Stormy and I had said goodbye and stopped blogging. But, after the new year, she told me she missed it and was going to post once in a while. I knew that I would also be writing at least one. I had something to say. I needed to say goodbye to my dad in writing. Well, at least try.
My dad, Bruno, had interstitial lung disease. I hate starting with that because it certainly isn’t what defined him. But it was what took him from me too soon. Some would say that I should be grateful since he lived 10 years past his diagnosis; normal life expectancy is only three-to-five years from that point. Though, if you knew my dad, you wouldn’t be surprised that he didn’t follow the norm.
My dad was stubborn, opinionated, competitive, and if you asked him, he was always right! This may have served him well battling the disease. Though, it could also have been his Achilles’s heel. We have seen dice, a ski, and a Monopoly board all go flying when things weren’t going his way
That may sound bad to an outsider. (“Gasp,” he threw the dice at his youngest daughter’s head when he was losing.) To clarify, he didn’t throw them hard, and Kristin was rolling with unbelievable luck. We played games for hours on end with Dad—from when Kristin was so little, she had to use a tinfoil container to hold the cards. Games were always for money and it was always serious. That is what made it fun!
We never stopped playing games. Just months ago we were still sitting at the table playing games. No dice were thrown, and Kristin now had a martini instead of tinfoil in front of her. This time my daughter sat at the table, too. As when we were little, she learned the pure joy of joining the adults late into the night, seeing them get sillier as they continued to pour drinks, and gambling and laughing along with them. I am so glad my daughter experienced what was so special but hard to explain about those memories. She still giggles and recalls stories of Grandpa teasing her when he was winning or getting annoyed when he was losing. She loved being with him and those simple game nights will stick with her.
Dad was fun. With my parents being divorced, Dad did get the luxury of being the “fun” dad. Parents didn’t share time back them. He lived in different state, and we would visit or meet him in Wabasha at the river when he was home to visit his parents. Though we didn’t see him a lot, the times we did were vacations and quality.
Besides fun, dad was mischievous. He loved to tease and found great pleasure in getting under your skin. His brother Mark can attest to this as a long-time passion of his. Nothing brought a grin to his face like when he was sharing his plot to “get someone.” Nothing was sacred in his plans. This was one of the things my son loved about him. Grandpa was naughty. When Grandpa took him to Mark’s in Florida for a special guys fishing trip, I received a photo of my 12-year-old son sipping on a martini with them. I should have known not to have lectured Dad about being careful with boats and drinking with my son along! My son loved that his grandpa would dare send an inappropriate photo to his mom and learned how fun it was to be an insider in one of Grandpa’s pranks. I can’t believe I am going to say this, but I will even miss the nights battling about politics, because as much as he believed in his position, I know some of his pleasure was just from getting such a rise out of me.
What sticks with me the most, though, through all the memories is that he gave me a safe place to not be perfect. I never felt I disappointed him, even at the times I fully earned it. He just simply adored me. it’s hard to lose someone in your life who regards you as perfect despite your imperfections.
I am thankful for every additional year we had Dad with us. I know he fought to stay around for us even though many of those years were a struggle for him. What I am most thankful to my dad for is giving me my stepmom, Shari. I don’t really remember Dad without Shari. My parents divorced when we were so little that I only have a couple of faint memories of them together. All of my vivid memories with Dad include Shari. She loved us from the beginning, and we loved her. We are family. This January, Shari, Kristin and I went out to celebrate their 41st wedding anniversary. A milestone Dad wasn’t able to make.
I want to share all the memories swirling in my head. The things that make me laugh. The late nights, times on the river, days on the ski slopes, or the hangovers we shared. Dad made everything fun. We would watch a movie together and he would whisper, “Let’s go sneak ice cream now that Shari is asleep.” I was in my 40s. Shari didn’t care if we had ice cream. But, the act of pretending we needed to sneak and tiptoeing around while attempting to stifle our laughs is an example of the fun dad brought to everyday situations.
When dad did finally succumb to the disease, he transitioned fast. He was never a patient man. Shari called my sister and me to get there as soon as we could. Within six hours of me being there Dad told Shari it was time. He wanted to die at home on his own terms.
I will save all the details of those last days for the memories of those who were there. But I will say, he went out leaving a Bruno story. Things didn’t go as planned. In general, we were told he would peacefully go to sleep after we turned off the oxygen. We had morphine to help him if he got agitated. Well, morphine seemed to make him a super her0 and a man who lived on 24-hour oxygen 24/7 seemed unaffected when unplugged. After many hours, plus three times of turning oxygen off….and back on…. and some surprising Pulp Fiction-like awakenings, we knew the three of us couldn’t do it. We had to transfer him to hospice. He needed more help to get through his final moments. and so did we. Over all he was agreeable to going to hospice, of course he had to grumble in the ambulance about how they took the bumps. If you ever drove in a car with Dad, you wouldn’t expect him to not complain about the way someone else was driving.
Shortening the story of the up and downs at the hospice, after about 24 hours they finally got Dad medicated to a peaceful place. The three of us took a quick break before the next step which was for the hospice workers to turn down his oxygen with us beside him – just family this time, without his nurses. We took a quick break to change and eat to prepare for what they thought could be a long night, and of course the jerk instead chooses to quickly die on full oxygen fifteen minutes after we left.
Since that time, I feel I am in a surreal world. Something so drastic has changed but everything else around me just goes on as normal. I am not fully functioning as a parent, wife, or friend, but instead I’m just trying to figure out my way. I know things will start to settle again. But in this new world, I am enjoying things that once seemed so small and unimportant. I am not letting little things bug me. I am also just doing what I want and not caring if it isn’t always what everyone expects. I don’t care because I have more important things on my mind. A friend told me to enjoy this part of the roller coaster: “It is the dead dad pass.”
I’m sorry I can’t write a true eulogy for you Dad. This was very random. There are just too many memories to sort out. Too many raw feelings to get through. I still need to figure out living in this world with a hole I didn’t have before. Or as Kristin said, an anchor that is gone. I want you to know that you will never be forgotten. I know you were so much more than a dad. You have so many friends carrying their own memories in your honor. To me though, you were just my perfect dad. Not a perfect dad. But perfect for me. You will continue to live on in me, Kristin, Shari, Mark, your grandkids and all your friends. You gave us all so many moments to hang on to.
Here is my toast to you:
I love you so much. I miss you. My heart hurts. But…I am so thankful you are no longer struggling to breathe. Shari, Kristin, Mark and I will be okay. We have each other. We will take care of each other. We have our Bruno bubble together. You certainly made sure to super glue that bond on your way out. 😉
Thank you for the love, the laughs and even the crazy traits I am stuck with. Most of all for the love you surrounded me with. The love you gave me was bigger than just you…Grandma and Grandpa…Mark and Shari. I never was, and never will be, lacking in that. I’m so proud to be a Procopio and your daughter.
In your memory, my goal is to remember to breathe deeply and enjoy the moments. And, of course, get into mischief once in a while.
I love you Dad. Cheers.
Bruno Salvatore Procopio: 1945 – 2018