Five Years

Five years have passed by so very quickly. And yet, every July 3, I recall that day, vividly.

I recall the surreal, foggy morning in Saugatuck.  I was camping with my friends, and decided to call my dad for the first time that weekend.  The calls went unanswered.  I recall seeing “The Devil Wears Prada” with my friends because it had rained that morning, and not being able to enjoy the movie because I kept checking my phone to see if he had called me back.  And then, after the movie, getting the news that tore through my heart.

The ride back to camp, and arriving to find my tent taken down and my car already packed.  I will never, ever forget the kindness and love from my friends as they worked so hard to get me out of there as fast as possible.

Getting my friend Rafael to drive my car so I didn’t have to drive it myself was another blessing.  I don’t remember much of anything from that trip.  I just wanted to get home.

Sitting in my mom’s kitchen that night, hearing fireworks going off in the distance.  The low thuds of each explosion marking the celebration of the holiday that was, on that day, dead to me.  What was there to celebrate?  I was mourning. Independence Day would never be the same for me, and hasn’t since.

The planning, meetings, dinners brought by from friends and family.  Lots of decisions, and lots and lots of tears.  That was all part of it, too.

As rough as that day and the days that followed were, it somehow made our family that much stronger.  We never broke under the pressure and kept on going.

There was immense sadness, but also immense relief.  Dad had suffered for so long, and by the end of his life was so miserable, that he made us miserable, too.  I guess what kept us going (and sane) through all of that was knowing that he was finally at peace.  And consequently, we, too, were at peace.

I wrote about all of this five years ago, so I don’t want to re-hash every detail… but in the five years that have passed, so much has happened.  My nieces were born, and have given such joy to our lives.  How I wish he could have met and known Abby and Emily.  Part of me believes he does know them, and is watching over them closely; but had he been alive to meet them I know he would have loved them dearly.

But on the other end of the spectrum, my uncle– my dad’s brother– is nearing the end of his battle with cancer.  Unlike dad, his suffering is lingering.  I hate what’s happening to him, and how cancer has robbed him of not only his ability to live his life, but his will to live.  Once again, when the time comes, we will have sorrow, but also thankful he is no longer suffering.

So this year I am spending the holiday with my family.  I’m sure we’ll share some tears, but many more happy times.  And we will celebrate Independence Day.  Because although I thought it was dead to me five years ago, eventually, I have to move on.

Dad, wherever you are– I love you.  You’ll always be in my heart.

New Beginnings

This week has easily been the hardest week of my life.

Hands-down.

I have shed more tears, and processed more thoughts than I thought I could ever possibly comprehend.  And I know I am bound to shed just as many, if not more, tears and process more thoughts in the very near future.

When we started the funeral process for my Dad, we had no idea how many people would show up.  Since Dad had been basically a shut-in for the last 5-10 years, we really had no clue of how many people he had truly touched throughout his life.  My Mom probably knew, but since he hadn’t had much contact with anyone in recent years, it was easy to forget.

We figured maybe 50-60 people would show up.

We ended up with twice that many.

As soon as the doors opened, people started streaming in.  We didn’t even have time to orient ourselves in a decent “receiving line”.

And as the people streamed in; the faces, the stories, and the memories started to amaze us.

There were friends from his childhood and high school years.  There were friends from every job he held.  There were friends from the Rose Societies and the Army.  There were friends of my sister, my mother, and mine.  There were neighbors.  There were people that none of the surviving family had ever met, but my dad knew– and one man who came from as far away as Texas– after my mom called him the day before– just to be there.

We were touched.  We were overwhelmed.  We were moved.

One of Dad’s greatest fears toward the end was wondering if anyone cared enough to come to his funeral.

Dad would be pleased to know that he had one of the most amazing funerals I have ever seen.

He deserved it.  He was loved and respected.  And it showed by the people who came, who called, who wrote, sent cards, or just sent a note.

We came home from the funeral, spent and exhausted, but so very proud of Richard Aiello, Sr.

And so, we start a new chapter in our lives.

It seems somewhat fitting that this chapter begins on the day that my blog hits its 2-year anniversary mark.

