Rest in Peace, Daddy

Rest in Peace, Daddy

Posted by Hallie S. on Jan 5th 2019

Roderick "Rod" VanHeel

October 2, 1952 - December 28, 2018

It’s not very often that I’m at a loss for words - verbal or written. And I sit here this morning, quiet, crying, simply praying that the words will magically present themselves. You see, I’ve written about grief several times. I’ve studied grief, written about the grieving process, seen the ravages of grief on the faces of friends and families. Grief touches all of us at some point in our lives. And eventually, grief knocks on your door.

I went home at the beginning of December as I do every year. And it is a trip, a long weekend that I always look forward to. I get the opportunity to see my parents, my brother and his family, spend time with my nephews and my niece, attend our annual work Christmas party. It’s a weekend away from my own lifeboat, a time for me to go home and reconnect with my roots. A weekend that I treasure. And this past trip home, it’s one I will cherish always.

I don't believe in superstars, organic food and foreign cars

See, my dad’s health has been failing. A diagnosis of liver cancer almost five years ago led to the doctors giving him six months to live. They tried a couple of therapies that lo and behold not only kicked cancer in the you-know-what but also gave him some time. Some life. As the days turned into months turned into years, he was able to travel out to MA for his granddaughter’s graduation party in June of 2017 and travel on to New York with my mom and my brother and his family. He was able to go up to Seeley Lake every summer as we have done for over 30 years. He not only made the most of the time that he was given but he made memories. As a family, we made memories.

I don't believe the price of gold, the certainty of growing old

But with all therapies, eventually they weren’t working the way they should. One treatment gave way to another which gave way to another, etc. In addition to the cancer he was battling, my dad also suffered from COPD and had a pacemaker. The deck was stacked against him. Never once did I hear him utter the words, “Why me?” Whatever they presented him with when it came to a treatment, he would say, “Let’s do it. I’m not ready to stop fighting yet.”

He got up to say good-bye on the morning I left to fly back to MA. Sat at the table, hugged me and said, “I love you so much, honey.” I was crying - I always do when I have to leave home. I went to leave and stopped, turned and came back and hugged him one more time. Kissed him and said, “I love you so much, Daddy.” He told me, “You be a good girl.”

That right is right and left is wrong, that north and south can't get along

I had a cardiac MRI appointment that I had to tackle on December 12. Was my second try. When I was home, my dad made me promise that no matter what, I had to see it through. And, with the help of some meds and my Rob, I sent my mom a text right after to tell her to tell dad I did it! The response I got was a phone call from my brother. Telling me they had gotten the news that there were no more treatments for my dad. The doctor told him maybe two months. My dad took the news quietly and then asked to go home. Arrangements were made and two days later, my dad came home. No one was happier than he was, surrounded by his puppies and home with my mom.

Hospice came as needed and he had to sleep in the family room in the recliner. All that being said, his spirits were pretty good despite the news that he had been given. Christmas Eve was planned as always at my parents' house and my mom was able to get him up, give him a clean shave. Understand that small tasks such as shaving that we take for granted often completely depleted him. But the human spirit is a powerful beast and he rallied like a champ. He proudly wore his St. Marks sweatshirt and was engaged with family the entire evening. How I wish I could have been there...

That east is east and west is west and being first is always best

Friday morning, December 28, Rob and I drove CJ to an outpatient center for shoulder surgery. We had to be there at 6:00 am. We arrived, checked in and had just sat down to wait when Rob’s phone beeped. He checked his messages, immediately got up and went around the corner to make a call. I got up, turned the corner, not realizing that CJ was right behind me, only to hear him say, “I’m so sorry, Donna.” And I knew. He hung up the phone and told me. My dad had passed away. Not two months - two weeks and two days.

I sat down on the floor. Put my head on my knees. And I cried.

The weekend was a blur. CJ was in pain, my mom was in pain. I didn’t talk about my dad but to a handful of people in my inner circle. I didn’t want to share my loss. I couldn’t share my loss. I have been on autopilot for 8 days now, going through the motions, putting on a smile when I need to, getting done what needs to get done. I fly home on Monday and will be there for a week for the services and to help my mom in whatever capacity she needs. And I don’t know what to expect out of ‘home’ because it is now forever changed.

