One Year Since

And so we’ve made one full revolution around the sun since my dad passed away. I’ve been a little uncertain just how to approach this week; I knew it would not be an easy one. I know everything I did last year on February 7th, 8th, and 9th. These things are imprinted on my memory. Seth and I were with friends at a concert of the Philadelphia Orchestra at the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach on the night of the 7th. Rachmaninoff and Shostakovich were on the program. I was there but I was equally not, as I sat there in the box, worried about my dad, acknowledging for the first time, as I listened to the Rachmaninoff piano concerto, that maybe he was not going to get better. On the 8th, Seth and I went to see Dad in the morning at the rehabilitation center he’d been at since late January. He was in good spirits. We left, for we had to go to work, and we had breakfast at a nearby bagel place, a place with a chain to keep the people in line in check, a place that drained the energy from me. But we ate there all the same. And then we parted, Seth and I, he to his job and me to mine. All day long I worked but I wanted to leave to go see Dad. Late in the afternoon, I did. When I arrived at his room, he was surrounded by nurses. They were moving him to Medical ICU. “To keep better watch on him,” they said. I watched from a corner of the room as they made things ready for the move. Dad seemed ok. I walked alongside his bed as they rolled him down the corridors, down the elevator, into the ICU, where I was told to wait outside. I called my mom and sister, and I called Seth. They came and waited with me in the waiting area. We finally got inside, late in the evening, to visit with Dad. He seemed ok then, too. We talked some, but he was tired. And then the ICU nurse came and told us it was time to go. We didn’t want to, but we had to, I guess. We said goodnight to Dad. We each kissed him. We each said, “I love you.” He told us he loved us, too. We went to eat, at Brewzzis, probably their last customers of the night. We had the same waiter that served us a few nights earlier, when my cousin Al came to visit Dad, the night that Dad was so animated and so much like his usual self, it was hard to remember he had had a stroke. The waiter remembered us. When we were done, we said goodnight in the parking lot; my sister and my mom went home, Seth and I went home. We fed the cat. We showered. We went to bed. We kissed each other goodnight. I fell asleep. Sometime past midnight, the phone rang. I jumped out of bed. I answered. It was my sister; Dad had gone into cardiac arrest. We rushed to the hospital. We met my mom and sister there, all of us anxious, nervous. It was after hours, so they wouldn’t let us in. We explained. We waited, and waited, and waited. Finally, a security guard came and took us to ICU. We opened the door. The nurse calmly told us she was so sorry. And that was that.

My dad had been diagnosed with cancer years before. It was prostate cancer that had spread to the bones. But never did he “seem” to have cancer. He never had chemo, he never lost weight, he never lost his hair, all the things that I had thought, in my limited knowledge, came with the disease. He carried on, just as he always did. He had spinal stenosis, too, and it got more difficult for him to walk as the years passed. A cane would have been a great help, but he was too proud to use one. Dad never liked to call attention to himself. He began radiation treatments at the start of January last year, to help control the cancer that was beginning to spread more rapidly. His doctor said that he was responding really well to the treatments. There’s a bell there at the center that folks who complete their treatments ring––a right of passage of sorts. I was excited for Dad to ring the bell after his last treatment. He laughed at me. “I’m not ringing that bell,” he said. To him, ringing a big brass bell was no better than being seen with a cane.

He never did ring it. He had a stroke the morning he was supposed to have his last radiation treatment, which is what brought him to the hospital in Boca Raton and a week later to the rehabilitation center in Delray Beach. He even took his stroke in stride. There was going to be a long road of therapy ahead to learn how to walk again, but his speech was fine. He was a master at making us think all was well. In the end, I think he checked out on his own terms. He did so gently and in his own perfect timing. We said goodnight, we said our I love yous, and he went to sleep. Who can ask for better than that?

I wish I wasn’t so nice about quietly waiting all those hours in the waiting area while he was alone in ICU. I did what I was told, and think they just forgot about me, and it bothers me sometimes that I just sat there. I wish I had known to call my nephews. But things didn’t seem that bad. I wish we had been there with him at the very end, all of us. But we weren’t.

