Yesterday was truly a special Day. We held Dad's Memorial in my backyard and we had over 40 people come to celebrate his life. It was perfect for Dad. We ordered beer Koozies and drank Coors Light while munching on Peanuts in the shell. Pictures and Flowers were everywhere, and we served BBQ Ribs, Fried Chicken, Coleslaw, Gravy and Mashed Potatoes, Cornbread and Bisquits, and BBQ beans. We were so touched to see everyone there. Alzheimer's is a very lonely disease since the nature of the disease makes the individual forget who everyone is and therefore lose contact with friends and family. We tried our hardest to stay in contact with people and this blog helped tremendously. So, I extend a huge thank you to everyone who attended and/or sent flowers. It meant so much to us. It was an amazing party for Dad.
Here are the words I shared at the Memorial:
When I look back on Dad's life... it's interesting. Life handed Dad a lot of lemons. But he still managed to make lemonade. He has four children - I know we didn't turn out too bad - we cared for him until the day he died. And I know my sister Kelly who lives in Oregon would love to be here and is taking it pretty hard. She sent beautiful flowers. His lemonade also included numerous trips with friends and family to go fishing, camping, hunting and so on. He was a hard worker and a loyal worker throughout his years at UPS and Wal-Mart. But many of Dad's life-lemons were very bitter... an unstable childhood, three marriages, estrangement from close family members, back injuries that forced him to stop working at a job he loved (UPS), and lastly the worst lemon of all, Alzheimer's. He dealt with them in many ways, but perhaps the best way he coped was through his playful personality... and he had A LOT of personality. He had an awesome laugh and always wanted to make people laugh. He was that way until the end. When he was confused or couldn't think of the correct word, he made a joke. He. Was. Funny! And he never hesitated to tell a joke around us even if it was inappropriate or dirty. All we could say was "Daaaaad!!!" and try to ignore it. As teenage girls, I think we had our fair share of embarrassing moments around him. But that was who he was. He showed us his true colors always. I will also add how he shamelessly flirted with women, waitresses, store clerks, cashiers... right in front of us. Sometimes he whistled across the parking lot or out the car window. Megan and I would start slouching in our seats while rolling the window up as fast as we could. He loved women. And it was embarrassing! He also had a collection of shirts and hats that said various things like, "Who are all these kids, and what do you they want from me." or "FBI, female body inspector" or "stop your grinnin and drop your linen".
The passion he had for the things he loved was and is so inspirational: Fishing, Music, Dancing, The Dodgers, Cooking, Gardening, Hunting.
When I think of Dad before Alzheimer's, so many things come to mind. I think a lot about the connection he had with the earth around him. He grew anything and everything... and then he cooked it too. We had chickens, pheasants, avocado trees, citrus trees, an apple tree, bonzai trees and sago palms, a compost pile and a HUGE garden with countless vegetables. What a beautiful way to grow up. He exposed us to all of that. He was "green" before "green" became cool.
There was always something cooking on the stove... Goulash, Beans, Soup (oh man, his turkey and rice soup!), his home-made teriyaki sauce!, and we ate a lot of ribs growing up as well... and that's one reason we're serving them today. And I could eat buckets of the fresh fish that he would come home with after a fishing trip. I used to watch him filet the fish on a wood block in the garage and Megan used to wrap them up in towels and carry them around like babydolls. Oh, and the old refrigerator that he turned into a smoker... he smoked his own fish! It was amazing. Every Saturday morning we would have a big breakfast of bacon, eggs, toast, and potatoes. The house smelled so good. Oh, and I can't forget french toast on Christmas morning. I only wish I would have retrieved some of those recipes or special ingredients long ago when he was capable of passing them on to me.
I have so many picture memories of my Dad in my head. I've been trying all week to retrieve them, but the last few years seem to be getting in the way. I can picture him in white short corduroy shorts, tube socks, no shirt, a beer in hand tinkering in the backyard with the dodger game on the radio. Or sometimes he would be in the garage with music playing. I also picture him in his sweatpants, uggs, and flannel button-up reading the newspaper everymorning with a cup of coffee sitting next to him.
He was at every activity that Megan and I were a part of growing up: Tennis, Basketball, Plays, Concerts, Homecoming. He was always there and always reliable and I know he was so proud of us. And as we got older, Dad grew sweeter... it's almost like he knew he wouldn't have much longer with us.
Dad's love of music and dancing stayed with him until the very end. It didn't matter what kind of day he was having, the music would have the needed affect on him. It would calm him or uplift him. I was always surprised how the words to the songs stayed with him even when he was barely talking. Those moments are my treasured moments with Dad. I'll never be able to listen to Frank Sinatra or Ray Charles without thinking of him. Especially the song "Georgia on My Mind". The day before he died, I held my phone up his ear and played it for him one last time. I think it made him feel less scared and at home with himself.
Lastly I would like to share how Dad enriched our lives. We had to step up to the plate and advocate for him. Megan and I became closer to Dad than we had ever been and our love for each other grew stronger. As Alzheimer's descended into his life, we kept laughing, we kept dancing, we kept singing. We cried too, but got back up. Dad gave us a purpose. Megan and I will not stop fighting Alzheimer's until there's a cure. No one deserves to endure what Dad had to go through. And I think that's what I'm grieving about more than anything, because honestly we lost Dad a while ago, but watching him the past few years was really hard. He also showed us how important family is. It's the most important. So, I'd like to say to Dad... You were so brave, you did the best you could always, you were loved and cared for, you touched so many peoples' lives, you could make anyone smile and laugh.... so now I ask that you watch over Megan and me as we did for you. We love you so much.