But I believe in love, I believe in babies, I believe in mom and dad and I believe in you

And at some point in time, I have to figure out how to grieve my loss. Because right now I am simply pretending it isn’t there. That is the glory of others needing you to do for them. It affords you the luxury of not dealing with your own grief. Eventually, I will have to face it. Eventually.

Lessons learned

Life is about learning and I’ll tell you what, I have learned a lot in the past week.

Stepchildren count.

My dad came into my life when I was 8 years old. He has been a part of my life for almost my entire life. Countless people have sent their sympathies to his ‘birth’ children, leaving out any mention of his other three children - stepchildren that are grieving the loss of a dad in their life as well. And although not intentional, it hurts. Remember all of the family in your expression of sympathy.

Saying “I’m sorry” is enough.

There are no words. None. It is okay to just say that you’re so sorry. That is enough. People that are grieving don’t care that their loved one is no longer in pain, not suffering, that they’re in a better place, etc. Well-meaning phrases like that can unintentionally hurt.

Don’t leave I love you’s for tomorrow.

If you love someone, tell them. Often. Many times a day. Because there will come a day when you won’t have that opportunity.

I don't believe that heaven waits for only those that congregate

Grief is singular.

One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is that grief is very singular. The way I grieve is not the way my mom grieves, my children grieve or anyone else grieves. It ebbs and flows and presents itself in different ways. And you don’t know when the next wave is going to hit.

Time and patience are key

Time kind of stops when you suffer a loss. I feel like the days have blended together and I’ve moved from task to task, not really accomplishing anything. So I’ve tried to keep my tasks small, my list short, making it easy to conquer something rather than a bunch of things done a little. And I have had to really work on my patience. My patience with my children - self-absorbed as all children are with their own lives, they forget that I am grieving and trying to find a new normal. Patience with my mom who at times gets angry and lashes out a little and trying to be her soft place to land. Because she needs that and will continue to in the upcoming weeks and months ahead. Patience with myself because for all the small moments that I conquer, there are three times as many moments where I feel like I have failed. And for me too, it is going to be a process.

Thank you, Dad

My dad was 27 when he met my mom. He had two boys of his own from a prior marriage - my mom had three kids from her first marriage. He was 28 when they got married and we became a family of 7. The gifts he left behind are too many to count but some are worth mentioning.

Thank you for the countless times you made me redo tasks until they were done right.

Whether it was dishes, staining wood or pulling weeds, you always told us that if a job was worth doing, it was worth doing right from the start.

Thank you for teaching me to play cards.

From cribbage to gin rummy, I cherish the afternoons you spent teaching me how to play every card game you could think of. And win.

Thank you for keeping our house full of dogs.

Always, always there were dogs in our house and I truly believe that was instrumental in cementing my love for animals.

I like to think of God as love; he's down below, he's up above

Thank you for sharing your love of music.

Everywhere we went, music was playing. The tapes you made us, the songs you sang, the artists you loved. Your passion for the words and the melodies, the way that songs would make you smile - those are the memories I will cherish the most.

Thank you for always treating me like a daughter.

I was never introduced as your step-daughter, a stepchild, never treated any different because we didn’t share the same DNA. I was always treated like your daughter.

Thank you for loving my mom.

For almost 40 years, you were the love of her life. Her best friend. Her soulmate. There aren’t enough thank you’s in the world to show my appreciation for the way in which you loved her.

He's watchin people everywhere; he knows who does and doesn't care

Thank you for being a wonderful Papa to my children.

I am so grateful for each and every moment that my children got to spend with you. The fact that you could live so far away yet still have such an impact on each of them shows what a tremendous person you are, the depth of your love for your grandchildren.

And I'm an ordinary man sometimes, I wonder who I am

Thank you for being my dad.

I believe with my whole heart that the reason that my Rob’s relationship with his children is so important is because of my relationship with you. There is nothing in the world like a father’s love. And for almost 40 years, I was blessed to call you dad. My only regret is that I don’t get you for 40 more.

But I believe in love I believe in music I believe in magic and I believe in you

Rest in peace, Daddy. Know that you are missed so very much and that the troops are rallying around Mom. Never will she be without. A part of me went with you and I’m not sure yet how to move forward but I will figure it out. “I believe in you” by Don Williams will always be our song and I will forever be your little girl. I love you so much.

Your daughter, Hallie