I would like to tell you the story of an incredible man, one who I have long looked up to and admired. Not a day goes by that he is not in my thoughts. This man is my dad. I have a picture of him, his senior year in high school, on the wall outside my bedroom door. Every day as I leave my room I see him there, smiling at me. Most people who know me know that my parents are Deaf. Deafness is not considered a disability to those who are a part of Deaf culture, and my father was no exception. He worked hard, gave generously, served diligently and loved unconditionally. I have always wondered how I could be so blessed to be his daughter.
Did you know I am named after my dad? His name is Herbert. I am Gerberta. The story goes something like this: My parents wanted me to be Herbie Junior. But alas, I was not a boy. I was my dad’s first child, and they really wanted to name me after him. G-for-girl was decided upon, thus my name was Gerbert. Luckily, someone suggested an “a” at the end to give it a feminine touch. There you have it, the origin of my name, Gerberta. It is not German. It is Deaf.
When the time came for me to get married, no one was more excited than my pop. He accepted Allen as a son from the time we started dating, I think. And I do believe he was the happiest person at our wedding, excepting my groom and myself. As each of our pregnancies was announced and our children were born, dad was beside himself with joy. I have never seen a more proud grandpa! He would come to visit and the grandkids would immediately gravitate toward him, anxious to discover what surprises were hidden in his pockets. They still talk about the quarters, candy necklaces, and other treats he would distribute.
I will never forget 2000, the year I discovered I was pregnant with our 5th child, EG. Dad was one of the first people I told, and he couldn’t wait to add another grandchild to the tally. This was the year of some big changes for dad. He started acting different. At work, he normally took great pride in a job well done; yet his thoroughness was no longer there. He would say he had finished tasks he had not. He was fired from his job, something that had never happened since the strike at Clinton Corn years earlier (that, my friends, is a story in itself), and we worried he was depressed. He would sit on the couch for almost the entire day, doing no work in the garden that he loved. My mom planned a trip to Washington for them to visit her family, to get them out and doing something fun. He was unresponsive, almost anti-social, and would say he was going to do something then sit and stare at nothing in particular. After their return home and my mom’s increasing frustration, he continued to decline. We were all extremely worried, but unsure of what to do. Then I got a phone call from my mom. She needed me to meet her at the emergency room so I could translate for her and dad. He had soiled himself, on the couch, and would not move.
The doctors worried that he had a mild stroke, yet he did not have the correct symptoms. They decided it was the best option and did a brain scan to check for the possibility. They found a mass that they were sure must have caused the assumed mini-stroke, and wanted to operate immediately to remove it. He went in for emergency surgery within the hour, and we were relieved that they had discovered the cause of all these changes in dad. The surgery would have risks, as all surgeries do, but he was expected to come out of it just fine. Mom and I sat in the waiting room and, well, waited. About an hour into the surgery, the surgeon came out to tell us some of the worst, most devastating and heart-wrenching news I have ever received. The mass was a brain tumor of the worst kind, Glioblastoma Multiforme, and we would be lucky if dad were to wake from the surgery. They would not be able to remove the entire mass, but they could try to slow its growth. The average life span was 3-5 months. We prayed for a miracle, and received many.
When dad came out of the surgery, he was awake and alert. He could not remember anything that had happened in the past 24 hours and we had a hard time helping him understand the seriousness of his condition. He was sure that my brother, Chip, and I were playing some kind of joke on him, and that we had the nurses and doctors in on it as well. Once he realized it was very serious, he became the man we all know and love once again. He wanted to fight this cancer in every way possible, and we were his support team, ready and willing to do whatever was needed. We took him to radiation treatments, but they did not work. The cancer continued to grow and spread. He tried chemotherapy once, but it made him so sick that we decided to stop. From there we tried to make his life as comfortable as possible until the time would come that we all dreaded. His abilities slowly declined to the point where he needed daily care. I was very fortunate and blessed to be able to take care of him for about half of each day. I had the amazing opportunity to do for him what he had done for me as a baby. I helped him walk, helped him eat, and talked to him as much as I could.
At this point, I was 8 months pregnant. I wanted him to make it at least long enough to see the baby, to hold his newest granddaughter, to take pictures of the two of them together. But he stopped eating and slipped into a sort of trance where he was there in body, but not in soul. And on January 29, 2001, he left us.
I know that death is not the end, but it is hard for those of us who are left behind to deal with the loss of someone we love so dearly. I had many fears. One was that my children would not remember or know who their grandpa was, this dear man who loved them all so much. Another was that I would forget about him. Not entirely, but that I wouldn’t think of him often enough. Six years later, I still think of him every day.
I was able to attend the funeral of a good friend’s father on Saturday. Like my dad, he was a good man who lived an exemplary life. Funerals are hard for me, and here is why:
- I generally cry.
- I am not very attractive when I cry.
- I do not like to cry in front of other people. (see #2)
- People wonder why I’m getting all bawly over someone I didn’t even know so well, when really I’m just missing my dad.
- They make me think of my dad.
At this funeral, one of the sons told a story about how, as the end of his father’s life was near, he would squeeze his father’s hand twice, and his father would squeeze back. Until there were no more squeezes to give. This reminded me of my own dad, and I could not keep back the tears or prevent the red, blotchy eyes. My dad used to squeeze my hand three times. This was secret code for “I love you”. Then I would squeeze his back 4 times, meaning, “I love you more”. He would then squeeze my hand 5 times, code for, “I love you THIS much”. We would continue like this, back and forth, squeezing longer each time on the “THIS” part until one of us was exhausted. I miss the hand squeezes. I miss his sweet, brown eyes. I miss his silly jokes and contagious smile. But it’s ok. I’m ok.
I get glimpses of dad in each of my children. EG was born a month after dad died, and she has a large birthmark on her forehead. I told her that was the place grandpa gave her a big kiss before sending her to us. Our cute GA has his temper like you wouldn’t believe, and I find it cute at times. And I do not think it is a coincidence that our little HH, has the white-blonde hair his grandpa had as a child. These are miracles that come to help me remember.
Soon after he died, I found this poem. I remembered a picture I had of dad that seemed a perfect fit, and I am excited to share them both with you:
When I come to the end of the road
And the sun has set for me,
I want no rites in a gloom-filled room
-- Why cry for a soul set free?
Miss me a little, but not too long.
And not with your head bowed low.
Remember the love that we once shared.
-- Miss me, but let me go.
For this is a journey we all must take,
And each must go alone.
It's all a part of the Master's plan,
-- A step on the road to home.
When you are lonely and sick of heart,
Go to friends we know
And bury your sorrows in doing good deeds.
-- Miss me, but let me go!