One year ago today my father passed away. He was only in his 60’s, and he went from a stage 4 cancer diagnosis to deceased in 8 short weeks. In some ways it feels like it has been a lifetime since I had the opportunity to talk to him, and in other ways it feels like he just died yesterday.
Dad driving his dogs around. Sadly everyone in this picture but the black lab, Trooper, is now deceased.
I don’t have any particularly fond memories of late last summer and the fall. Aside from the obvious loss of my father to whom I was very close, I had one of those periods of life that you reflect back on and think “damn, I can’t believe I got through it.” Things happened so fast. On a Saturday evening in June I stepped off a plane after traveling home from Moscow, Russia with my new son Carter, thinking life couldn’t get any better. Two days later my dad received his cancer diagnosis. He died 8 weeks later. Jason was injured and had surgery a few days after my dad’s funeral. As part of his recovery he could basically do nothing, not even pick up Carter, for almost three months. It felt like in the blink of an eye I found myself reeling from the loss of my dad and taking care of a new baby, an incapacitated husband, a deeply grieving mother, and a farm full of horses. All by myself.
I got up at 4am every single day, and aimed to be in bed by midnight. Like I said, not a lot of fond memories of that period of time. I especially learned to hate unloading feed. If I never, ever unload a pallet of feed by myself again it will be too soon. I actually added it up once and I unloaded something like 550 bags of feed, the equivalent of almost 14 tons. I hit my lowest point when a tree fell and had the driveway completely blocked. I had been doing the “I can handle this, I’ve got this” act pretty well until that point. For whatever reason that stupid tree just cracked me. I remember sitting on an overturned bucket and sobbing, having one of those conversations where you ask yourself rhetorical questions. “I can’t do this anymore. Why me?” You know, the usual self talk one does when you are having an epic pity party.
It wasn’t all bad. I did get to see some very spectacular sunrises. I’ve posted those pictures a few times so I’ll only bore you with a few of them. I will also grudgingly admit there is something cathartic, or maybe the word is spiritual, about watching the sun come up while working on the farm each day. I’m not a morning person, thus I am most definitely not a 4am person, especially after going to bed at midnight. It took some really breathtaking sunrises to make those ungodly hours feel worthwhile.
Once my father passed it seemed like almost every other creature on the farm associated with him died as well. His dog Bush grieved himself to death. The stray rooster that had been hanging around the farm for almost ten years died. I remember thinking, what the heck, even the damn stray rooster died? Is this for real? Cloudy the barn cat died. I was so happy to see 2012 come to a close because things had to take a turn for the better, or so I thought. My beloved schipperke Bear died. Then my horse Sky had to be euthanized. A friend of mine joked that he was going to track down the random person who had the voodoo doll of me crammed full of needles.
I remember having a conversation many years ago with a person who was into astrology. I was having a similar phase in life, but at least in that one instead of everyone dying it was just that everything, and I mean almost every last thing, was changing. She told me I was going through a Venus return. Or maybe it was a Saturn return? I don’t know, it was some planet anyway. The point being it has kind of felt like another Venus/Saturn/whatever the planet return again during the last 12 months.
In all of the previous paragraphs of rambling I was trying to get to a point. My mom, Jason, Carter and I went to dinner tonight and we were able to talk and laugh about my dad with no tears. This was a huge accomplishment for my mom, and for me as well. As we have been slowly preparing my parents’ farm to go on the market we have had lots of buildings and closets to clean out. I am so grateful to my dad’s friends who helped to gather, organize and sell all of my dad’s ham radio equipment. He had literally hundreds of radios and none of us would have known what to do with any of them. It has taken them almost a year but they have sold and/or rehomed every one of those radios. Jason pretty much single handedly cleaned out the equipment shed and got everything to an equipment dealer to be sold. Jason, with the help of one of my dad’s best friends, got my parents’ basement cleaned out. We still have the two barns to clean out but we won’t talk about that. At dinner tonight we decided, after the cleaning we have done to date, that there were a few things my dad couldn’t have enough of, aside from the ham radio equipment:
1. Garden hoses – I don’t know how many miles of garden hoses my dad accumulated over the years but it is a lot. We’ve found many of them still coiled up with the tags on them. Most of the hose racks have 2 or 3 100 foot hoses crammed onto them. No one needs to buy a garden hose, just come pick up 1 or 20 or however many you need from the farm. At least he was a believer in buying the heavy duty hoses. He must have spent thousands on garden hoses, it is crazy.
