Today I said goodbye to my dad.

It started like hundreds of calls before it. Arriving on scene, keying up the mic, I spewing forth the normal rhetoric; Engine 81’s at scene, one vehicle moderate damage, 81 will be out with CHP, also we are blocking the onramp to eastbound Interstate 80.

Simple, easy. It was our 20th call of the set, we had been up most of the night and this late morning commute accident was another example of how wonderful the safety standards are for automobiles these days. As my crew did their job perfectly, the way they always do, I smiled.

Little did I know while standing ankle deep in vehicle debris my life was about to change.

My oldest son Cody was home from work, moving around the house doing laundry he looked out the window to see his grandfather moving trash cans towards the road. We live out in the country and my parents live on our property. We share garbage service and it was not uncommon to see my father dragging garbage cans out to the road, grumbling about why they weren’t drug out the night before. It was just his way.

My father has always been ornery, some would say crusty or salty of disposition. He could charm the socks off you when need be, but for the most part it was his way or the highway, no questions asked. He struggled with the move here, not wanting to really leave all he had built over the years in Sonoma, but he also was a realist and with the market at an all-time high, his and my mother’s health on the decline he realized there was no better option.

He spent his days watching TV, talking with the horses, and occasionally going out to see friends. Although that list was in decline as of late, his friends over the last couple years seemed to be dropping like flies. This of course worried him as it should, it is the mortality within us all that creeps around as we get older. He loved his grandchildren, he loved giving them a “hard time” and especially loved that Cody and Jake would give it back! My dad did the very best he could with what was left of his aging body and that left him more times than not, sitting wondering what could have been.

It also left him grumbling when the trash cans weren’t pulled out the night before.

Cody walked back into the kitchen and while getting a cup of coffee noticed grandpa’s car was still in the driveway. Thinking 30 minutes after the last time he saw him was odd he stepped onto the back porch to see his grandfather’s lifeless body on the ground in front of a garbage can.

He ran outside

My crew has just finished closing the ambulance doors, I was watching their backs with my eye on traffic when I heard the tones through my radio. Waiting for the dispatch we began moving pieces of broken car towards the side of the road. The dispatcher began by announcing a medical aid to which I knew would be routed to our engine company that was available. As we continued moving debris the location or address of the newly dispatched call for service hit me like a ton of bricks.

I knew that address! It couldn’t be, I mean I heard it, but it just couldn’t be! Frozen in my tracks, the numbers resonated as my heart beat doubled.

It was my address…

The dispatcher announced the address along with a reported 80 year old male down in the driveway, unknown if breathing.

My heart sunk further, because I knew.

My engineer was listening and he hadn’t quite put it together, but the look on his face suggested that he knew it sounded familiar. When he made eye contact with me as I screamed over the freeway roar; it was my place! It all came together. My firefighter, a new probie was confused but hustled to get everything together so we could go.

Climbing into the engine, I took a deep breath, secured the call we were currently on and attached ourselves to the medical aid. Normally since the medical aid was in my engines response area, I would have cancelled the second engine, but I didn’t know where they were, and I desperately wanted someone there fast. Our Battalion Chief attached himself to the call and ordered an engine from our neighboring town which was much closer to my house than we were. In a matter of seconds, my father had my second family coming for him in full force.

I sat quietly in the Captains seat on the way to the call. Trying hard to fight back tears as deep inside I knew this wasn’t going to be good. I also thought about my son, and what he must be thinking right now. I could feel my phone buzzing in my pants. Knowing it had to be my son calling for help, I could do nothing, with turnout gear on there was no way to get to it in the confines of my seat.

Desperately checking the computer for updated notes on his condition, there was no new news. For a minute that gave me hope. Experience has told me that when there are no updates, there is no one panicking on the other end. This usually comes from a calmness of either a very stoic individual or the subject or patient in question is breathing or talking.

We pulled up to my house and that hope went out the window.

My father was there, lying in the driveway with a blanket and a pillow, my son on his knees holding his grandfather while a dear family friend who just happened to pull into our driveway minutes after Cody called 911 was holding his head.

I have seen this image a thousand times, done this particular job to the best of my ability more times than I care to remember, but my dad…

Getting to him first with 5 members of my second family hot on my heels, I stripped his shirt, felt for a pulse while sighting his chest for rise or fall. Asking for a BVM and NPA I was politely shoved out of the way by one of my guys. Rolling around to his side to start compressions, I was politely shoved out of the way again and told to talk with my family. I stood dumbfounded looking at my hands thinking what the hell! This my dad, I am going to help him! Someone asked for oxygen and I grabbed it only to be moved again to the back and gently told to be with my family. What the hell this is my Family! The man lying there is my God Damn Family and I am going too; oh….. I get it.

