Dead Dad Day #7

Today marks the seventh anniversary of my father’s death, the most life-changing event I have experienced that now serves as my “before” and “after” marker. I have always honored Dead Dad Day, as I refer to it, as a kind of Sabbath, a day I do not conduct business as usual but spend time reflecting on the painfully beautiful unraveling it caused me.

I have written about my rituals on DDD before. Some years I didn’t work on February 11, some I did. Some years I reread sympathy cards, some years I didn’t. What has always been the tradition, though, is a family dinner with my crew and my mother, sister, and brother-in-law. We have a margarita, one of my dad’s favorite adult drinks, toast to a wonderful, complicated man, and share memories.

This year is different. A shared meal is not possible now that we’ve moved 1,000 miles away. Had we been home, it would not have happened anyway, as my sister is in the home stretch of her nurse practitioner program and has class from 1-8 tonight. And though I have always kept the evening of February 11 clear, tonight Owen has a make-up basketball game. Having him skip it would be a very UN-Tom-Pesola move.

Life has changed for us all, as life tends to do. And for the first time since that terrible day on February 11, 2009, when my 59-year-old father unexpectedly died in the middle of the night due, in essence, to Type 1 diabetes, February 11 feels…normal.

I will continue to honor this day, of course. I am looking forward to a great day at work. I will attend a College Board workshop on examining PSAT data, participate in a lower school PLC meeting on math curriculum, finish the annual report to our endowed fund donors, and discuss ways we might compbasketballact the curriculum for our advanced upper school students. After school, I will help coach the middle school Girls on the Run team, our first meeting of the year. Then, we will squeeze in a family dinner before heading to Owen’s game to watch #66, the next generation of my father’s #33, play a great game.


I am also donating $33 to Spare a Rose, a foundation I fortuitously learned about last night. My father and Owen were lucky to have been born after the discovery of insulin, but just because insulin exists does not mean all children have access to it. To coincide with Valentine’s Day (the day we buried my father), Spare a Rose asks people to give the value of one rose to help provide diabetes supplies and insulin to children in degoofyveloping countries. How can I not support that?

So, cheers to you, all of my family and friends who have supported us on our journey of grief these last 7 years. And, cheers to a father who consistently supported me with love and kindness and encouragement. I hold my memories a little closer and dearer today.

Me and My Pal D

(Originally posted on old blog on February 9, 2010)

So here we are on the 9th, two days away from D-Day, and I can’t help but notice how Death keeps finding ways to tap me on the shoulder and announce its presence. It’s not that the Grim Reaper is searching for me – at least I hope not – it’s just that Death keeps trying to remind me that it’s part of life.

The best analogy I have is the common phenomenon that follows buying a new car – you might not have noticed many of your make and model on the road before you made the big purchase, but now that you’re driving your new wheels, you see your car EVERYWHERE.

Such is the case with me and Death, and I am not just referring to all of the wakes and funerals I’ve been to in the last year (as I mentioned in my post, Shocked Into Functioning).

Death’s first appearance was more of a cameo. The day after burying my father, my sister needed a break from the doom and gloom, so she proposed going to the movies. Always one for a good diversion, I went with her. We picked the most light-hearted, brainless movie out at the time, He’s Just Not that Into You.

About 30 minutes into the film, the main character’s father collapses to the floor with a heart attack. My sister and I looked at each other and said out loud, “Are you serious?!” In the movie, that father lives, which for me only highlighted the fact that ours did not.

When I went back to my classes and work at BC a couple weeks after the funeral, without fail, the radio on my commute played Death’s personal soundtrack, with T-Pain’s Dead and Gone a frequent track. Disturbed – less by how bad the song is and more by seeing the words “Dead and Gone” displayed so boldly on my radio screen – I remember changing the station, only to get Kelly Clarkson’s Already Gone, followed by The Doors’s The End, then U2’s With or Without You, then P!nk’s Please Don’t Leave Me, and finally – no joke – Bob Dylan’s Knocking on Heaven’s Door.

“All right – I give up! I get it!” I yelled.

Death doesn’t always slap me in the face, though. More often than not, it creeps up on me.

Last night, I was reading this month’s book club selection, This Is Where I Leave You, by Jonathan Tropper, and Death made another appearance. Granted, I was the one who chose this book, but I did so thinking it would provide comic relief and a nice change in tone from the last couple months’ books, which have been more serious.

Amazon’s “Best of the Month” from August of this past year, the book promised to be “laugh-out-loud funny” and “compulsively readable,” and so far, I don’t disagree.

