I have been uniquely blessed in my life to not have dealt with anything I would consider traumatic. I have had the occasional crazy family members and deaths in the family, but before this year, I would not have said I was “traumatized” by anything, or regularly experienced anything close to PTSD.
That entirely changed on January 18, 2017. On that night, I got a call from Mom that Dad was in the hospital. I was home by 8AM the next morning. Ten days later, Dad was dead.
It was the longest ten days of my life. Dad passed away around 1:30AM on Saturday, January 28. I had left the hospital only about two hours before. I had just fallen asleep when I got the phone call. He died in hospice, after surviving almost 36 hours post-extubation.
My father was not a perfect man, but he was a fantastic Dad, a loyal friend, a good neighbor, a loving husband, and one really, really funny guy.
Dad suffered cardiac arrest and was without oxygen to his brain anywhere from 10-15 minutes. Despite the doctors’ best efforts, he never recovered any sign of brain activity beyond basic reflexes. He never woke up. The doctors tell me he was gone long before he hit the floor.
Dealing with grief is always hard, but dealing with the loss of a parent is unexplainable. I can’t sufficiently describe the loss I feel, the pain, the guilt, the sadness. I wake up every morning feeling like someone is sitting on my chest. I see Dad in my dreams every night. I hear his voice in my head constantly. I am always waiting for my phone to ring, for him to be calling me about some new show he thinks I’ll love, or his latest big hunt, the most recent fish he caught. I still expect him to randomly text me stupid photos he found on Facebook. I wait to hear him in the background of phone calls with Mom, making fun of me for something he’s poked fun at 100 times before. I miss him. I miss him so much. I can’t even remember the last conversation I had with him, the last time we hung out. I know I saw him for Christmas, but life is such a blur. It’s so hard to remember. My last memories of Dad are weak, asleep and dying in an ICU bed. Those aren’t the memories I want to hold on to.
In honor of the last ten days I spent with my father, here’s ten memories I DO want to hold on to. Most of these are funny, and all of them remind me how much I love my Dad—how much he loved me.
Dad taught me to respect nature, to care for animals. He taught me that you never purposefully kill something that isn’t a danger to you, or that you don’t plan to eat. He taught me not to take things from nature that weren’t ours, and, above all, to understand and care for the creatures in our world. When I was around 5 or 6, we started a tradition of going “Turtle Hunting” on Saturday mornings. Dad was mostly home on the weekends, and I cherished my time with him. We would get up before dawn, grab my favorite pink iced donut (with sprinkles!) from the local shop, then head out onto the dirt roads, the swamps of Small Town, Louisiana, We drove slowly. We were watchful. And we picked up every turtle we saw on the road, either moving them off back into the woods, or tossing them in the back of Dad’s pickup, releasing them near the canal on our property back home.
It was my FAVORITE activity. I still remember the early mornings, the tiny turtles, the one time we grabbed a snapping turtle and Dad let out quite the “girlish” scream. The various other creatures we saw on our morning drives—gators, snakes, deer, birds of prey, all sorts of critters. It was the best way to start the day.
Mom Doesn’t Like Critters
Where we lived in Louisiana, we had a lot of property. We had all kinds of pets and creatures (my first pet was a little goat!), which was super fun, but we also ran into some seriously creepy crawlies from time to time. I distinctly remembers wandering around our property and stopping when I noticed the end of a snake skin. I loved snake skins—I thought snakes were so cool (still do!). Dad picks it up, pulls it all the way up to his head, and that’s when we notice….that snake was well over Dad’s 6 feet. Probably over 8 feet. We both kind of just looked at each other, mouths agape. Before I could say anything, Dad lets out “Don’t tell your mom we found this.”
I never did.
Keeping in line with his ‘respect nature’ ways, Dad also taught me a lot about bugs. Disclaimer: I hate flying insects. Irrationally afraid. Wasps, bees, butterflies, ladybugs, I don’t care, if it can fly in my face, I hate it.
When I was kid, this wasn’t any different (though Dad would SWEAR I was ‘a much tougher kid’) so Dad decide to give me ammunition to feel like I had a one up on the scary flying bugs of the world.
We had a ton of carpenter bees on our Louisiana property, and they frequently infested and destroyed Dad’s outdoor shed. We spent a lot of time building things in that shed, but when the bees were in full force, I wouldn’t go near it. In his usual fashion, Dad decide to give me a weapon.
A badminton racket. We went “bee swatting.” The game was simple. Swat at bees with Racket. 5 points per dead bee. 10 points if they got stuck in the racket.
A bit morbid, but it made me feel brave around the bees.
