The Thoughts of a Frumpy Professor

............................................ ............................................ A blog devoted to the ramblings of a small town, middle aged college professor as he experiences life and all its strange variances.

Thursday, September 07, 2023

Thoughts About My Dad


Over the Labor Day weekend, I ended up thinking quite a bit about my Dad.  I am not sure how to explain why this was a focus, other than perhaps with it being Labor Day weekend, and I was thinking about unions, and both my Dad and Mom were very ardent union supporters (as am I).... that perhaps all of these thoughts coalesced together to have me more intensely spend time remembering my Dad.  But, it wasn't so much general memories of my Dad.... I had a lot of  focus on the time of his passing.  

When my father was diagnosed with Mesothelioma, it was very harsh news.  Mesothelioma develops as the result of exposure to asbestos.  My Dad had a variety of jobs especially when young, and he was exposed to asbestos in several... but arguably most extensively for the time when he worked at welding room-sized, asbestos-lined metal containers together.... from inside these containers.  

The diagnosis was devastating.  In some ways, especially so for me...  for as a physiologist, I unfortunately KNEW a) how rapid his decline and death would be, b) I knew how much he would suffer, c) I knew there was no way to stop (even temporarily) the progression of this hideous condition, and d) I knew that DEATH from mesothelioma usually was the result of oxygen deprivation because this pleura lining cancer would build a mass of tissue that would be stiff and inflexible and grow and surround the lungs..... and ultimately not allow the lung tissue to inflate.  When you are exposed to asbestos.... the fibers initially enter the lung tissue.  There they might cause harm and might lead to issues, but not always.  But, over years, these fibers migrate through the lung tissue.  When the pass through the lung tissue they then migrate into the pleura tissue that surrounds the lungs.  It is here that the asbestos can induce mesothelioma.  You can sort of imagine the constriction of the pleura if you were to think about trying to inflate a balloon that was placed into the neck of an empty cola bottle.  If you worked to try to blow up this balloon (representing the lungs), the expansion of the balloon would be severely restricted by the wall of the glass cola bottle (representing the pleura).  In effect the pleura tissue tumor would build a rigid wall around the lungs so the lungs could no longer inflate with air.  From diagnosis to his very sad passing, it was just a few days short of three months. 

+ + +     

Back when my Dad passed away (30 + years ago), my Mom and my siblings were obviously extremely distraught (as of course, was I). It fell upon me to work with the funeral home to be sure my Mom’s wishes for the burial of my Dad occurred as she wanted. So, I made several solo trips to the funeral home during those several days.

On one of the trips there just before showings were to occur, I was asking the funeral folks to please let me see my father to make sure his suit and tie were neat and the tie tied as my mother wished (my Dad preferred a particular type of knot he liked on those occasions when he had need to wear a tie). I then asked the funeral director’s permission….. and then I placed one of his favorite pipes in the inner pocket of his suit (a well-worn Dr. Grabow Dublin with a 1/4 bend). I also put a filled pouch of Sir Walter Raleigh (regular) in his pants pocket, and one of his Zippo pipe lighters in his outer suit coat pocket.

I never ended up telling my Mom I did this, but it was something that I really wanted/needed to do for him and for me. It helped me think and remember all the times we enjoyed pipes together, and helped me feel an even stronger sense of connection with him even though he had passed. Even though I never told my Mom, I know she would have approved too.

+ + +

My Mom and Dad had selected their burial plots long, LONG ago, relatively shortly after they had married.  I think this likely occurred so early, as my Mom ended up losing both her Mom and Dad (within three days of each other) when my Mom and Dad had been married only a little over one year.  When my Mom and Dad had selected their plots, they selected an area that was peaceful, pasture-like, and away from the roads and busier areas of the cemetery.  I had heard about the site from both of them, but the specifics were not really discussed.  Unfortunately, over the intervening decades of their 48 years of marriage before my Dad passed, records at the cemetery were not kept very accurately.  

When my dad passed away, my Mom did not want to visit the cemetery until the actual day of the burial.  It was too much for her to handle.  I watched the grave site being dug for my father.  After his burial Mass, all the family went to the cemetery to witness the burial.  His casket was carried up to the grave site, into which the funeral directors had already placed the casket's burial vault the evening before.  After the prayers at the grave site, his casket was slowly lowered into the vault deep, deep in the ground. We placed flowers, and we left weeping.  Later on that day, long after the formal funeral itself,  the funeral directors came back and placed the cement cover on top of the burial vault, and then filled the remaining space with many shovel-fulls of soil/ground until the dirt was at the same level as the lawn surrounding the hole.    

My Mom put on a very brave face during all of this.  She was as valiant and as strong as she could muster through her sadness and tears.  But, after we finally returned home after the funeral luncheon, my Mom went into her bedroom, and I could hear rustling of papers, vigorous moving of drawers, and I could hear her crying, even though she was attempting to cry quietly.  