I’m proud of my family.  I’m proud of our love and respect for each other.  I’m proud of our strength and courage to get through some of life’s toughest hurdles, and still find a way to laugh and enjoy life as it is.  But most importantly, I’m proud of my family for never letting an obstacle knock us down.  We view the challenge and accept it.  And now it’s time to take the next steps.

This afternoon when I got home from Kenosha, I called Jeremy and said, “I need to do something fun tonight.  I don’t care what it is, but I need to just let myself go for a while.”  At around 6 he came by to pick me up and we met up with some other friends to see Superman Returns.  I was really excited to see the movie.  In fact, I had talked to my Dad about it a while ago just before it premiered.  Dad had taken me to see the original 1978 Superman movie with Christopher Reeve.  He was a big Superman fan, just as I was.  So I knew that seeing this movie would be bittersweet, yet exciting. And I loved it.

After the movie, we went to Crew for some dinner and drinks.  And for the first time since Dad died, I was able to laugh and relax.  I needed that so badly.  It felt good.

So… I’m going to be okay.  I know this.  It’s going to take a while, and I will always miss him, but life truly does go on.

Ob la Di. Ob la Da. Life Goes On.

A good father

A few months ago, I had a very frank conversation with my dad. One that he started himself.

“Rick,” he said, “Was I a good father?”

I thought about this for a minute, only because it was such an unusually deep question for him to ask. Usually our conversations revolved around the Chicago Cubs, movies, politics, history, or– most often– his health problems. This one threw me for a loop.

“Why are you asking me this, Dad?” I retorted, curious what brought on this sudden inquisitiveness.

“Well, I actually asked the same question of your sister the other day, and she said that I was too strict, and spanked you too much.” He replied. “And I felt bad, you know? I felt like I had failed you both as a father.”

I gave his statement some thought, and considered the possibility that my dad had maybe misconstrued what my sister told him. He did this often, as his hearing wasn’t so great; and sometimes he had the ability to take one part of what someone said to him and retain only that. It was a frustrating issue, but we learned to deal with it over time. Besides, I know my sister would never tell him that he was a bad father. We had discussed that between ourselves many times, and agreed that yes, he could have been a little less harsh with the “iron fist”, but he was definitely a very good father. The proof was in how we both turned out.

And so I told him this.

“Dad, yes, you definitely went a bit overboard with the spankings. And yes, you were very strict. But you know what? I’m glad you were strict. I’m glad you spanked us. Because Dad, you were a very good father. You loved us unconditionally, and we never once doubted that. And the fact that you were so strict with us kept us in line and made us who we are today.

“So to answer your question, Dad: You were a damn good father. And don’t you ever think otherwise.”

My dad considered this for a minute, and thanked me. He told me he loved me, and I told him I loved him. And the conversation then continued into discussions about the Chicago Cubs, movies, politics, history, and whatever else happened to be on TV at the time.

As my sister, my mom and I discussed all of this in the past few days, we realized something.

He must have known that his end was coming soon.

This was just one of many such conversations we had with him in the last few months. His demeanor was much more mellow, and he seemed to want to talk more. And when he did talk, he talked about things that meant something to us, or that maybe cleared the air about a certain issue or thing from the past.

And, more than ever, he made sure to say “I love you.”

And every time, we made sure to say it back.

Numb

Grief is one of the most complex emotions I have ever experienced.

I thought I experienced it before– I lost both of my grandmothers during my lifetime, and two dogs.  The pain and sorrow I felt was intense.

But when I found out that my father had died, I experienced pain like I have never felt before in my life.

When I arrived in Michigan for my camping trip, I told myself I needed to call my parents to let them know I arrived safely.  I went right to setting up my tent and supplies, and got immediately wrapped up in the adventures of the day.

And I forgot to call my parents.

The next day was a bit rainy, but we still were able to enjoy ourselves.

And I still didn’t call my parents.

Monday arrived, with still more rain.  We decided to catch a movie, and drove to a nearby town.  On the way over, I finally decided to call my parents.

The answering machine picked up.  The answering machine never picked up, because my dad was always there with the phone nearby.  I tried calling again, and got the machine again.  Something was wrong.  I left a message saying to please call me as soon as possible.

We arrived at the cinema, bought our tickets, and saw the movie.  The Devil Wears Prada.  Loved it.  Laughed, cried, enjoyed every minute.