The part I’ll never forget, though, was one day when I was “bee swatting” outside while Dad did Dad things in the yard. At one point, I smacked a dragonfly (I’m telling you, ALL flying insects, hate them. Also I saw a dragonfly kill a wasp once so I feel supported in my claim that they’re evil.), and Dad was SO mad. He immediately took the racket away from me, and explained quite sternly that dragonflies cannot and will not hurt me, so there was no reason to kill or injure them—reserve the racket for those bugs that were truly guilty, like our pesky bees.
I haven’t hurt a dragonfly since. At least, not intentionally. But I racked up quite a few points with bees. I was never brave enough to swat a wasp…
The time when my cousin threw a pinecone at a wasp nest and pointed at me saying “SHE DID IT!” is a whole other story….
I was raised to believe in Santa Claus. Christmas has always been my favorite holiday. I was an only child and I counted my presents under the tree every year (38 was my all-time record; 11 was a good year). I always looked forward to Christmas morning, I always left cookies for Santa and carrots for Rudolph, and Dad made sure I was tucked in and told to sleep, or Santa wouldn’t come if I waited up for him.
When I was eight, we had a lot of family over for the holidays. I remember that my room was taken, so I had to sleep on a mattress on the floor of Mom and Dad’s room. This was Dad’s first mistake—putting me in the room where he hid the evidence.
Christmas morning, I remember being stirred awake by loud noises in Mom and Dad’s bathroom, where their closet was. This was Dad’s second mistake—not moving the presents somewhere else.
I saw a large man digging in Mom and Dad’s closet, bringing out trash bags full of what I assumed were presents for me (duh). I got so excited. Santa was here! In my parent’s room! And he has my presents! Hell yeah!
So, like any rational eight year old, I decided to pretend to still be asleep, because, duh, Santa needs you to be asleep to leave the gifts. At least that’s what Dad always said.
Lets just say, when Dad was visible in the light of their open bedroom door, I opened my eyes the tiniest bit, and I did NOT see Santa. And, thus began the worst Christmas I ever had, because I literally didn’t stop crying all day.
Dad definitely felt horrible at first, ruining the Christmas magic. But after about the fifth gift I opened that said “From Santa” and I screamed THAT’S A LIE, he had gotten over his guilt and was deep into a glass of eggnog and a serious case of the giggles.
Not That Kind of “Home Movie”
This isn’t technically a memory, but I think it still counts.
My Dad always loved technology and had to have the latest gadgets, so of course he was your typical 90s Dad that recorded literally everything on our video camera. We have hundreds of home videos. Most of them are typical birthday parties and Christmases, ETC. My favorite video, however, is one of me playing in the backyard.
I’ll set the scene: Dad, behind the camera. Beautiful, sunny California day. Me, backyard, in the little swimming pool, around 1 year old. Mom, playing in the pool with me, splashing around, wearing a very cute one piece bathing suit (Mom has always been a babe). Dad is doing his typical narration, wandering around the backyard, laughing at me and Mom, having long asides where he films his garden and talks about all his plants, you know how it goes, Dad things.
Eventually Dad re-focuses on Mom and me—she’s playing with me and smiling for the camera. Dad laughs and talks, but as he’s talking, he’s zooming the camera in. On what, you ask? On Mom. OK, so? On Mom’s face. OK…? Just kidding….on Mom’s boobs. Then back up to her face when she says “John are you listening to me?” Giggle behind the camera. Zoom back out.
Hilarious. But it gets better.
Dad is still filming, Mom is now holding me, wandering around the back yard, getting ready to put me in my little baby swing on the porch. She’s talking to Dad while he’s filming. Dad zooms again. On Mom. On Mom’s butt while she’s turned around and bending over to put me in my swing. Mom talks to Dad. Dad quickly zooms out, giggling, and goes back to filming HIS PRECIOUS DAUGHTER WHO HE SHOULD HAVE BEEN FILMING THE WHOLE TIME.
Now, I saw this video for the first time when I was like, twelve or so, and I laughed SO. HARD. Something about 1) Dad just thinking he’s soooo funny and sneaky and 2) SAVING the video and one of our home movies just randomly being Dad checking Mom out, just cracked me up. When I showed Dad, he didn’t even remember making the video, but just kind of shrugged and laughed like, “what did you expect?” Peak Dad.
None of these are long stories so I’m going to shove them all into this paragraph. Dad had great quotes.
“Cigarettes don’t kill you, women do.”
Said to Mom, when she was bugging him about quitting smoking, when I was sitting in the room. Hilarious.
