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Friday, March 23, 2012

My Dad; 1942-2012

I have not been doing much with my blog as of late, the reason of which is pretty obvious by the title of this post. My father passed away recently, on February 20th ,at the age of 69.  Of course, the loss has been devastating and things like my blog, and other enjoyments, have seemed too trivial for my attention while myself and my family have been moving through the first few weeks of dealing with his passing. It feels all too strange to think of his being gone, especially when I feel that 69 was too young and that I am too young myself to already have lost a parent. 

My father was ill for some time; his condition had worsened before Christmas, but then rapidly declined suddenly a week or so before his passing, so in a way it was unexpected. My father suffered from a brain disease usually called Pick's Disease, or FTD (frontal-temporal lobar  degeneration). It is a disease that is not common, and although categorized along with other dementia-type diseases, like Alzheimer's, it is different than Alzheimer's. Many people have never heard of Pick's; I myself had never heard of it; it is uncommon and not much is known about the disease and there is no real effective treatment for it. While Alzheimer's affects the hippocampus in the brain, and therefore, mostly memory, Pick's destroys the frontal lobes of the brain, which is often referred to as the "social brain". It is an especially cruel disease, and often appears at a much younger age than Alzheimer's.

 Many patients are mis-diagnosed; my father was too. He was diagnosed at the age of 61 with early-onset Alzheimer's. It wasn't until about three years ago that he was correctly diagnosed with Pick's, after his new neurologist (and my family) noticed that his symptoms did not follow the usual path of Alzheimer's. One of the difficulties with Pick's are all the unknowns and how long it can go on before the person reaches a critical stage. Watching a person, a loved one, being slowly erased before your very eyes is heart-breaking. My father had to be hospitalized in a memory care unit shortly before Christmas, as he could no longer be at home.

One of the many issues with Pick's are the behavioral changes and hallucinations that can cause extreme agitation, even violence, especially in the later stages of the disease. Most doctors estimate that patients with Pick's have about a 7-10 year survival rate after diagnosis. As of last autumn, we were still confident that my father had maybe a year or two before he reached the end stages of his disease. When he was hospitalized at Christmas, and then moved to an assisted living facility not long after, because of worsening of his condition, we thought cautiously that we might have six months left with him. He declined very rapidly, however, about a week before his passing and we were in the process of discussing having him taken home under hospice care, when he had decided enough was enough, apparently, and left this earth for eternal peace. The only good thing I can say about his disease is that he was not aware of what was happening to him for quite some time. He had ceased to be the man I knew a long time ago, his disease had robbed him of everything that made him who he was, but it gave me little comfort.
My father had always been a very physically healthy and active man with no health problems; had he not gotten this disease, I could easily see him living  into his 90s like his mother (my grandmother was 94 when she died). This is just another thing that makes dealing with his loss difficult; how unfair it all seems to be.

I miss my Dad and I think of him often; I am sad for my sisters' children, who are so young, and will have little to no memory of what a unique person my Dad was and that they will have missed out on knowing him and having him in their lives. I am sad that I cannot talk to him anymore and see his smile and tell him how I'm doing, although I am sure that he knows, and that he is looking down on us; but it is not quite the same. I am still too selfish and I want him to be here with us, even though I knew that his passing released him from a terrible disease and an existence that had become really no life at all, just suffering. 
I try to take comfort in faith that we will meet again, in Heaven, and that his success had enabled him to do many things, so that even though he only got 69 years here, he packed about three lifetimes into that 69 years. He had a successful business that allowed him to semi-retire more than 15 years ago and he used his time well; he traveled all over the place to Europe, Japan, Africa and many other places. He enjoyed hunting and took many hunting trips out West and spent weekends with his friends at his hunting cabin in northern Wisconsin every fall and fishing trips every June in Canada for more than thirty years.  He was an avid golfer, bike rider, wood-worker; he had two Harley-Davidson motorcycles that he drove all over the U.S. as far West as Oregon and Washington and as far East as Maine. He had a house in Florida, where he spent the winters, and in summer he was here in Wisconsin, where he spent the summer tending his huge vegetable gardens and fruit orchard or making furniture and things in his wood shop when he wasn't traveling.

