39 In Women Now

Dad turned 92 and gave me a priceless gift

Me and Dad in Perham

Me and Dad in Perham earlier this month

 

This is a blessed day. It’s my Dad’s birthday. You’re right! It’s Oprah’s birthday too, but in our family, January 29th is all about Dad. Except when Mom had a cake made that included Oprah. That was in 2014, the year he turned 44-44. That’s what he called 88. Eighty-eight sounded old to him and it certainly didn’t reflect how he felt about himself!

 

Dad and Oprah's birthday

Dad and Oprah, two greats, share the same birthday

 

A tradition of being in Minnesota for Dad’s January birthday

It seemed crazy to go to Minnesota at the height of winter but it was shaping up to be a tradition. I think it started the year before the Dad and Oprah birthday when Dad was turning 87. Birthday plans changed that year when we got the call that my beloved Uncle Chet had passed away. That was tough. He and Dad were brothers but they were best friends too. His funeral was going to be on Dad’s birthday.

We drove about seven hours in tricky weather to arrive in Minot, North Dakota the night before the funeral. My brother Kirk drove. A blanket of thick, wet snow fell throughout the day as we drove across the state. I couldn’t believe how beautiful it was. Kirk finally said, “If you say this snow is pretty one more time, I’m stopping the van and you’re walking!” He teases me a lot but he doesn’t usually follow through on his threats. I didn’t stop my “pretty” comments.

I remember the snow-laden trees on the campus of Minot State University where my Uncle Chet’s funeral was held.

 

Family members at Chet's funeral

Todd, Dad, Mother, and Kirk walk under the snowy trees on campus

 

My family in 2013

Todd, Mom, and Dad at Uncle Chet’s funeral

 

After the late morning funeral, I made some phone calls and found a restaurant in Minot that had a room big enough to hold our extended family for dinner that night. I invited my cousins and they all came. It really was quite lovely. My uncle was a very public and esteemed man in the state of North Dakota. It was nice to have this private time together honoring Chet, celebrating Dad, and telling stories.

 

 

Another year, another birthday not going as planned

I was back for Dad’s birthday three years ago but that’s not what we’d planned. Mom and Dad were going to spend Dad’s birthday with us in California. Now wasn’t that so much smarter! I’d made lots of plans. Our family deserved a break. We’d suffered the loss of my brother Todd three months earlier. It had been so tough.

Once again, plans changed with a phone call. Mother fell. At home. She had a brain injury. At first, it sounded like she wouldn’t be able to fly for a couple of months but then overnight her status changed and it was questionable whether she’d live through the week. My twin brother and I got on a plane to join the rest of our family who was by her side.

She lived through the week. Within a couple of weeks, Mother was showing improvement. The neurologist encouraged me to stay strong. Based on Mother’s history she thought we’d see a nearly full recovery within a year or so. As soon as Mother was out of danger she’d be transferred to a rehab hospital.

And then she got worse. On Dad’s birthday. Rushed back to the ICU with internal bleeding into either her lungs or her abdomen (they couldn’t tell), they pumped eleven units of blood product into her over the course of the day and evening. Every update from the doctor was, “We’re doing everything we can.”

 

Sanford Hospital in Fargo, North Dakota

Mother was in Sanford Hospital and we were across the street

 

That night the family was gathered in the hotel across the street in Dad’s suite. A cousin had brought homemade decorated cupcakes early in the day so we’d have something to celebrate Dad’s birthday with. It was ten o’clock at night and no one had touched them.

Would the good Lord let Mother die on Dad’s birthday? Please, God, no.

She made it! The combination of a valiant medical effort, her guardian angels (and ours?), and her body’s ability to kick in and help out saved her.

 

Rejoicing over Mother’s recovery: Me, Wendy (my sister-in-law), Carly (my niece) with Mother’s great-granddaughter Julia

 

We were elated. In her room, we couldn’t take our eyes off of her. This was a miracle. She turned to Dad and said, “Will we make it out of the woods?” He took her hand in his. He said softly, firmly, “Yes, Mother, we’ll make it out of the woods.”