“How can you even eat that? You need to do it properly—you gotta spread the peanut butter allllllll the way to the edge.”
Dad, watching me making a PB&J when I was like 15, teaching me how to properly make a PB&J. Side note: I still hear this in my head every single time I make a sandwich.
‘Bout 20 years—woulda gotten less than that for murder!”
Dad, when asked how long he and Mom had been married. My favorite.
“It’s colder out here than a witch’s titty in a brass bra!”
Not unique, but he used to say this around and to me when I was only about 8 years old. That made for interesting remarks when I repeated it on cold days.
“Well, why don’t you spit in one hand and want in the other and see which one fills up first?”
Also not unique, but I like his censorship with using “spit,” and this one always worked on me when I wanted something. Guarantee I’ll say this to my kids one day.
“Bet you wouldn’t.”
Dad, after watching Fear Factor, betting me I would never eat a worm for money. I, however, do not mess around with cash, and promptly ate one of his bait worms. I got a Barbie Doll out of it and Dad never heard the end of it when I told Mom “Guess what Dad made me eat!”
“Know why there’s always gates around cemeteries? People are DYING to get in there!”
Just one of his many Dad jokes, but I heard this one constantly, because there was a family cemetery on the road to our Louisiana home. Every. Time.
Still My Longest Road Trip to Date
When I was around eleven or twelve, Dad had a job in Florida coming up, and it was during the summer, so he suggested turning it into a family vacation. I can’t remember why, but Mom ended up not wanting to come, so Dad and I decided to make it a long road trip and explore fascinating states such as Mississippi and Alabama—you know, real tourist stops.
We also made it a point to drive through Louisiana and stop by our old house! It was really cool to revisit our small town. Very little had changed, but I do remember stopping by the playground I used to go to, and realizing that the gigantic, metal slide was not nearly as big as I remember, but still just as hot in the summertime.
We stayed at small, lodge-like hotels, went to all the silly tourist gift shops, played countless games on the road, ate wherever locals recommended, and eventually made our way into Florida. While Dad did a two-day job, I mostly stayed at the hotel, playing video games and eating pizza. But, when the job was done, Dad and I took a couple days to “do” Florida—i.e., we stayed on the beach the whole time and went parasailing. I was terrified to parasail; I’ve always been terrified of the deep ocean. Dad ended up scuba diving a LOT as an adult, but I never got certified or cared to join him because I am 100% sure that if anyone was going to get eaten by a shark, it would be me. Anyways, Dad kept making jokes about the parasail getting disconnected from the boat pulling us, which is a great way to instill confidence in your daughter that she’s not going to get eaten by sharks.
In the end, it was a total freaking blast and we went up about three times, in a duo halter, while Dad swayed the parasail back and forth to freak me out the entire time. 10/10, would do it again.
My parents, one of whom has been in over 10 car accidents (cough, Mom, cough) made the fatal mistake of deciding that they were going to teach me how to drive when I was 15. To no one’s surprise, Mom was fed up after the third time she hyperventilated in the car with me, so the buck got passed to Dad.
Spoiler Alert: I ended up going to Driver’s Ed for a couple months after all this…it was for the best.
Dad thought he could totally handle teaching me to drive. And, for the first few rides, it went OK. Driving around parking lots, neighborhood roads at 20mph, you know the drill. One day, Dad decide to teach me about how long it really takes you to stop at certain speeds. He started by having me go 10mph, then he’d say STOP! and I’d slam on my brakes. Then he’d explain to me that you always have to be on alert when driving, because the faster you’re going, the longer it takes to actually stop, and that thing you hit might be a kid in the road.
It was solid lesson—I learned what it feels like to slam on your brakes, how to control the wheel, etc. What Dad didn’t realize was that I’m a great student. We got to another part of the neighborhood where there were hardly any houses, and Dad told me to speed up a bit, get a feel for 40-50mph or so.
Problem was, eventually he wanted me to stop. So he said “ok, stop.” He didn’t yell it, but I was still in “gotta learn all the stuff, do the things, listen to Dad” mode. So I slammed on the brakes. At around 50mph. And Dad’s face SLAMMED into the dashboard.
Now, of course, he was pissed. Not at me, really, but just, you know, pissed about the headache he now had. I, however, could not stop laughing. Dad had to drive us home because I swore I was gonna pee myself I was laughing so hard. He had a good grumble about it, eventually laughed about it.
That was the last driving lesson either of my parents ever gave me. Shrug.