Dad gave us so many gifts over his lifetime, and the last one he gave us was a peaceful transition. Actually, it wasn’t the last gift he gave us. There have been so many little things that have happened over the course of this past year, coincidences maybe, but some have been just too coincidental. I never know when these gifts will come, but they do. It is my job, I think, to be open to them, to believe that there are occasional passings across that bridge that keep us connected. And so I meander through this week of memories, bumping through each day of it, not sure what to do or what not to do. Maybe some of you are going through weeks like this of your own. I’m right there with you; I understand. There is no right or wrong way to do any of this. We just do it. And we hope we do it well, pushing through to a week that holds different memories, as the planet we stand upon keeps spinning and traveling around the star that holds us and gathers us in.

*       *      *      *

Opening image: Seth and I keep this photograph of my dad in the bookcase in our living room. Paula Marie Gourley was the photographer, three or four years ago, snapping the picture of Dad in his home, which always was his favorite place to be.

Dad loved home, but he also loved cars. Dad was an auto mechanic most of his life––a Doctor of Engines, he would say, or a Doctor of Automobiles. In 1974, he bought a burgundy Cadillac Coupe De Ville. Not long after the new car purchase, the three of us were in the car, Mom, Dad, and me. Mom just happened to reach across the dashboard for something, and as her hand passed in front of the radio, the station changed. We all agreed that that was pretty odd, but sure enough, when she reached over a second time, again the radio station changed. It happened again and again and we decided it was Mom’s diamond ring that was causing this. I happened to have a ring in those days, too, with a little ruby and a little diamond. I waved my ring in front of the radio and the station changed for me, too. For months, Mom and I believed our rings had the power to move the radio dial in that 1974 Cadillac.

Turns out there was a button on the driver’s side floor that controlled the radio. Each time one of us passed our ring in front of the radio, Dad would secretly step on the button to activate the station change. We were convinced it was some sort of magic, the diamonds operating on a higher frequency. That was my dad, though: he dealt in magic of a practical sort, and helped you believe you could do anything you wanted to do.

 

19 thoughts on “One Year Since

  1. Ester says:

    Oh John, how sad and so beautiful.
    Thank you for sharing this.

  2. Leslie Stewart says:

    Sharing in your grief. This week is the fourth anniversary of my own Dad’s passing. The first full year round is the most disorienting and difficult, but you are so adept at paying attention to all the little beauties, joys and mysteries of life that not only anchor us, but often show us that our loved ones are always with us. Peace and love.

  3. Guy Icangelo says:

    Grief and mourning give way to loving memories and tributes. Your Dad is in your heart like my Dad is in mine. Wonderful writing John, thank you for continuing to share.

  4. Karen says:

    So many gifts he left you and your family and these gifts you share with us so generously. The first year is the hardest. The year of firsts has passed (the first Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter… without him). Now find the courage to celebrate his life. His presence is all around.

  5. Karen says:

    I’m taking advantage of your invitation to share a story. It was something I wrote, (and then made a book of later) for my daughters. Maybe you’ll find some comfort here.

    The Dream

    To my daughters,

    There have been some very special people that affected my perspective of life. The gifts they shared have remained with me. Their legacy: laughter and a gentle, kindness. Nanie was one of them. She was 82 years old when she suffered a massive stroke that lasted twelve years. Uncle Manny was another.

    Wednesday evening into Thursday Morning

    You would think my own rest would have been peaceful with David soundly sleeping beside me. Inexplicably, it was not. Troubled, I woke every hour and come 4:00 a.m. I was ready to give it up. Trying to keep still, I attempted to match David’s easy breathing pattern one more time…

    The dark evening was ever so lightly lit with a sliver of moonlight. There was just enough light to catch the reflecting glimmer off the river that ran beside our cabin. I could hear the river softly lapping at the rock lined shore. Stones – glittering flecks of mica, were worn smooth and almost iridescent against the shimmering shoreline. The cabin was surrounded by large oak trees. I found great comfort inside the safety of our log house.