Looking behind me at my sons pie eyed face and the look of stress upon our friend it hit me that my job was not on the ground thrashing for supplies, working with the best fireman I know to hopefully save my dad’s life. Yes, that was my family on the ground, but that family was in very capable hands and those guys knew through clear eyes where I was supposed to be.

Turning around I hugged my son, told him he did everything right and not to worry. I hugged our friend and said thank you for being there at just the right time. Cody told me he yelled at our little ones to get back in the house when they came outside so he thought they hadn’t seen much. Our friend had her son go inside and play video games with them to keep them occupied.

Once dad was loaded into the ambulance, it dawned on me. My mother! Holy shit, my mom is next door and has no idea what is happening! As I began walking that way I was asked if I wanted to ride with dad to the hospital. Just then my mom pulled up, our friend grabbed her and told me to go and I did. It was a quiet ride to the hospital, I needed to ride in the front as to keep my hands off the operation. I felt bad, as I work alongside these guys every day, but there was no conversation. It was all I could do to keep tears from streaming down my face.

We arrived, we hustled into an ER room and for the next twenty minutes or so everyone worked valiantly hoping for any sign of life. But in the end, we had an unknown downtime, we had no discernable rhythm or any resemblance of electrical activity and with honest to goodness remorse, the doc turned to me and said: we have done all we can Mr. Franceschi, it is time.

I have heard “time of death” called on a person’s life more times than I care to remember. Hearing it called for my father brought a conflict of emotions.

The ER crew was so gracious and kind. They cleaned dad up, dressed him neatly with a white sheet and left him looking as though he was sleeping. The silence inside that room was deafening. My heart was breaking as I thought of all the times we butted heads or argued over little things. I never got to tell him Jacy was being released from the hospital. He loved her so, and had worried non-stop over her in his own silent way. He was never going to see any of his grandchildren get married or watch them progress with their lives. He was also no longer in pain, his body had given out on him years ago and he struggled daily. His pace maker had just been replaced which was something he was proud of because he had outlived the previous one. Our entire lives together was rushing through my brain.

I just stood there, not knowing what to do, staring helplessly at his lifeless body.

Then deep inside, a ten year old boy emerged. This boy, felt lost and alone, like he was in the dark with no way to find some light. This ten year old boy began to cry for his daddy. He just wanted his daddy to find him, take his hand and tell him not to be afraid anymore. To wrap his arms around him, hold him in his massive 300 pound 6 foot frame and tell him, one day you will be a man and you will know just what to do. This ten year old boy just wanted to cry on his dads shoulder.

The ten year old boy from within forced the 49 year old man to lay his hand across his dad’s chest, kiss him on the forehead and tell him he was sorry he wasn’t there faster. He was sorry they hadn’t always seen eye to eye, he was sorry but they did the very best they could to keep him around for just a bit longer. The ten year old boy from within cried, the 49 year old man shed those tears.

We both said goodbye.

I miss you dad.

 

 

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Will you let deaths door remain open?

 

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Death:

Noun
The action or fact of dying or being killed; the end of the life of a person or organism.
An instance of a person or an animal dying.

So cold, callous and final is death, therefore the definition holds no particular glamour, no allure or promise of grandeur. Blunt and to the point, finality, end of subject.

But what death really means is so much more to those affected by its looming presence. Opening deaths door scars you emotionally; death leaves one wondering how, or why? What could this person have done differently changing the course of history, altering this ones “end of days?”

Death means nothing to those who are gone, but means so much to all who are left behind.  Family members grieve, friends despair, acquaintances wonder what can be done to support those in anguish. A circle of emotional extremes travels through anyone and everyone who ever spoke the name of the deceased.  And that’s ok, its how we process the loss of a being we will never lay eyes upon again. That in and of itself is truly hard to comprehend.

All living things have an expiration date. Its like the elephant in the room. We know it’s there yet we refuse to talk about it.  I surmise the only reason it’s so hard to wrap our minds around is because our expiration date is unknown. We walk through life as though we can live forever yet in reality our next step could very well be our last. This alone could and should leave even the faintest of hearts terrified!  For the smallest of acts such as opening a window to the outside world  may lead to ones own extinction .

But in reality fear of death or someone dying unexpectedly doesn’t leave the majority of us human beings terrified at all. Sure we wonder about it, the where’s, why’s and how’s but it doesn’t stop us in our tracks, leave us helpless, lying on the floor in the fetal position. Why, because we have been bestowed with a phenomenal gift! A gift so great we should all be grateful for obtaining its possession! That gift?

Memories.

