Now that my step-father has passed away, I am parent-less. It very well may be that the idea of this is more unsettling than the actuality of it.
As many adult children will concur, when a parent is sick it is all consuming. Your own life becomes a secondary area of maintenance. You rely on spouses and friends and neighbors to ensure everyone is fed and transported while you tend to your beloved mom or dad or, in this case, step-dad (which puts a slightly different spin on things, which I’ll get to in a bit).
Illness, even while happening at a snail’s pace, oddly blurs through your life at a breakneck speed. But when illness has taken its ultimate toll and you’re done plowing through arrangements and funerals and logistics and planning … it’s still some time before you notice the finality of events.
Suddenly one day you’re no longer worrying about a sick parent. Or any parent. And it’s kind of a weird thing. As a parent, with parents, I had many roles. Now, not so much.
When you do focus on your family again you might notice – really notice – that your kids are taller, or your dog’s fatter or your home’s exterior paint looks pretty crappy. You can move forward and tend to things you hadn’t given much thought to in a long, long time.
It’s a new page in a new chapter.
And it startles me that the act of putting together photo boards for a wake makes me realize how few pictures I’ve actually taken the time to print out of late. Damn Facebook.
The short story, still chock full of irony, is that my mom passed away almost three years ago, leaving behind her husband, my step-father – a man 20 years older, in failing health, and completely in the throes of elderly entitlement and negative outlook. He was pushing 90 at the time of her death and had lived the life of a quintessential old school husband – completely assuming that any female in the room might be happy to fix him a plate of food or gladly accept the wad of cash (his salary) that he’d hand over in exchange for taking care of him completely.
Saddled with the reality that he could no sooner walk to the mailbox than live alone, there was more than one occasion when my sister and I looked at each other with a “wtf?” glare of disbelief. My mother had a wicked sense of humor. (Well played, Mom, well played.) We took care of him from the minute she was gone and (with great patience) journeyed with him for two years, nine months and nine days until he was able to get to where he really wanted to be; back by her side.
He came into our lives while we were ensconced in adolescence, a knight in shining armor to a single mother of three children, and we treated him with the indifference any teenager might have. So long as he didn’t interfere with our Friday nights in the Burger King parking lot, what did we care who he was or what he did?
But what he did was nothing short of amazing.
He put my mother on a pedestal for more than 30 years. He taught us to drive. He absorbed every icy shout of “YOU’RE NOT MY FATHER!” we could hurl. And with every infuriating and bigoted nuance of his personality (“…please stop calling them colored people, it’s been frowned upon for a long time now…”) we came to love him deeply.
He walked my sister and I down the aisle.
He was present for the births of 10 grandchildren.
He never gave up on the Mets.
He ate 4 Eggo waffles with his coffee every morning before 6am, securing the adored “Grandpa Eggo” into our vernacular for always.
And yes, with his nifty black glasses on, he resembled Carl Frederickson from the movie “UP.”
We will forever smile at that.
He was a kind and decent man and lived a full life with the woman of his dreams and a family that embraced him. I am not saddened that he’s gone because while putting on a brave face, he has been lost and aimless and miserable living in a world without my mom. But I can’t help but be a bit melancholy, though, because in times like these, our own mortality blazes in our minds.
Cheers to a man who brought smiles to so many.
And apologies to my children, who now have a mom that can fully devote every ounce of her attention on them … and their schoolwork … and the state of their bedrooms … and their behavior … and their curfews … and …
Tina Drakakis blogs at Eyerollingmom and was just featured in the Boston production of “Listen to Your Mother: Giving Motherhood a Microphone.” She takes on the cyberspace @Eyerollingmom and Eyerollingmom.