I knocked on her bedroom door asking to come in.  At first she did not want me to come in.  She said she was going to take a nap.  I gave her some space, and things did quiet down in her room.  I think she did take a nap.  I took my parent's dog outside and sat out there with her in the cold March weather, carried out with  me and drank a very large glass of iced tea I had poured from my Mom's refrigerator, and smoked my pipe.  I sat out there for perhaps half an hour.  I then came in and laid down on the couch and napped a bit as well.  

When my Mom eventually awoke and came out, she was crying.  She didn't really want to talk about it, but eventually with patience, I was able to coax her to talk and tell me what she was feeling.  Haltingly, she explained to me through her tears that the site where my Dad was buried was NOT the site she and my Dad had purchased all those 48 years ago.  And, she was extremely distraught about where in the cemetery my Dad was buried.  It was very, very close to a road/path in the cemetery that  would get plowed in the winter, and the snow would be pushed and piled high onto the gravesite.  The site was not flat, but the land at the grave site sloped downward to reach the road/path... so that headstones would be cantilevered to one side (as many were in that vicinity), and that the burial site was right near a HUGE tree and the roots of that tree had been disturbing many of the headstones around it.  

My mom sobbed about it NOT being the site the two of them had purchased.  She was distraught thinking my Dad's body would be there in that place that was so NOT what either wanted, nor what they had purchased.  

I told my Mom I would investigate further.  A day later I was talking to the folks running the cemetery, and showed the original documentation my parent's had.  It was authentic.  What the folks at the cemetery told me is that sometime perhaps 25 years before or so there was some sort of "mix-up" and "loss" of records (it was a long time ago I went through this, so some details are hazy) and some mention of records being lost in a flood or some such thing.   

When my Mom heard what I found out... it did not help at all.  She was still very sad and upset.  Over the course of the next few days, she became adamant that she needed to move my Dad to a different part of the cemetery. 

To make a long story more manageable.... over the next few weeks, I investigated the potential process that this might entail, I took my Mom to the cemetery where the folks DID apologize.  They then showed other available locations in the cemetery, we walked to each of them and my Mom eventually picked a place she felt comfortable with to choose for my Dad's true resting space to be.  Once my Mom picked the site, I worked on all the enormous paperwork (with the help of the cemetery, with getting legal approvals from the County, etc.) that would allow the exhumation of my Dad's casket and reburial of my Dad in the new location. My Mom was on very much on edge during most of this process.  She would not be able to handle the stresses, the sadness, the emotions of this process.  She also asked me specifically to do this, as she knew I could be strong and I could make sure it would be accomplished with care.  She also specifically wanted me to witness everything... she needed me to be her eyes to make sure my Dad was treated respectfully.  She could not do it herself, and she trusted me to be her eyes in this process.  So, I did this work... did all the visits.... to the cemetery, the county records office, the county courthouse, etc. so she would not have to.  And, a little over 5 weeks later, I was also the sole person who spent the day, and stood at the cemetery to witness the exhumation of my Dad,  follow the transport of his body and casket to the new spot, and then witness the complete reburial of my Dad in his true resting spot.  It was hard to see.... but it was IMPORTANT for me to see and view the whole process.  I was being the proof my Mom needed, to be able to say this was done, and it was done with care and respect of my Dad.  Only after the burial was finished, and the area neatened as much as it could be with new ground..... did I then drive over to my parent's house to get my Mom and take her so she could see where my Dad was now.   

+ + + 

I had not really thought DEEPLY about those specific months from diagnosis to death and eventual reburial of my Dad in a number of years.  I have tried to always focus more on the beautiful times we had together.  But, the above memories were those that flooded my mind through most of the past weekend.  Those times were sad and harsh.  I did try, however, to the best of my ability, to be the support my Mom needed.  There isn't a lot for me to add.  The above are the basic FACTS of what transpired.  Getting the EMOTIONS I felt down.... not sure if know how to do that.  



Blogger Anvilcloud said...

You really stepped up, Pipe. Good for you. I don't know why these things are so important to some, but they are.

That sounds like a terrible disease and death. I am thankful for dying with dignity which is readily available here.

Thursday, 07 September, 2023  
Blogger Margaret said...

My parents' dear neighbor died of meso in his 60s and it was indeed terrible to watch. I'm glad that you had your dad moved for your mom's peace of mind. I like that you put the pipe supplies in his pockets; I'm sure he would have also approved!

Friday, 08 September, 2023  
Blogger GaP said...

I loved that you placed the pipe in his suit, Professor. The father/son bond is a magnificent thing. And the fact that you could bond over bowls of tobacco...Something close to holy.

Friday, 08 September, 2023  
Blogger Catalyst said...

That is a very sad but fulfilling story, PT. May you rest easy.

Saturday, 09 September, 2023  
Blogger The Blog Fodder said...

Thank you for telling this story. A hard way to die too soon. I am glad you were able to see your mother through all the turmoil.

Monday, 18 September, 2023  
Blogger Tikno said...

I can feel the strong bond between you and your father.
Sometimes I bring a pack of cigarettes on the day of my great-grandfather's grave pilgrimage and placed it on his grave.

Tuesday, 19 September, 2023  

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