I was rushing back to NJ after getting news that my dad had just been readmitted back into the hospital, and I knew it didn't sound good. I looked for a writing guide book thinking I might need an outlet, and when I randomly opened it up to one of the pages to look at the format, the instructions were to write a good-bye letter to someone you love. I wrote this letter to my dad, who died peacefully on September 29th.
Dear Dad, October 10, 2012
I was looking out the widow thinking about you, and I noticed a doe standing in the distance, looking back at me. I thought of Tinkerbell, the abandoned fawn that was brought to you when we were living at the Camp Peary Army base in Williamsburg, Virginia. I was only two at the time, but through your stories Tinkerbell became my earliest memory of how deeply caring and loving you were. I remember you describing to me that she was weak and covered with ticks, and I was so proud of you for being able to heal her. You could fix anything, dad...our stuffy noses, screen doors, our worries, and even our attitudes just by simply being the patient, gentle and yet firm dad you always were. You use to tell me how Tinkerbell would wander into our homes on the base looking for food and attention, and how after she had returned to live in the wild, when all the other deer in her flock would lift their white tails and take flight, she would remain behind and affectionately look back at us. Maybe you were responsible for sending me that doe to look back at me.
What child understands the responsibilities and pressures of an adult, but especially with a father like you who made everything seem so easy and natural. You loved to learn and you worked hard at everything you did. You always said if we were going to do something, do it well. We all remember falling asleep night after night to the sound of you driving golf balls into the thick old quilt you had hanging in our basement, and your hours in the darkroom trying to master the black and white photographic zone system, and it wasn’t uncommon to find you in bed late at night reading through one of your medical journals, whose graphic photos, by the way, we loved looking through with friends. They were far better than any rippley’s believe it or not.
You selflessly loved your family and friends and devoted long days to taking care of your patients, and if you were on call, long nights as well, but we never heard you complain. You would arrive home in the evenings, and we would be so excited to see you, even when we were in trouble with mom, and out of desperation she had cautioned, “JUST WAIT UNTIL YOUR FATHER GETS HOME!” I think mom even knew that wasn’t really a viable threat. You would walk up the stairs into the hallway, and with a twinkle in your eye tell us to reach inside your suit pockets where we would find pens and pads and little trinkets, and even once, to our great surprise and excitement, a furry little guinea pig who you had rescued from the lab.
You lived life to its fullest, dad, and so generously cared about everyone and everything, maintaining such a high standard for yourself, but never judging or discriminating. I loved going to the hospital with you on your nightly patient rounds. I can still remember your patients’ faces lighting up when you entered their rooms. I watched and listened to everything you did and even as a child i remember being aware of how friendly and outgoing you were. Moving from floor to floor we almost always took the stairs because you said it was good exercise. I was so proud to be your daughter, and it was because of you that I became a nurse.
In highschool you pierced all of our friends’ ears at the kitchen table. You were so cool. You would carefully mark the spot by making a little indentation on our ears with the tip of your cross pen. I remember that awkward earpiercing contraption getting stuck on either Sandra or Lynn’s ear, and being so relieved it wasn’t mine. Otolyrngology had it’s scarey moments for David, Anne and me, like when we had stuffy noses and you would insist on taking us over to your office to suction us clear, or the time you brought home your new laryngascope and tested it out on Anne’s poor, unfortunate boyfriend who happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. But it had many more wonderful moments like the time you and Charlie Bippart operated on our golden retriever, Tammy, when she was having trouble breathing. You even put a tracheotomy in her. I’ll never forget the anxious wait outside the operating room which happened to be our Van Beuren Road laundryroom.
My mind is skipping, now to the Vineyard, clamming and watersking and making macrome belts, and hooked rugs and fishing...you would be pulling the fish in over the bow and Anne would be releasing them off the stern. Remember the week mom was away, and after a successful day of fishing you cooked up a huge pot of bluefish chowder...Anne said you added in at least a six pack of beer. The first night it tasted pretty good, and the second still not bad, but dad, by the fourth day we were really missing mom’s cooking.
You and mom were a team...married 60 years. In a letter you wrote to her, on her 80th birthday, you recalled your life together, from the first time you met at Peddie School in 1945, to your college courtship, hitchhiking back and fourth between Providence and New London, the lighthouse...which I’ll have to ask mom about later on, and all the way through to becoming snowbirds, surrounded by your dear wonderful friends and blessed with ten beloved grandchildren. You said you were the most lucky guy for having mom by your side. Well, let me tell you dad, it goes both ways. Watching mom’s amazingly tender and loving moments by your side in the hospital were some of the most beautiful I will ever remember. Thank-you for being so easy to love and for bringing such joy into so many people's lives. I know YOU know, more than any of us who are left here missing you, that this isn’t good-bye, just see you later, alligator.
I love you. Barbs