Every minute, at least, up until the last 20 minutes or so… when I realized that my phone had still not vibrated with a call from my parents.

As soon as we left the movie, I called again, and got a busy signal.  Now I KNEW something was wrong.

I called my sister at all her numbers and left messages to please call me as soon as possible.  I got to my friend Jeremy’s car and called my parents one more time.

My mom picked up.

“What’s wrong?” I asked her. “I’ve been trying to call all day long.”

“Ricky,” my mom said.  “Your dad is gone.”

“What!?” I cried.

“He’s gone, Rick.”

In an instant, I wished I was there with her.  I wanted to blink my eyes, clap my hands or do something– ANYTHING– to be there and NOT where I was.

I could hear paramedic radios in the background.  My mom had come home from work and found him.  He had an apparent heart attack.  The medical examiner said from the look on his face and the way he fell, it was quick.  He was never in pain.

The realization that my feelings were correct, and knowing how badly I wanted to be home with my mom immediately made me absolutely hysterical.  I sobbed so deeply, so painfully, like I have never sobbed before.  Why didn’t I call them earlier?  Why didn’t I tell him I loved him just one more time?

My wonderful, incredible friends comforted me, drove me back to camp, packed up all of my things, pulled my car around, loaded my car, and got me on the road as soon as possible.  My friend Rafael drove my car so I didn’t have to be alone.  I barely remember half of the trip.  I was completely numb.

Grief plays with your emotions.  You feel fine one moment, and the next you are absolutely sobbing.  Your mind races with thoughts and pictures of things you did with the person you loved, and the things you wish you had done.  You regret not saying things you wanted to say.  You are thankful that you said the things you did.

And yet… you realize that although the person you loved is no longer present on this earth, he or she is with you.

I write this from my parent’s house… the house I grew up in, the house that has always been home to me. It doesn’t feel like home anymore. It’s empty.  It’s quiet.  It’s lonely.

I am sitting in the room my sister once occupied.  Adjacent to this room is my old bedroom.  For years after I moved out of this house, I still used my bedroom whenever I would stay overnight. But a few years ago, my dad decided to use my bedroom as his room, where he could sit in his chair and watch his movies all day long.  The bed was moved into my sister’s room.

Now my bedroom is empty once again.  The chair still sits against the wall, facing the TV.  My dad’s gray hairs are still on the pillow on the back of the chair, and his movies are still behind the door.

But he’s not here.

I don’t like this feeling.  It hurts.

You may wonder why I’m writing this at all.  I guess I just need to put these words… these feelings… emotions… all on paper.  I need to remember the pain I felt at those moments, and the instant sense of loss I experienced.  It may be depressing, and it may never win any awards or even admiration, but once I am done writing this, I will know that what I felt was in every word and every punctuation mark.

Finally, I want to thank Scott for writing yesterday’s post, and all of the people who commented or sent messages or other well-wishes.  Your thoughts are most greatly appreciated.

Richard L. Aiello, Sr. 1938-2006

[Updated 7/4/06]

Dear Readers of the Launching Pad-

It’s Scott (aka Scott-O-Rama) here. Unfortunately I have to share some sad news with you on behalf of Rick.

Rick’s father, Richard L. Aiello, Sr., passed away today at his home in Kenosha, Wisconsin. As many of you know, Rick was on a camping trip in Michigan with friends this weekend when he found out the news. I talked to Rick, and he is currently driving home to Kenosha to be with his family.

In talking to Rick, it is obvious he loved his father a great deal. I am sure many of you will want to offer your support and condolences. Rick will not be able to access his blog or e-mail from Kenosha, and details at this point are still being decided. I will post an update as soon as I know how you should best contact Rick.

Rick tells me that the photo in the post below was his father’s favorite, and as such, also became Rick’s favorite too. It’s of his father, his sister, and Rick from when they were growing up. I think even through this picture you can tell that there was much love in his family.

Rick, we all love you and our thoughts are with you during this difficult time.

With deepest sympathy,
S.

Update: Rick has sent me all the details regarding the funeral, addresses, etc. If you would like this information, please send me an e-mail at scott -at- scott-o-rama [dawt] com, and I will forward it to you.