 

Dad comforts Mom

“Will we get out of the woods?” Mother asked

 

But she didn’t. A few weeks later, she died. I lost my mother and in many ways, I lost my father too. His grief had no bottom. His family, the family members he lived with, were both gone. He was angry at my brothers and me for pressing him to leave the lake home and move into an assisted living facility. We wanted him to be safe and watched over. He wanted independence. He wanted his old life back.

I think it was during our April visit last year when Brent and I were with him and things were different. After church one day (they have services in one of the buildings where he lives) we followed as he rode his motorized scooter down the hall and into the front sitting area where the ladies had gathered before lunch. He pulled up, put his scooter in neutral, crossed his arms and said, “So what are you fine people up to? Are you staying out of trouble?” That was their cue to give him their wisecracking remarks. I was witnessing a miracle. I watched, listened, and grinned. In my mind, I said, “You should see him, Mom. He’s coming back to his old self!” His old young self.

 

 

I was back in August and then again at the beginning of this year. I decided to come before his birthday this time. It was so fun to hang out with him and the other residents he greets with smiles. “They’re good people here,” he says.  He still talks about going back to live in the lake house in the spring but I feel confident we won’t be having any serious conversations about that. He’s accepting this chapter, not fighting it.

 

Dad at 92 with Libby

Libby is Dad’s beloved companion

 

I feel like I’ve gotten a huge present from him on his 92nd birthday. I’ve got my dad again, my witty, bright, engaging dad. I gave up on ever having that after Mom’s death. He was unrecognizable to me and I felt nearly invisible to him. His interest in me and my career which he always loved chatting with me about was gone. I’d lost my biggest champion.

 

Brenda and Don Reiten

Father and daughter, back together again

 

But now with every phone call, he asks about me, the kids, Russ, my work. He loves hearing about the kids and their travels. We talk about sports (my brother, Brent, has got him watching professional sports on TV, something he never did before), his cat and my cat. He sends me newspaper articles from the Forum like Mother used to do.

He asks about my health. When I was being diagnosed with that mysterious rare disease last fall, feeling so scared, he said, “Brenda, I’m on the powder keg with you.” And I knew he was. I was not alone. My dad was at my side.

We talk about Mom and how much we miss her. I share how it’s impossible to sing songs at church without feeling her arm next to mine. My right arm and her left arm used to touch as we shared a hymnal together. It makes me cry. Dad tells me in turn that when he sings songs at church, he hears her voice singing along close to his ear.

 

Flowers for Dad's birthday

Dad loved the flowers I sent for his birthday

 

We talked yesterday. He’d been to church in the morning and had a great afternoon with my niece Jessie, my brother Kirk and his wife Wendy. He said, “Brenda, I have nothing to complain about and everything to brag about.”

My kids and their mates along with my brother Brent were up for dinner last night so everyone passed the phone around to give him best wishes.

Tonight I read him some of the Facebook comments people left when I posted a picture of him today. Now he wants me to come back; he’s ready to get a smartphone. He thinks he’s starting to understand better how they work. “Okay, Dad, that’ll be our next project,” I said.

“Yes, but remember I’m ninety-two now so you have to come soon,” he said. He knows how to work me!

I couldn’t be happier. My dad, the giant of a man whom I’ve cherished all my life, had the best birthday ever.

I bet you have father stories to share. Please do. I love every one of them, whatever they are!

XO

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39 Comments

  • Reply
    Cindy L
    January 30, 2018 at 4:22 am

    Brenda, this is so beautiful and brought tears to my eyes. Your dad sounds amazing, and what a wonderful thing it must be to see him thriving where he is now.

    I lost my dad when I was 38 (he was only 65) and I still miss him. Like yours, he was my biggest cheerleader. Every day, I think of things I wish I could tell him, or share with him, whether it’s a new article I’ve published in a magazine or newspaper, or something funny I saw on TV. My mom died over three years ago — and I felt like an orphan after that, even though I was 60 years old. But what a blessing to have parents we’ve loved so dearly and who’ve loved us.