What Are Your Intentions With My Daughter
Sometimes, when I tell stories about Dad, people think I’m embellishing a bit, or even just joking. Here’s the thing—Dad was just that ridiculous. He was a hyperbole of your typical ‘Southern Dad,’ and everything he did was just as outrageous as it was hilarious. Case in point, almost no one believes that Dad was the classic ‘Dad with a shotgun when his daughter starts to date’ (except for those that really know him, of course).
When I was 14, I had my first boyfriend, who was 16. This was much to Dad’s dismay, as the running rule had been no dating until I’m 30. While Mom was pretty supportive of the guy and just wanted to get to know him, Dad was certain that no one was good enough for his little girl, and was determined to make the guy’s life as hard as possible. I’d say he was pretty successful, but the guy still stuck around for two years so either I’m just that wonderful or Dad is secretly a pretty nice dude.
The first time my then-boyfriend showed up to pick me up for a “date” (he could drive, it was very cool), Dad wanted him to come inside and say hello. Nothing unusual there, except for the fact that Dad made it a point to be literally cleaning his rifle on the couch when Boyfriend showed up. He then proceeded to give him the typical “take care of precious cargo” Dad speech, but then also decided to pull his hair and comment on why it was so long. Of course, 14-year-old me totally died of embarrassment, but Boyfriend took it like a champ and awkwardly giggled before rushing out of there as fast as possible. That was the beginning of two years of nonsense from Dad for him, but at the end of the day, I think they kind of liked each other.
This was totally typical behavior for Dad, which never changed, even when I was a fully-fledged adult. The first time I brought home my now-fiancé, who has worked in Democratic politics for many years, my Dad wore a ‘Don’t Blame Me, I Voted for Romney’ t-shirt. But, hey, at least he didn’t pull his hair.
As with many parent-child relationships, Dad and I grew apart a bit after I moved out, finished college, and started my new life with my fiancé. However, we were such similar people, that we never truly lost our connection, no matter how long we went without talking. And, Dad never forgot how much I really needed him, because I made it very clear I was still in that “I’m an adult but I need a more adult-ier adult to help me with this adult thing” phase.
I used to drive my Mom’s old Camry, after totaling my Xterra (a whole other story…), and it frequently just wouldn’t start. We never really got to the bottom of it, but everything seemed to be a temporary fix, and it was only a matter of time before I was in a hurry to get somewhere and poof Camry decided not to start. Without fail, every single time, I would call Dad in tears, because I was obviously in a rush and needed this fixed PRONTO. What was he gonna do from three hours away, you ask? Good question. Absolutely nothing, other than remind me that I know exactly what to do, because it’s happened so many times before. I honestly think even though I knew who to call and what to do, it just felt better to call Dad first, to hear him reassure me that a car can always be fixed, and it wasn’t the end of the world.
Dad was also who I called first whenever I flooded our college apartment. Maintenance? Nah, surely Dad would be of more help with our washing machine decided to wreak havoc on our kitchen. He quickly told me how to fix the problem….to call maintenance.
This was a common occurrence. “Dad, our dryer is making a funny noise what do I do?” “Call someone to fix it.” “Dad, I think something is wrong with our air conditioner.” “OK, have you tried calling maintenance?” And so on and so forth.
But, now, whenever I look around our house, all I see is Dad. Every time I moved, he made a trip to just come do things around the house for me. Mount our TV, hang some particularly difficult shelving, help me with picture frames, build my bed frame—whatever it is that seemed like too much of a task just for me, he was happy to drive 3 hours there and back in one day just to help me to put it together. I miss him every time I’m hanging a poster, every time something breaks and my fiancé and I just look at each other like “what now?”
I remember a few months ago, I bought a new dresser and two nightstands. When they arrived, I literally took a day off work to put them together. It took me about 6 hours, by myself, to finish everything. I was so excited. As soon as I was done, I called Dad while texting him photos of everything. He was very proud, but I bet he was also a little sad that I didn’t wait for him to help me put it together.
These are the kind of memories I choose to hold on to. These are the lessons and stories I will tell my children, to keep his memory alive for those that never got to know him. He leaves behind a legacy of humor, wit, ingenuity, self-sufficiency and, above all, the people whose lives he touched. Dad used to always joke that he always wanted a boy to keep the Webster name alive—I’m the last one, and I plan to take my fiancé’s last name. But, at the end of the day, I think Dad knew that his greatest legacy he was leaving one day, would be me. And as such, I feel a responsibility to remind people who Dad really was—a funny guy who loved his family and friends, who taught me almost everything I know. That’s the man I choose to remember.
“The worst part of holding the memories is not the pain. It’s the loneliness of it. Memories need to be shared.”
Lois Lowry, The Giver