    Turning back into the room I enjoyed the bright fire, illuminating the interior. David and Uncle Manny were there too. As always, Uncle Manny was entertaining David and me with his silly stories. Grateful my zany Uncle and David had finally met, we found ourselves in hysterics. Manny was wonderful. He’d laugh at his own stories, hardly completing them without breaking up into convulsions. We laughed at him and laughed at ourselves! You almost didn’t need a story to follow. And that was my Uncle Manny.

    I looked out my window again and recognized a distant rhythm. Listening hard, I opened the door to find silhouettes of people advancing toward the house. They marched with great happiness, shouting, laughing, calling each other by name. They were also singing something. For the life of me I could not distinguish the words, but I knew the tune. It was something from the Motown era. The Four Tops or the Temptations, I cannot remember which, but it lifted my heart. Needing to hear more, I approached the crowd. Uncle Manny joined the party and then, lost in the crowd.

    It’s hard to be sad with such a tune. Hesitating, I left the safety of the warm room, and stepped onto the porch. Looking back at David I heard him say, “Go, have fun! I’ll be here. Don’t worry!” To control my fear, I put my brain in neutral and stepped into the blackness, but not out of the safety of the door light radiating out before me. Some ancient memory of the songs were resurrected and emanated from me. The night air was filled with festive sounds of singing and dancing.

    Tempted to join them, I waited to catch the end of the conga line. Ready to latch onto the last woman, I noticed that she was riding an adult tricycle. The large grocery basket in the back was holding a small child. Maybe three years old, this beautiful black boy was wearing his communion whites. His expression was somewhere between crying and laughing. He was looking at me for some directional cue from me. What a delightful boy! I wanted to cuddle and tickle him, but I dare not approach. His uncertain mood could have easily turned to terror. So, I resisted, offering a smile instead. Understanding that I meant no harm, his little mouth turned into a broad, bright smile. Grateful at conquering the moment I began to catch the rhythm again, ready to step off the porch and begin to dance…

    “AHHH!” in a morning stretch, David woke me. I jolted from the bed. How unusual that he should wake me before me! Groggy, the song was still running through my head when I realized that it was all a dream! Uncle Manny died four years ago and Nanie, I found out days later, was on her deathbed that very evening.

    Because I believe in such things, I think this was Nanie’s way of letting me know that she was leaving this world. And like the New Orleans funeral celebration, this should be considered a happy thing.

    I give you this story, my darling daughters, because it is true.

    As a child, near into my teens I was always terrified of the night. To me it meant darkness… death. This dream and others have offered me a different kind of comfort. I’m no longer scared of the dark… or death.

    I hope you will find some peace in it.

    With much love,

    Mom

  6. Margaret says:

    John, thanks for sharing the gift of your father’s humor this morning. 60 years of marriage is like 5 minutes………underwater!🤓 You were lucky to have such a great dad! Remember and share him with others this week. You will feel better.

    • John Cutrone says:

      Thanks, Neighbor. It was nice bumping into you at Aioli. Seth and I usually have our breakfast at home, but we were out of yogurt and the cupboards are getting bare and I kept thinking about that awful, terrible, suburban Delray Beach breakfast we had last year on the 8th of February and I knew that I wanted my breakfast today to be amongst friends. Aioli always offers us that. The bonus was seeing Karen there, and you, and then getting to re-tell Dad’s joke about being married all those years. Thank you.

  7. Paula Marie Gourley says:

    Thank you, John, for opening your beautiful, tender heart. I read this recollection just this morning, which happens to be my own Dad’s birth day, long ago, in Munich. He was born to his French mother and Russian father, somewhere between two geographies, inexplicable. That’s the way he was, kind of shadowy, full of quiet mysteries. Your Dad and mine were cut from a similar cloth, I think. Always very neat, methodical, reserved, observing. Mine polished his leather shoes every week, preparing for the time ahead, the steps he would take. Everything was kept in a fragrant wooden box, on a bench in the garage – tins of rich leather pastes and dark-bristled brushes. I thought of my Dad when I was in your Dad’s garage. Funny how life is, what strikes the chord of memory.