    • Reply
      Brenda
      February 2, 2018 at 7:45 pm

      Isn’t that the truth? I have heard stories of a different nature about parents. We are lucky. I’m sorry you lost him at such a young age, Cindy. I bet he’s still cheering for you!

  • Reply
    cindy
    January 30, 2018 at 4:26 am

    Thank you for this beautiful story and sharing your family with us. I miss my dad so much…. Your are blessed indeed.

    • Reply
      Brenda
      February 2, 2018 at 7:44 pm

      Thanks, Cindy. Missing is such a unique ache, isn’t it?

  • Reply
    Robbi
    January 30, 2018 at 4:28 am

    Happy Birthday Brenda’s Dad! Sending love from Pittsburgh, PA!

    • Reply
      Brenda
      February 2, 2018 at 7:43 pm

      Thank you, Robbi!

  • Reply
    Diane
    January 30, 2018 at 4:37 am

    Oh Brenda. Cherish every moment you can. This is such a heartwarming post. I was my dad’s shadow from a very young age, just adored him, and didn’t realize how fast he could be taken from us. One day he was joking and the next gone. I miss him every day, but certainly it is the memories that keep me going. He died on the first day of spring, and a day I always looked forward to is now not so much. It is good to hear the stories of happiness from you after so much grief. Love the blue truck with the flowers.

    • Reply
      Brenda
      February 2, 2018 at 7:43 pm

      Thanks, Diane. Gosh, I hear you say that about hearing him joking and then the next day he’s gone. I’ll need some virtual hugs when that day comes for me. I’m tearing up just thinking about it! I’ll have an extra thought for you on the first day of spring this year. Blessings!

  • Reply
    Sandi Mcdougall
    January 30, 2018 at 5:01 am

    Thank you for this amazing story about your Dad, Mom & family. As I see all the pictures I now understand what the blue lights of Sanford signify to you. I’m in agreement with your Dad, you need to come back to visit soon. Huge hug to you.

    • Reply
      Brenda
      February 2, 2018 at 7:41 pm

      Okay, Sandi, when are you back from your long trip? Maybe I’ll plan the next visit for after you and Paul are back in Fargo. And yes, you know why I didn’t want Paul to drive down Broadway! No blue lights for a while! Hugs to you both!

  • Reply
    Kathy
    January 30, 2018 at 5:04 am

    Thank you for sharing…I’m sure I’m not the only one who cried-for you, for me, for time lost and tender memories. You are right in that you got the best gift from your father. Actually you have a double blessing…given his age he is in relatively good health and is of sound mind. Enjoy every moment!

    • Reply
      Brenda
      February 2, 2018 at 7:40 pm

      Kathy, yes, a double gift! Old age isn’t easy and some days he claims he’d rather it be over. Selfishly, I am happy for each day he’s still here.

  • Reply
    Cara
    January 30, 2018 at 6:12 am

    What wonderful news!

    • Reply
      Brenda
      February 2, 2018 at 7:39 pm

      Thanks, Cara!

  • Reply
    Ronna
    January 30, 2018 at 6:48 am

    What a sweet, sweet post about your family. Made me cry…… So sorry for all of the losses you have had. Praying for you and your sweet dad. Thanks for sharing!

    • Reply
      Brenda
      February 2, 2018 at 7:39 pm

      Thanks, Ronna for your sweet comment. When it all showed up on the blog post I thought, wow, there was really a lot of loss! The loss I didn’t mention but that happened on his birthday week was that of his sister. I just got to thinking the blog post couldn’t handle me mentioning another one so I held that one back! But my blessed Aunt Vivian died during one of my visits home to celebrate Dad. My visit was shortened and they flew to Washington to be at the service. I guess that’s why this year feels like such a blessing. Nobody died! Now that’s a blessing to be counted!

  • Reply
    Elaine @ Following Augustine
    January 30, 2018 at 10:22 am

    Beautiful! Looking forward to celebrating my Dad’s 95th in June.

    • Reply
      Brenda
      February 2, 2018 at 7:35 pm

      Oh wow! How wonderful. I’m so happy for you Elaine and your father!