But apparently I skimmed over the basic premise too quickly for it to register: the book centers on a dysfunctional family whose atheist patriarch’s dying wish is for them to sit shiva for him (the Jewish ritual of sitting in low chairs for seven days to greet mourners).

In a nutshell: lots of Dead Dad stuff.

I suppose others in my shoes might find this annoying, even heartbreaking. Some might think it particularly morbid for me to be reading such a book on the eve of my father’s one-year anniversary.

Always able to appreciate the bizarre, my father would have laughed.

So that’s what I do. Sometimes, things are too absurd not to.

Oh, the Irony!

(Originally posted on old blog on February 5, 2010)

If we go back in time to over a year ago, yesterday marked the day that my father had one week left to live. The English teacher in me appreciates irony. The common definition of this words means the opposite of the expected outcome happens, but as a literary technique, irony refers to when the full significance of a character’s words or actions are clear to the audience but unknown to the character. As I reflect on the “story” of my father’s final week, the irony is particularly poignant.

On my sister’s birthday, February 6, her then-boyfriend-now-fiance threw her a surprise party. As it was a small gathering for the 21-30 crowd, my parents babysat the kids while Brendan and I attended. When my parents babysat, they rarely went home upon our arrival; they stayed at least another 20 minutes to hear about our evening and tell us what funny things the kids said or did in our absence.

My parents wanted to know if my sister was surprised. Frightened was more like it, as when she opened the door and saw people in their apartment, she thought for sure she and Scott were being robbed.

“She almost had a heart attack,” I said. For the audience, that’s ironic example #1.

While listening to my parents’ report about the kids, I noticed an empty wine glass in the sink. “Where they that bad that they drove you to drink?” I joked. My mother then said that my father drinks a glass of red every now and then “for his heart.” Ironic example #2.

The next day, we celebrated Kara’s birthday as a family. She wanted to go out for a meal and ice cream at Friendly’s, the restaurant my father used to take us to for breakfast when we were kids. As much as I like the cheap grub, Friendly’s is not known for their service, at least not the franchise closest to us.

But this visit was perfect. We had a short wait to be seated, during which we all talked and the kids were well-behaved. As a party of 8, we had to split between neighboring booths, but we compensated for the divide by frequently turning around and checking in on the other table’s conversation. We all shared a laugh when Owen said, “Poppy, do you want a bite of my ice cream?” then revealed that, in fact, he had already cleaned out his dish.

My father picked up the bill. Brendan offered him money. He said, “No, I got it. It’s not every day I get to take everyone out for my youngest’s 25th birthday.” Then he flashed what some have dubbed the “Tommy grin” or the “Pesola smirk,” though I just consider it my father’s trademark look of contentedness. Ironic example #3.

Though I am sure it is difficult for my sister having a birthday just days before what is now the anniversary of our father’s death, I am grateful for the timing because it allowed us to have a truly memorable, happy weekend together, what we now know was our last.

After leaving Friendly’s, my parents got ready to attend the Snow Ball, an annual fundraising dance for the Danvers YMCA. While I did not go to this event, it seems it was the most ironic scene of my father’s final days.

From what I’ve heard from various people in attendance that night, my father donned the jovial persona he typically wore to these occasions, which he rarely looked forward to attending because he did not like to dance. He introduced himself as my mother’s “boy toy” to some, as her “eye candy” to others, and had conversations about how lucky he was to have the relationships he had with all of us.

The only serious note of the evening was a conversation he had with a colleague about a recent health scare. Though I don’t remember the details, this physically fit and otherwise healthy person told my father that he had been having chest pains and ended up getting to the hospital just in time for major surgery that no doubt saved him from a heart attack. Ironic example # 4.

My father was obviously shaken by this chat because he called our house the next morning to talk about it. How could this happen to someone so young and healthy, he wondered aloud to Brendan. Now, I see the subtext of this conversation as, Could this happen to me?

As the audience member watching this final week in hindsight, I want to shout, “Yes! Call the doctor!” much like we yell at the impending victim in a horror movie to turn around and leave the soon-to-be-crime scene.

But I didn’t say that.

I didn’t say anything because the last time I spoke to my dad was Saturday, February 7, as we left Friendly’s. We he called on Sunday, he spoke only to Brendan. I tried to call him on Tuesday, the 10th, after leaving a particularly thought-provoking lecture by Noam Chomsky at BC. He wasn’t home. I didn’t leave a message.

Brendan called him later that night to ask if he could babysit on Thursday the 12th. I had lass and Brendan had a work obligation. He said he’d be happy to.

Brendan asked me, “Do you want to talk to your dad?”

“I’ll talk to him later,” I said, worn out from the day and still processing the lecture. Ironic example #5.