Many thanks to Jenny for writing and sharing the below.
On any given day, you’d hear my dad say “UnbeLIEVEable!” at least 3 times. He said it like Chandler Bing a la “Friends”- with great emphasis on one syllable. Now that he’s gone, it’s a private (Well, maybe not anymore!) joke between my brother and I (that and his excessive use of the word “shmuck!”). What I’d like to share with you, readers of the lovely Mizfit’s blog, is how UNBELIEVABLE my dad was- emphasis on every syllable.
This month is National Diabetes awareness month- a cause that is extremely dear to my heart because I lost my dad 2 years ago after his lifelong struggle with this disease.
He was diagnosed with Juvenile Type I diabetes at the age of 12 after suffering from an acute insulin reaction. He never let it stop him from living his life, though- he was an all-star baseball player, track star, a karate black belt, in the ROTC and holy cow- was he amazing with his hands. The man could build anything- kitchen cabinets, fine woodwork, a car engine, etc. He was smart, too- brilliant at math and history.
What he didn’t do, however, was take very good care of his diabetes. My parents divorced when I was 11 and it wasn’t until I was 15 that I saw him again. By that time his health had already started to decline. He had lost the rest of his hearing, as well. Over the next 7 years he’d lose his sight, end up in a wheelchair due to a muscular dystrophy- like disease, go into kidney failure and essentially become a shell of the man he was. Whenever we were together, he’d ask me to give him his shots. I hated to do it, but I did it anyway, and he’d feign great pain Every.Single.Time. He’d scrunch up his face like I’d grievously wounded him and then just as quickly, he’d smile, laugh and say, “Just kidding!”
When I was little, we’d play a game every night where he’d trace letters on my back and spell out words. When I got the call that he was starting to really lose his sight, I told his then-girlfriend about our game. She called me the next day and told me that she’d started to trace out my name on his back and while he was confused at first, he starting to tear up because he remembered. That was the primary form of communication for the last 2 years of his life.
Determined to find another way, he was learning Morse code, so that someday he’d be able to communicate with greater ease and the help of an aide. We’d spend hours practicing. He’d poke fun of himself when he made a mistake, but he never gave up hope that he’d be able to rejoin society a more independent person.
The last time I saw my dad outside of a hospital, my brother and I were visiting. He started telling us one funny stories, delighted that we were roaring with laughter so loudly that he could hear us. He told us about his bad boy days and his most profound life experiences. It is one of my dearest memories. I remember laying my head on his knee so that he could feel me shake with laughter. And he laughed, too, delighted to be causing so much joy. THAT is how I choose to remember my dad. Not the constant doctor’s appointments, the frustration of his diabetes, or the battering that his body took. I remember my dad as a beacon of hope- someone with an indomitable spirit who never completely lost his faith that somehow, everything would work out, even when the odds were so badly stacked against him.
Two years ago, he went into cardiac arrest at dialysis and slipped into a coma, brain dead. He was 49 and I was 22. My brother and I knew what he would’ve wanted. They later told my brother and I that he had been fighting the paramedics who were trying to help him- and that was my dad. He was a fighter who refused to give up hope. There was not a day that I was with him that he did not try (and always succeed, mind you!) to make me laugh or to make fun of himself or show me that although he’d been dealt one of the most unspeakably horrible hands, he was still going on and still hoping.
I cannot change how it turned out, but I sometimes wonder how things would have worked out if he had taken better care of himself.
In a country where obesity is rampant and eating habits are worse than ever, diabetes is increasing in alarming numbers. The CDC reports that as of 2007, 23.6 million people—7.8% of the population— have diabetes; 1.6 million new cases of diabetes were diagnosed in people aged 20 years or older in 2007.
National Diabetes awareness month is EXTREMELY important for every single one of us and I urge everyone to educate themselves on this serious disease and take good care of yourself- you get one body and one life. I made a promise to my dad that I would take care of my body. So I’m doing it- for him and for me.
You can click here to learn more about Diabetes Awareness Month.