Next week is the one-year anniversary of my Dad’s death. I had 50 years with my Dad so I know that I was lucky, really lucky. I was even luckier to have the kind of man my Dad was for a Dad.
But that didn’t ease the pain last year and it still doesn’t ease the pain a year later.
As Baby Boomers, many of us are losing parents, if we haven’t already. It is hard as we ease into being the “older generation”. But the memories that we have of our parents can help with this transition, help make the pain bittersweet.
Even though I was clearly a grown woman with my own three children, I was always my Dad’s little girl. The last time I walked into my Dad’s room and he was fully aware was only a mere 24 hours before we lost him. “Hello, peanut,” he said when I greeted him. Even at 50, I was still his peanut.
We knew my Dad was dying. At 86 his body was just giving out.
He had survived many things and had been born with a severe heart defect. When he had a stroke a few years before his death, the doctors told us that if a baby was born with a heart like his, they would do emergency surgery immediately. A few days before my Dad died, he laughed as he told me of the doctor saying to him, “Mr. Ganster, if you were 50, we would operate on your heart so that you could live until you were 80. Since you made it past 80, I think we will leave well enough alone.”
Kenton, Eliza and Cole Ganster with Grandparents Bill and Dolly Ganster
He also survived cancer, several work-related accidents, and perhaps the hardest strain of all -- the loss of my brother in a car accident. And he weathered them all with grace.
The fact that we knew he was going gave us the heads-up to gather a few more memories to add to the treasure chest we already had. I am fortunate to be self-employed so I stepped back from my work to spend more time with him and my mother. Everyday, my children and I would spend hours there, helping when we could, keeping them both company when we could. I was a single parent since my children were one, three and five so my Dad was the male role model in their lives.
I learned many things about my children and my pride and love for them grew. They never once complained about giving up their summer to spend hours there. We tried to keep their lives normal -- after all, at 13, 16, and 18, they were still kids. But we also spent precious moments with my parents.
Cole, my 13-year-old, would say hi to Dad, and then busy himself with other things; Kenton, the 16-year-old would pull up a chair and just talk with my Dad, fetch him things and sit while he slept. Eliza would entertain my Dad with amusing stories about her customers at her summer waitress job.
The two memories I hold dearest are contrasting ones. One is of Kenton holding a bowl to my Dad as he vomited. Kenton then wiped off Dad’s face with a damp wash cloth, and proceeded in conversation as if nothing had happened.
The other is one night after I picked up Eliza at around 10. We went to see my Dad who was turning into a night owl. Eliza, Dad and I sat there talking and laughing. When my brother walked into the room at about midnight, Dad slapped his hands on the side of the bed and said, “Come on in and join the party.” “Daddy, keep your voice down, mom is going to get mad at us for keeping you awake,” I scolded him. “Why would she be mad? We are just having fun.” he quipped. I labeled our time with him as “Late night chats with Bill.”
They told us over and over, “He probably wouldn’t last another 48 hours” only to have him bounce back, albeit a little bit less every time. He didn’t want to leave his wife, kids and grandkids, surprising the medical personnel over and over.
When we finally did lose him, it was hardest on my mom, his wife of 55 years. They had spent that time taking care of each other and in the last few months, she devoted her days to taking care of him. She felt the void in so many ways.
A couple of weeks after Dad died, we took the kids for a much needed week off. We were hiking in a tricky spot and Kenton said, “Take your time, take your time. That is what Grandpap always told me.” He paused and then said, “I learned so much from Grandpap.” So did I.
They are lucky children to have had such a grandfather. My mom was lucky to have such a guy for a husband. And I am a lucky woman to have had such a Dad.
But I still miss him.
By Kathleen Ganster