It’s the first day of a new life. I began my visit to the epilepsy monitoring unit here at Mayo on July 7th, the day that commemorates the passing of my mom. I am ending my visit with a goodbye to my dad. He died peacefully last night on July 13th.
These two incredible people made me who I am. I will carry them with me every day and see them each time I look in the mirror, hear myself laugh, or notice all those little things–how I always like to have a coin or a piece of paper or something in my hands when I sit at the table, how I have to hold myself back not to lean forward and look for traffic at every intersection when I am a passenger in a car, or catch my own tendency to treat every head cold I have as if it is the bubonic plague come to take me.
I cried a few days ago when I first learned that Dad had injured himself in a fall and that the staff at his memory care unit didn’t think he would recover, but, for now at least, there are no more tears. I suppose they will come again. That is what mourning is. The tears come when they are ready and sometimes there are other feelings. Right now I feel as if I’ve been given the greatest gift in the world to have been my father’s daughter.
Right now I am amazed. The little boy who lost his own father back in 1935 when he was only 7 years old grew up to be all the things that he’d looked up to in that man. Dad always was so proud to be John and Clara Mondloch’s son. He talked about Grandpa, a strong, caring, hard working man who had his young son working at his side. My dad was already driving the team of horses at seven years old. That was how my dad learned who he was, working alongside his dad.
Those early lessons made my father into a strong, caring, hard working person who I will always be proud of. He had struggles in life, as I suppose most of us do. Grandpa died. Grandma managed to raise Dad and his siblings as a single parent with the help of her mother. Dad started working for local farmers when he was nine and would drop out of school not too many years later, thinking that he wasn’t smart.
That’s one thing that never made sense to me. Here was a man who was always fixing something, who could build whatever he needed to, remembered so many stories of all the relatives, and yet never could be convinced that he was smart because for whatever reason school didn’t work for him.
He met my mom in 1949 and fell in love. They married in 1950, both in their early 20’s. Together they raised six of us. This is maybe where his greatest strength comes through and what amazes me most. They raised six of us and we all still talk to each other, laugh, and love each other. That is something special. All my siblings married except me and there are now twelve grandkids and seven great-grandkids in the family too. Each and every one bringing something special and making Dad proud simply by being.
After years of farming, working at the power plant, selling seed corn, and just being an active part of the community with church on Sundays, lots of bus trips to the casino, innumerable visits with friends and family both living and dead (Dad always loved a good funeral or wander about a cemetery) , the last few years were probably the toughest. Dementia took away the stories and made loved ones into strangers. While death is sad, it is also sometimes the greatest gift. There are so many people that Dad missed who await him in the spirit world. Now he joins them to laugh, tell stories, and maybe share a game of sheepshead and good brandy old fashioned together and we who are still here get to celebrate having been given the gift of having had him in our lives.