Memories are amazing! I as most, have lost a few people I cared deeply about in my life and what astounded me personally was the flood of wonderful memories after their passing.  Its strange really, many of those memories were completely forgotten about until after my loved ones/friends death.  Hundreds of fantastic, laughter filled, teary eyed, warm and comforting memories! The human brain continues to baffle me with its amazing complexity and instantaneous ability to work in the right way at exactly the right time.  Combine that with a few good friends/family members, some wine and a photo album or two and stand back! Not a dry in the house and laughter combined with a strange reaction known as smiling will ensue! Does it replace a good old-fashioned hug from someone you love? No. But I bet you remember some of the nicest hugs you ever received from that person.  Does it replace sipping a cool drink while partaking in an awesome conversation with the recently deceased? Nope, not a chance! But I guarantee your memory will allow you to lay in bed at night fondly remembering long conversations from evenings past?

Listen I am not saying memories are a perfect cure-all for an aching heart.  It hurts to lose someone! It hurts deep inside, it hurts on the outside and for a period of time it feels as though the pain may never go away.  But instead of letting the finality of deaths definition eat away at your soul; choose to remember, not forget. Choose to laugh and smile chasing away the effect left you by the grim reapers blackened robe. Let memories take ahold and guide you through the darkness into a place of light and understanding. A place where even though they had nothing to do with the timing of their passing you can forgive them for being gone, still love them for what they brought into your life and cherish ever single wonderful memory you have to reflect upon time and time again.

Remember; everyone, no matter who they are had a redeeming quality! Never at one wake, one funeral, one celebration of life have I heard a single person stand up to eulogize the deceased and say: “place-name here” was a god damn son of a bitch! I hated that bastard so much I am glad they are dead!

So grab those memories, smile and remember; celebrate all of their life experiences no matter how big, no matter how small, remember they loved you as well and in the end remember most of all how lucky you are to have spent what ever time the good lord afforded you with that person.  Our time here isn’t promised, we should never ever sweat the small stuff, tomorrow may never come and memories last forever.

DEATH nor its meager definition can take that away from any of us.

 

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In memory of Grandmother Rosemary

One of the few women I have ever met who lived life on her own terms and could flow into a room effortlessly while stealing the show with poise, grace, intelligence and kindness.  May she rest in peace…..

 

 

 

To infinity and beyond!!

This is a sad day in Betty’s world. 

Today’s obituary: Neil Alden Armstrong (August 5, 1930 – August 25, 2012) was an American NASA astronaut, test pilot, aerospace engineer, university professor, United States Naval Aviator, and the first person to set foot upon the Moon.

Let that sink in for a moment.  The first man to set foot on the moon, July 26 1969 has perished. 

Although he was just one N.A.S.A. (National Aeronautics and SpaceAdministration) team member in a pool of extremely intelligent and talented individuals, Mr. Armstrong was lucky enough to be chosen to command Apollo 11 and even luckier to be first down the LEM (Lunar Excursion Module) planting his feet firmly in lunar soil then muttering the all too familiar phrase “That’s one small step for man; one giant leap for mankind” thus forever cementing his name in American history. 

Little known fact: Mr. Armstrong actually stated “That’s one small step for (a) man: one giant leap for mankind” as man/mankind would have been improper use of the English language because man is synonymous with mankind.  But the (a) was blocked by static so the recording and phrase we all know to this day is forever cemented in history. 

So why is Betty so sad?  Mr. Neil Armstrong was one of my childhood hero’s! In elementary school I would read about space missions up to and including landing on the moon.  Then I would run out and play as if I were an astronaut.  Circling the jungle gym like it was the moon, coming in slowly, after burners at half thrust, slowly easing my spacecraft onto the top then leaping to the ground screaming; “that was one small leap for all kids, one giant landing for all kidkind!”

Yep we all wanted to be astronauts! Space suits, space ships, stars and planets, we dreamed and we dreamed big.  At night coming in from the barn the moon would call to me like a lost friend.  Staring at its kindly giant face, wondering what it was like to stand on its forehead looking back at our giant blue sphere. Knowing that Neil Armstrong stood there, gazing upon his home from a perch that few would ever see! What did he think, how did he feel? Was he scared? Did he worry that he and his crew may never come home? 

Yeah space the final frontier; these are the voyages of the star ship Enterprise! Her five year mission to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before! Crap! Wait wrong fantasy!  I also used to pretend I was Captain James T. Kirk, but that story is for another time.

Astronauts, sheriffs, firefighters, teachers, superheroes (Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Capt. America etc..) Cowboys, sports heroes, they were all there for us to idolize and admire.  To dream about becoming as we grew into adults.  These images forever etched into our minds, approved of by our parents and lived in the fantasy play periods of our afternoons. 

Where are today’s heroes? Who do our children have to look up too? When my kids are in their forties who will they look back upon as being their childhood heroes? Computer generated actors? Rappers? Boy bands? Disney created childhood mental cases waiting to explode as adults? I am just not seeing it! Where are the brazen leaders, moral guided heroes, larger than life humans that stand by their convictions leading the way for all youngsters to dream?

Am I wrong? Is it just me?

Rest in Peace Neil Armstrong.  Thank you for the endless hours of dreaming your bravery brought to my young life.