If you’ve wandered through my web site or read through my blog, you’ll know many of the things I treasure in life. Hiking through the hills, little newts on the forest floor, the quacking of rafts of waterfowl in the winter. My cats sleeping on my chest or having adventures through the house or through my mind. But there’s at least one thing that’s of great importance to me that I deliberately haven’t talked about here: my family. I keep a separate set of pages for family pictures and stories that isn’t linked from my public site.
Today I’ll make an exception.
My stepfather Dan was diagnosed with lung cancer earlier this year. While the cancer treatment itself was progressing well and the tumors were greatly decreased, Dan developed a rapid case of radiation pneumonitis as a result of his treatment and his breathing troubles became severe enough that he needed to be put on a ventilator. I flew in a couple of weeks ago to be with him and my family, but unfortunately he didn’t improve.
Dan passed away on December 13th.
Dan came into my life a couple of decades ago when he and my mom started dating. They had been high school sweethearts but married other people and spent years apart, then started dating again after they each got divorced. Dan would drive down from Indiana on the weekends to be with us in Tennessee, and did that many, many times. They were like high school sweethearts all over again, and even though I didn’t know him very well then, it brought me great joy to see how happy he made my mom.
If Dan had done nothing else than make my mother that happy during the following years after they got married, that would have been enough for me. She deserves that happiness and I wished she had known that all her life. Fortunately for me, though, that was not the end of our relationship, as Dan and I grew close over the years.
Dan was my stepfather, but he loved me as a father and I loved him as a son.
I have many wonderful memories of him, so that even in this time of sadness as I mourn his passing, I also rejoice in the times we spent together. He helped me buy my first car when I was in college, a little red Nissan Pulsar. That was the first car I actually enjoyed driving, and it served me well during many trips back and forth between school and home, as well as around town and to the places I interned each summer.
He reached out to my wife and made her feel welcome in our large family, as he had been an outsider at one time as well. Dan had touched many lives in his life, and it was never more evident than when out in public in Indiana. Even walking through the Cincinnati airport when he picked up my wife and I a few years ago, we kept running into people he knew even as we walked from our gate to the exit. Everyone wanted to stop and say hi, because everybody liked him. That’s the kind of man he was.
Last summer after a family get-together, the rest of the family had departed but I had a few hours before my flight. I asked Dan if he could take me around the golf courses (the house is on a golf course) and he was happy to oblige. On a beautiful day, I’d prefer to go hiking and photograph wildlife, but Dan loved to golf. I know little of golf and peppered him with endless golf questions as we drove around in the golf cart, and we also discussed the various animals we saw as we went around, from a raccoon (a personal favorite of mine) to the odd coloration of some of the squirrels here, with a black-and-white coloring that makes them look a little raccoon-ish. It was one of those times where we didn’t discuss anything of great import, it was just nice to spend time together.
I got to see him this summer and again at Thanksgiving, and each visit ended with a strong hug. I talked to him on the phone shortly before he went into the hospital a couple of weeks ago, he wanted my help in choosing a present for my mom for Christmas. That was before we knew how serious his condition was, and it was the last time I spoke to him before he died. At first I regretted that our last discussion wasn’t about something more meaningful, but I quickly decided that it was completely appropriate. Even when he was feeling that miserable, his thoughts were of others, and to his dying day he was trying to do something nice for my mom and those he loved.
I don’t have any regrets about our relationship, he departed far too soon but he knew how I loved him and I knew how he loved me. It would have been nice to be be able to spend more time together, but we treasured the moments we had. Even now when I think of him, I don’t picture the man in the hospital bed hooked up to the ventilator, I think of the man in the picture above, beaming at his newest granddaughter who is beaming back at him. I took the picture at Thanksgiving this year, just a couple of weeks before he died. We had no idea at the time that he would get so sick so quickly.
The last couple of weeks have been the saddest of my life and I’m sure the last tears have not yet been shed. But even as I mourn for the loss in my life, I rejoice in the way he blessed my life and in the faith of the life yet to come.