    Yesterday, I wrote this in my father’s honor. I share it here to honor your beautiful Dad, and the way he touched my life. I’m glad I knew him.

    Remembering my Dad, Ray Gourley.
    February 8th would be his 110th birthday, imagine!

    He only lived to his 64th year, a quiet courtly guy, Russian and French, born in another time. His stories were hidden, since he didn’t say much about himself. There was an occasional glimpse at his gregarious charm, but that was shown rarely. I think he had aspirations to do with singing. He liked to play with basso profundo, once in awhile, and it always surprised me. Deep and rich, it was. And then, there were the Stephen Foster songs, and ditties from the Depression era and hard times. He liked to eat cold kasha with milk, and pork & beans right out of the can. That speaks to me of deprivation, but I could be wrong.

    He typed with two fingers. That tried-and-true Hunt & Peck method, and no mistakes. Some of the postcards he sent me at Camp Cahoon and then my first apartment in faraway San Jose remain treasures, kept and cherished. Mostly, they’re signed, in blue ink from his trusty Parker fountain pen, “O.G.” or “Old Grouch” because I called him that once, when I was a teenager, and it stuck. We both smiled about that. Tammy Damon Crooked Creek Berry Farms Gordon Robert Tom

    • John Cutrone says:

      I like your story, Paula, and thank you for the photograph of my dad, one of my favorites. We have the fragrant shoe polish and brushes, too, also in a wooden box… but those are memories I associate with my grandpa, who liked his shoes buffed and shined.

  8. charlotte Maloney says:

    I never met your dad but I bet he was just like you John, we’re good so good to all of us so helpful and one for us to be successful and enjoy your Jaffe collection.Thanks for sharing about your dad. Now I understand what a nice guy you are

  9. Brooke (Pop’s Grandaughter-in-law, and proud of it!) says:

    Thank you, my beloved Uncle J. You never cease to stir my emotions with your beautifully written, and always heartfelt words. We would have liked to have seen him again before he passed, but he knew what he was doing. He squeezed my hand three times instead of one the last time we were together, and he made sure to tell me that my kids were ‘good kids.’ That means the world to me, even now. We also got to talk to him on the phone when he was in good spirits at the hospital one night, and at the time it gave us a false sense that he was recovering, but later it became a testament to his strength, or maybe it was his determination not to give in to weakness. I love and respect him so much, for the son, husband, father, grandfather and great grandfather that he was. And we love and respect you so much for the wonderful uncle and great uncle that you are. You two were different in a lot of ways, but the same in so many of the ways that matter most.
    All my love and prayers for peace to you and Seth,
    Brooke

    • John Cutrone says:

      Oh how beautiful to read this, especially about your last visit. I used to think we were very different, but no, not really. It took a long time for me to see that, though. What a long list of things he was! And you didn’t even mention “grandson,” but he did know our great grandmother for the first 9 or 10 years of his life––I wonder about what he was like as a kid, although I do honestly believe he and Joseph were a lot alike as kids. It’s all in that photograph!

  10. Kim Elmore says:

    Hey JC, beautifully said as always. “THAT GUY!” Puts a smile on my face even now.

    I will always be grateful for his automotive advice but more than anything, grateful for him (& your mom) producing a kid like you. Such a great friend and so loving to all!

    xo Kim

    • John Cutrone says:

      Thanks, Kim. For sure my favorite Dad advice concerning cars (and in particular my friends’ cars) was to put a tin of ground black pepper into the radiator for radiator leaks. There were some friends who went through an awful lot of ground pepper tins before finally having to have their radiators repaired or replaced.

      And thank you for your kind words. I hope all is going well!

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