Tomorrow is the 2nd anniversary of the death of my son's dad, Tony. I thought it would be appropriate to repost two entries I've written about him. This one was originally posted on 2/5/05. I added a few things.
My late husband. That's the way I would jokingly introduce him, since he never managed to arrive anywhere on time. Maybe a part of me also knew that he wouldn't outlive me...he smoked to excess and had been tormented by the demons of various other addictions for years. These demons are what ultimately destroyed our marriage. But in this picture we were happy. It was our wedding day, May 2, 1993.
Tony thought of himself as a Renaissance man. He was a painter, a writer, and a woodworker who crafted humidors with intricate inlay. He adored my 5 year old daughter Emma from the moment he met her, and the feelings were mutual. He shared my sense of humor and loved music. He was also mostly unemployed, irresponsible and accident-prone. I was terrified when I unexpectedly became pregnant with my son in 1994, but Tony assured me that he wanted this baby so badly that he would shape up. He'd do whatever was necessary to become the card-carrying adult that I so often begged him to be.
The simple truth is that it never happened. He was never able to hold a job for long and had several serious accidents (on my first day back to work, when my son was 8 weeks old, Tony used a nail gun without protective eyewear at a job site. The nail ricocheted off the molding into his left eye. A year later, he severely cut a finger while using a jigsaw. In 2001 left-handed Tony lost most of his left hand to a table saw...with a triple Dado blade.) I was always the "designated grownup" and I was exhausted.
The marriage had started deteriorating while I was pregnant and was over by 2000. He had become verbally abusive and Emma, then 14, started asking me how I could allow him to treat me that way. Four-year-old Lucas was saying things like "Just acknore him, Mommy." In his frustration over not being able to control his life or his demons, he would call me names so vile I won't write them here, in front of the children. During one fight he knocked over a tall dresser and I called the police. I knew then that I had to end it.
Tony flipped out over the divorce and never really let go emotionally. He would tell little Lucas to ask me if I still loved him. I tried to be there for him when he lost his hand, but had to keep some distance because he perceived any warmth from me as a sign that the relationship could be revived. It was very difficult.
While he was in the hospital after the accident, he shocked me with news that he had a granddaughter. The story of Tony's son, Ryan, is a long one so I'll save it for another entry, but suffice it to say that I wasn't surprised that his son had gotten someone pregnant and wasn't taking responsibility for the child. Lucas loves having a niece, I love Chloe's mom and we correspond often. We never see Ryan.
Tony and Chloe, 2002.
On Christmas Eve, 2002, he told me that a mass had been found on his lung. He had an appointment to see an oncologist the following week and was terrified. We went together and listened to the doctor say that while his tumor was malignant, "a lot of people live productive lives with one lung!". That was January. Two months and three doctors later, we were told that his tumor was inoperable and the cancer had metastasized to his bones.
The treatment offered was radiation and chemotherapy, but only to extend his life by 4-5 months. Since Tony was extremely vain about his hair, he opted out. Instead, he wanted to go to the Oasis of Hope in Tijuana for laetrille and chelation and god knows what else. I had mixed feelings about it. He couldn't afford the steep fee, so his six brothers and sisters had to scrape together $20,000. Mostly I worried that he would be spending a month away from our eight year old son, who was only beginning to understand the pain that was to come. Tony spent the month of April in Mexico. He was convinced it had cured him.
In July, his right thigh-bone began to separate from his pelvis until he could no longer walk. He was in the hospital from mid-August until October 30th when he finally passed away, at 46 years old. I have replayed the events of that final week almost every day since, as I drive to and from my office. I will never forget the look on my little boy's face as his dad held his hand and said "I tried, buddy, but I'm not going to make it." I thought Lucas had understood that his dad was dying, but his shocked expression said otherwise. On the way home that night, he cried and asked "Can't Dad get amnesia so he'd forget he was ever sick?" Ah, kids. I managed to chuckle through my tears.
The day they moved him from his semi-private room to the "corner suite", I knew. I knew this was the Dying Room. He slept most of that day, but for a few moments while he was awake I assured him that I would choose to remember all of the good things we had. I brought books of photographs of the children and turned the pages for him. He smiled.
The next morning, I walked into his room and paused, puzzled, as I looked for the aquarium. There had to be one, because I could hear the filter. There was no aquarium. It was him. A few times during the day he would sit up and flail his arms, as if to push something or someone away from him. I was glad that Lucas had been taken to his aunt's house, as this would have been very frightening for him to witness. Hell, it kinda scared the shit out of me too.
By 6 PM, his sister Patty and I were the only ones left in the room. We sat on either side of him and at one point realized that the hand I held was cold, while the one she held was warm. Moments later, we noticed a shift in his breath. We both stood up and she started saying "Peace be with you" over and over. He was gone.
Seeing my son that night was so heartbreaking. As I wiped his tears, he insisted that Tony had wanted to be buried (kids have a hard time with the concept of cremation). Then we crawled into bed together in Patty's guestroom and I held him close to me. We said nothing for awhile until he whispered, "Want to do a crossword puzzle?"
Lucas is 10 now. It's been over a year since Tony's death, but thanks to a wonderful bereavement group for children who have lost a parent (and the surviving parent), he's doing well. My daughter never really forgave Tony for his treatment of me during the marriage, and recently told someone that they were "estranged". I often wonder if it will ever hit her.
As for me, I have learned that being an "only parent" is a lot harder than being a single parent. I've made sure to mention Tony every single day to my son, to keep his memory alive. There are days when I'm beyond pissed off at him for smoking himself to death, and other days when I see something he would have loved or laughed at, and all I can do is smile.