional vulnerability.

I will miss him. I wish I could miss him more. I wish he could've been like Mike and I are now. Open men who are easy with our children, loving, affectionate, empathetic, rightly confident. Mike and I are the elder statesmen now. We will be and are better examples for our children.

I will call my dad "daddy" for a moment, as I did when I was very young, so that I may remember that feeling of family and bond and extraordinary youth and vigor. I will let my mind sweep through the years and think of time's lapse and the blink of 40 years. Time moves on, and he has moved on. I will never feel his warm cheek again or see the glint in the eye. Our relationship has ended. He will never see Livy again, and I will soon tell her that her Grandpa Jericho is dead. She will ask why, and I will explain. And the memories will return, and the thought of my daddy dead and alone in a hospital morgue will revisit me.

I am sobbing now. And so, goodbye daddy.


Kelly Elmore said...

My favorite memory of him was when we went to visit Mike and Rosa and him in Texas the Mother's Day I was pregnant with Livy. He brought me a flower, just like Rosa, who already had four kids. It meant so much to me to be included in that.

I also remember him buying a pink Barbie fishing pole for Livy when she was born. It was years before she was able to use it, but he was already thinking of fishing with her at 1 week old.

He was a hard man in many ways, but I liked him. He was so jovial and funny, so unpretentious. I'm so sorry for you and Mike, and for Livy and the boys, that you guys won't get to enjoy his retirement with him.

David Elmore said...

Thank you, Kelly.
And thank you for remembering him for what he was and enjoying that. Livy still has that Barbie fishing pole. It doesn't work anymore, but she still keeps it. I think I may keep it forever.

Denise Stiver said...

My deepest condolences on the loss of your father. It is not easy to lose a parent, as you well know, makes you feel like an orphan in the middle of your life. I remember your Dad when we were kids. I was scared of him...he seemed so stern...but you and Mike were such good kids. My parents always commented on your good manners and how well you obeyed your parents (I think they hoped I would learn something from you and Mike). What a loving tribute you paid with your writing. It made me cry and remember my own Dad. Like your Dad he was a father from the 50's...slow to hug and hard to talk to. Sometimes I think it is good that they made us want their approval so badly...made us work that much harder in life. Please tell Mike I said Hi and I am thinking of you both during this difficult time. Let me know if there is anything I can do for you.Thank you for sharing such a beautiful & personal tribute

David Elmore said...

You're so sweet, Denise. Thank you!
You're mentioning how my dad was and how Mike and I were really took me back in a great way. I didn't know your parents said that about Mike and me! That's kinda funny. We actually disobeyed my father quite a bit, but we had to do it so he wouldn't know, like lots of kids back then.
I will tell Mike today that you said Hi. He'll be glad to hear it.
Let's try to have coffee or lunch sometime soon. I didn't remember that your dad had died, too. I'm afraid I don't remember much about him. I liked your mom a lot.
Take care. Talk to you soon.

Denise Stiver said...

My Mom thought you boys were great. Whenver your Dad called you and Mike in, when we were playing outside, you guys stopped everything and ran home. When my Mom called, I always waited until she called again and then gave her some story about I couldn't hear the first time, didn't know that was her voice, etc.. She always said..."why can't you be more like those good little Elmore boys. They always go right home when they are called." I would always think to myself...those good little Elmore boys are no angels...but my Mom said that on many occasions!
I'm a good listener if you need someone to talk to you have my number. I promise we will get together soon.

David Elmore said...

Ha! Yes, we went home fast becuase if we didn't, our tails would've been blistered! And yes, we were no angels. ;)
Thanks again, Denise. I'm doing pretty good. I had some time to get ready for my dad's death and talk with him before he died.
Look forward to seeing you.
BTW, is your mom still alive?

mikepklake said...

Awesome Dave. Words cannot describe the way your blog just touched me. The feeling of being alone out here stopped when I took a moment to breath and read what you wrote. We are different.....we choose to be more affectionate because life will vanish all to quickly for all of us.....and because the warmth of our children has brought us more than all the riches we have seen could ever bring. I have you Dave. And because of this I sleep with love in my heart....honesty on my tongue....And I teach this to all the little Elmore boys. Our father chose to live with these habits and chose to be a bit detatched from us in a warm and loving way. I chose different. It didn't make him a bad Dad.......Just a Dad at a distance. I miss him....and I love him.

David Elmore said...

Yes, Mike, and I have you.

Daniel said...

What a moving post. I rarely know what to say in these situations but I hope you're doing well Dave.

David Elmore said...

I am doing well, Daniel. Thanks very much.

David Elmore said...

Hey Denise, Mike told me to tell you hi and say that he forgot to do so in his comment above.

Denise Stiver said...

David & Mike:
You guys are so gifted with the written word. Both of you have written so movingly and I am so glad that you have each other and understand how much that means.
The circle of life is really a strange and wonderful thing, even if it breaks your heart at times along the way.
Mike - I get to Texas once a year and I'm looking you up on my next trip. My sister still lives there.
David - yes, my mom is still alive and living in Indy. I called her last night to tell her I loved her. You words inspired me to remember to say things in the present. She thought I was crazy...but what else is new!!
Talk to you soon,

David Elmore said...

Denise, I'm so glad your mom is still alive, and I'm glad you felt like calling her after reading what we wrote.
And, yes, you ARE crazy, but, hey, join the crowd! :)
See ya,