2. Christmas lights – For as long as I can remember my dad was unable to walk past a display of Christmas lights without purchasing at least a couple of boxes. My parents’ house has no shortage of huge closets. One of those closets was full of box after box of Christmas lights. We have them all – white lights, blue lights, multi-colored lights, indoor lights, outdoor lights, we have enough to leave Walt Griswald in the dust when it comes to the Christmas light display. The irony is my dad hated everything to do with the lights. Hated putting them up, hated taking them down. And of course when I was a kid he especially hated trying to find the one burned out bulb that was making the whole strand not light up. When the LED lights started becoming popular he began to stock up on those. Someone is going to walk into the Goodwill and think it is Christmas in August when they see all of those boxes of Christmas lights.
On the topic of the lights I remember my dad decided one year he was going to get a huge Christmas tree he could really show off that year. He came home with this massive freshly cut Christmas tree that he and a friend somehow wrestled through the front door of the house, and the only reason they got it through the door was because the tree was wrapped and compressed in net wrapping. They managed to get this tree in the tree stand and get it upright without the use of cranes which was a miracle. The two story entry in my parents house would have something like a 30 foot ceiling and this tree went almost to the top. The tree was adorned in Christmas lights and displayed in all its glory with the awful ornaments my sister and I made as little kids. We hung from the staircase and climbed on ladders to get this tree appropriately decorated. When it came time to get the tree down things fell apart. We all managed to get the tree out of the stand without killing ourselves or maiming the walls. However there was no freaking way this tree was going back out the door. Without being wrapped up in the netting it was way too wide to fit through the door. My dad finally stomped off, only to return a few minutes later with one of his chainsaws. He proceeded to chainsaw the tree up into little pieces in the entry hall of the house while my mother looked on in horror, probably assuming her custom patterned wood floor would never recover from this. With our house smelling like 2 cycle fuel and with debris all over the entry hall, my dad successfully cut up that tree and hauled it out the front door with the wood floor unscathed. That was the first and last time we had a two story tree.
3. Tools – when Jason was cleaning the tools out of the basement he found 9 cordless drills just in the basement. Every time he opened another drawer in the workbenches he found another drill or two stuffed in there. That does not include the other cordless drills in the garage, the house, both barns, and up in his office. Apparently whenever he needed a cordless drill he just went and bought another one. And he bought good ones, all Makitas and Dewalts. He also decided a few years ago he was going to do some woodworking. He had all of these fancy saws both in the basement and in one of the barns, complete with two drill presses. I don’t know that those saws ever cut a single piece of wood but he had them, one each in the basement and one of the barns. He had about 10,000 screwdrivers, wrenches and hammers. Oh, and I can’t forget about the 8 chainsaws. Tonight at dinner my mom said that she once bought dad a shirt that said “he who dies with the most tools wins.” Well, I think he won.
A lot has happened in the last year, much of it sad and painful. But at least it is becoming less sad and painful to talk about “the Tom,” and easier to laugh at all of the great memories he left with us. I miss the Tom more than words can say, along with his dogs, the rooster, Cloudy, Bear and Sky. It was as if, when my father passed, that so many things that were associated with him on the farm died as well, like the end of an era. Hopefully those of us left behind are finally getting ready to start a new chapter and a new era.
Grand and Thomas
Lotus and Faune
Gibson, Flyer and Romeo
Johnny and Sam
Cuff Links and Cinnamon
Sometimes the grays have to stick together, you never know if you can trust those bay and chestnut horses. Asterik, Gus, Silver and George
Johnny, Toledo, Largo, Oskar and Clayton