My Dad, November, 1942 in Chicago, IL.  He was born March 11, 1942 in Tinley Park, IL. His father was Belgian and his mother Italian. They were both originally from Michigan ( my Grandpa Justin was from Norway, MI and my Grandma Lu was from Iron Mountain, MI; their parents were immigrants who had settled in America). They were married in 1932 in Iron Mountain, but moved to Chicago not long after. I believe they moved because of the Depression and hoped to find better job opportunities in Chicago. My Grandpa Justin's family had a sawmill and ran a logging camp; others were farmers. My Grandpa had worked in all three of these fields, but he was also a mason. I think he also worked in the iron mines for a time, like many men from that area.

My Dad, in 8th grade at Peotone Middle School, Peotone, IL. My father and his family moved from Chicago to small farming town Peotone when he was a young boy, where they had a turkey farm.

June, 1960. My Dad at his high school graduation. My dad was the second youngest of five children. In 1959, when he was 17, he moved to Wisconsin, to a tiny town called Helenville, with his parents, younger sister and his eldest brother. Two of his other older siblings, a brother and sister, stayed in Illinois, as they had already left home and had started their own lives. My grandparents had purchased a dairy farm in Helenville, which they owned until 1980, when my Grandpa Justin passed away. A year or two after his death, my Grandma Lu sold the farm and moved back to her hometown of Iron Mountain, MI. where most of her family still lived, including her two sisters and several of her brothers, and their families, as well as many cousins and other relatives. She spent the remainder of her life in Iron Mountain, where she had been born three months after her parents had emigrated to America from Italy.

My Dad was a 'self-made' man and he was very proud of it. He never went to college and didn't have a business degree, but he became very successful, starting his own tool & die business in 1974. He ran his company for more than 30 years and saw it grow and expand to a very successful operation that today has more than 150 employees and a net worth in the millions.
Before he started his business, however, he worked  for Allen-Bradley in Milwaukee. My dad was never afraid of hard work and he loved it. He joined the Marines in 1966 and served until 1968. He spent part of that time stationed in Okinawa, Japan. After returning from Okinawa, he married my mother in March 1968 and was then stationed in North Carolina. Later that year he completed his military service and my parents returned to Wisconsin to start their lives. My Dad worked two jobs, one of them was at Allen-Bradley again, where he worked in the tool room, and my mom, a registered nurse, also worked. They both had come from nothing and started out with nothing.

A trick photography picture my Dad did of himself when he was in the Marines. He had gotten interested in photography during that time. My Dad was very proud to be a Marine and a Vietnam veteran.
In 1969 my brother was born, I followed in 1970. By 1973, my parents had saved enough money to buy some land and build a house, the house that my mother still lives in to this day. Shortly after they were able to move into the new house in 1973, my sister was born, followed by my youngest sister in 1976.
My Dad had started his own business in 1974; with only three or four employees. There was no office staff; my mom did the books for several years in addition to working full time as a nurse and raising four young children.
My Dad's business grew quickly, however, and within a few short years he was already quite successful. My parents divorced in 1984 and my father later re-married twice.  My mother also remarried;( my stepfather died in a car accident in 2003). My parents managed to remain friends, however, and I know that my mother was very affected by my Dad's passing also and had been very sad for him when he was diagnosed with his disease. Despite the many years they had been apart, they were always connected, of course, by us.

Me and my Dad at Christmas, 2004.

Dad with me and my youngest sister, 2003.

My siblings and I at my Dad's wedding to my stepmother, Gayle, in September 2000.

My Dad was sometimes like a big kid himself. He really enjoyed his grandchildren.

At the Harley-Davidson Museum in Milwaukee. Father's Day, 2010.

With my godson and nephew, G.  2009

As a veteran and Marine, my Dad was entitled to a burial with military honors.

My Dad loved trees. My stepmother and my Dad's eldest brother picked out the cemetary plot a few days before the funeral service (they had pre-planned most everything more than two years ago, but hadn't gotten around to deciding on where to be buried). It was perhaps Fate that there was a plot available right next to a large old oak tree, right by the river that runs through the cemetary. It would be just exactly the place he would have picked himself.

I carry your heart with me. I carry it in my heart. I am never without it. Anywhere I go, you go, my dear..................
~ e.e.cummings