Happy Birthday Dad

** I rarely go off the topic of Cowden’s Syndrome, but this is just so necessary.  Tomorrow April 18, 2014 my Dad would have been 66.**

Dear Dad,

It’s hard to imagine a year has gone by since you sat at my dining room table.  We shared pizza, and red wine, and ice cream cake.  And you, who had eaten in some of the most gourmet restaurants around, were so gracious, and thrilled to enjoy a simple dinner with Meghan and Felix and I in honor of your birthday.

You even tolerated coffee from my Keurig with a warm smile.

I still remember that night as if it was yesterday.

dad birthday 2013b

 

Make a wish!

Make a wish!

"Don't take out the knife!"

“Don’t take out the knife!”

And here I sit  a year later… in awe of all that has gone on.  Stunned that you aren’t here to celebrate.

Thinking back your year is proof positive that we need to live each moment with the knowledge there is no guarantee of tomorrow.

But, you knew that.  You learned that lesson many years ago as a young Marine in the jungles of Vietnam.  Then, you lived it.  And you learned, and you grew, and you learned some more.  But, you lived each day without malice in your heart, and with the never ending desire to do the best you could with what you had where you were.

We didn’t always have it quite right, Dad.  There were years where you weren’t around too much, and I missed you.  And I’ll admit to even spending some of those years a bit angry.  But, I grew up.

And Mom, she did the right thing.  I got to work through it all, and come out better and closer to you in the end.  Heck. I made out like a bandit, because when Mom married Ken, I got to enjoy all the benefits of two Dads.  Not a replacement – either one, but two!  What a lucky girl…

When you came back to Staten Island a few years ago I was thrilled.  Now, a mile away from my house, I got to see you more than I even had before.  You got to see Meghan.  And I watched a relationship blossom between you.

Dad and Meg recital 2013

You were there for her dance recitals, and some swim meets.  You watched her on days off from school.  You taught her chess.

You got some time to get to know her during years when life had kept us apart.  I felt so much closure.  So much love.

You smiled all the time when you were with her, and that smile is what she carries with her each day even now.

Even when we didn’t see each other, we spoke.  A lot.  I loved bouncing ideas off of you, and even when we didn’t agree, I loved hearing your point of view.  You always HEARD me.  You never JUDGED me. You listened intently to mine and Meghan’s medical issues, and I valued your perspective.   I looked forward to talking to you.  Especially on the cell phone (hands free of course!) on my way home from Whole Foods.  Your voice always gave me energy after a long night.

Except for that one night.  When I called you on a Friday from the road back from Whole Foods, and you told me you were in ICU.  Stunned, I told you I’d see you in the morning.  You said I didn’t “have” to come.

We spent a lot of time together those days as they ran test after test.  You were getting edgy.  A caged bird.

I took you home after the answers stayed sketchy.  But I was worried.

You who could walk miles.  You who could work countless hours.  You who was always busy.  You were tired.

Your skin told the tale of jaundice.  Your eyes were tired.

Meghan asked and asked to see you.  You put her off.  You wanted to feel better.

Then on Halloween we got a 5 minute visit…

dad and meg halloween 2013

And even though she was worried about you, that hug carried her for quite some time.

There were appointments.  Back and forth.  I was so grateful to be able to take you.  And I was so thankful for the time we had – to talk about everything and anything.

We had some easy conversations, and we had some of the hardest conversations I will ever have in my life.  But I am grateful for every one of them.

You see I always loved you – but not until those last months did I really get to know you.

“I always wanted to exclude you from my pain, never my love.  But the two became one in the same.”

And in that moment there was peace.  You spoke what I knew.  In very few words you elaborated on the Marine who returned from Vietnam, forever changed.  You told me about the hurt, and the heartache, and the fear.  I learned later the scope of the losses you suffered through, and the horrors you experienced.  No wonder.  No wonder at all.

The months got all garbled up.  There was Shane, in to stay for a while, at exactly the right time.  There was Lisa, at the ready to drive anywhere we needed to be.  your “team” converged, got our acts together, discovered our skill sets and became unstoppable.

Road Trips to Columbia Presbyterian.  Gut wrenching diagnostic testing.  Your strength – surreal.  Your focus – laser sharp.

You were back to survival mode.  A Marine in the jungle.  We were in awe.

That last week at the VA was torture, and therapy all at the same time.  You had made your wishes clear.  We knew the mission.  We just didn’t like it one bit.

marine's mission

And when the angels grabbed hold of you on December 4th, and we knew that you were finally able to rest, there was a painful peace among us.

The days of your funeral were surreal.

The days after it just as intense.  So many people had to be notified.  Somewhere in your 6,000 contacts we found the strength to reach out to those who loved you so.

Perhaps if I had one wish, one regret- it would be that you didn’t know how much you were loved.  By your family, and by those whose lives you touched on a daily basis.

You changed people.  Your impact was intense.

You suffered too much Dad, with the physical, and emotional traumas of a war fought as a young man.  For 45 years you bore burdens too intense for the strongest to process.  You were tired.

You told me once about Cowden’s Syndrome to never let it define Meghan and I.  You told me to listen to my heart and my gut, just as much, if not more than I listened to the doctors.  No worries Dad.  I haven’t forgotten.

I am sad that the cancer reached up and snatched you away – with no warning.  I am at least in that way grateful for the warning system that is Cowden’s Syndrome.  But, don’t worry Dad… I will never forget.

You know in the months after you died I reached out to your Marines.  The few you spoke a little about, and the ones I had never heard of before.  There were photos, and then names, and then long conversations.  They, each of them a gentleman, called me upon hearing of your death.  With some I laughed.  With some I cried.  With all I felt a bond.  They were also your brothers, each one.  I learned the meaning of “Semper Fi” in those conversations.  More than 45 years later they wanted to know what they could do.  And they meant it.

You would be so proud to know.  You are remembered.  Not as a saint, but as a good man.  A man who made mistakes, and owned up to them.  A man who loved, deeply.  A man who desired to make the world better.  A man who taught by living.  A man who saw beauty through his camera lens.

You made a difference; to your Marine Brothers, to your parents, to your children, to your grandchildren, to your siblings, to your nieces and nephews, to the friends form all walks of life who loved you so, to the people you worked for, to the people you worked with, and to the people who worked for you.

We played music the day before you died.  You smiled.  We laughed.  That is the spirit I hold close in my heart – even through my tears.

Dad Marine shirt

Dad Washington summer 2013

Happy Birthday in Heaven.  Give Angel Meghan a kiss for me.

Semper Fi Daddy.  Always faithful.  Until we meet again.

All my love,

Lori

marine

 

 

8 thoughts on “Happy Birthday Dad

  1. Lori, I cannot express the feeling i got while reading this tribute. I am one of Tommys cousins, i was able to see all of his life while reading and it brought so many smiles to my face and tears in my eyes. Absolutely an outstanding, beautiful, touching tribute I have ever read in my life. Your dad was an amazing man and you described him so well. Your a special person to be able to do this and I wanted to tell you. I am Warren Woods daughter, he is your grandmother, Aunt Gen’s ‘favorite’ cousin.. Tommy will never be forgotten, he will be always remembered. Tracy

      • Very beautifully written tribute. I too am a family member of Tom, a Cousin. Sadly last time I saw Tom was at the first family reunion at Fenleys home several years ago. Tom took all the photos. Wishing you many fond memories if your dad. Best wishes to all. “Cousin Kelly” DelloRusso nee Wood

      • Dad always took the photos! 🙂 And I am blessed that he left Meghan with the gift of his eye. I am also blessed to have such an extended family to keep Dad’s spirit alive. Much love…

  2. I am also a cousin Lori…… (Aunt Barbara and Uncle Irv’s daughter). Absolutely beautiful and touching tribute to Tom. May God bless you and your family xoxo

  3. God bless you and your family. The tribute is beautiful. Stay strong your father would want that. BarbAra and Irv more cousins.

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