  • Reply
    Laurice Gilbert
    January 30, 2018 at 12:28 pm

    Another cryer here. Your love for your Dad is so palpable and I miss mine so very much. As always, you write about it beautifully (witness all the tears). Like yours, my Dad was my biggest fan and it’s a rare blessing to have that ‘later’ in life. We lost my beloved father-in-law in his 60s, and I felt truly lucky to have Dad until he was 85. But it still wasn’t long enough. You are wise to enjoy every minute you can with him.

    • Reply
      Brenda
      February 2, 2018 at 7:34 pm

      Laurice, thank you, you definitely speak the truth. I do soak up every minute and cherish it. I write down the things he says–funny, tender, and sad–it’s just so full and rich for me. We are always full of I love you’s because really, who of us knows when our time is up? Better to have said it out loud. Thanks for sharing!

  • Reply
    Melissa
    January 30, 2018 at 4:23 pm

    It is easy to see where your beautiful spirit comes from Brenda. He is an amazing man. I’m so happy you still get to enjoy him. You both deserve it. Bless you!

    • Reply
      Brenda
      February 2, 2018 at 7:32 pm

      Melissa, I’m going to agree 100% with you: we do deserve it! I was raised to not say something like that because it sounded boastful but I’m breaking those rules here! Thank you, thank you, thank you!

  • Reply
    Diane A
    January 30, 2018 at 7:33 pm

    Hi Brenda,
    What a heartwarming, beautiful tribute to your Dad. He is just as cute as you are. Thank you so much for sharing.

    • Reply
      Brenda
      February 2, 2018 at 7:31 pm

      I’m chuckling at your words about him being cute. Gosh darn it, he is!!! And he’s gotten so much cuter as the severity of his grief has lifted. I remember when I heard him chuckle again. It was such music. I wish you could hear him when he laughs. That is very very cute!! And infectious!

  • Reply
    Katherine Cramer
    January 30, 2018 at 8:26 pm

    Happy Birthday to a gentleman who loves Brenda and also cats! I’ve heard that Brenda’s mother loved fashion–so I assume that her lovely spouse (Brenda’s Dad) likely enjoyed seeing her (his wife’s) joy in wearing colors, prints and various fabrics. You asked for stories: My father, Allen (an Electrical Engineer) married a seamstress’ muse–her daughter and my mother, Katherine. When he was first married, Al lived with his Mother-in-Law and Wife since they already had a small home. Al supported the home-based sewing business by building some things for my grandmother. A platform box with stairs so that the ladies could easily walk up to the raised platform and my grandmother didn’t have to bend down to mark hems. I think Allen also built shelves and storage per my grandmother’s specifications and Allen’s fine-tuning. Al was around his Mother, Sister, Wife and Mother-in-Law who all loved fashion. Years later in California, he was very happy to accompany my mother to Nordstrom for shopping. However, He especially loved to sit by the piano player while my mother shopped. I remember a cognac suede bomber jacket we bought him that he loved wearing. I think Allen loved fashion a little bit himself. When I was around age 13 in 1969, I remember going with him to Seattle’s I. Magnin store where he bought my mother a very mod, black & white, op art, tunic top. It was way more fashion forward than anything in her closet. Allen had good taste. Mom loved that dressy top and she looked great in it.

    • Reply
      Brenda
      February 2, 2018 at 7:30 pm

      Katherine, I love every detail of this story about Allen and your mom and his mother. Wow, you really truly have all kinds of fashion in your genetic pool. I can just see that op art tunic. Good for him! He really got it. I always love your shares. I am especially so happy to have met your mom and you all those years ago. It helps me place and “see” all of this. Hugs to you, my dear friend!

  • Reply
    Lisa
    January 30, 2018 at 9:18 pm

    Such a lovely, heartfelt, there is good in the world post. Thank you.

    • Reply
      Brenda
      February 2, 2018 at 7:26 pm

      Oh gosh, that’s sweet. I’m happy to be part of some good in the world! Thanks, Lisa!

  • Reply
    Trinnie Q
    January 30, 2018 at 9:47 pm

    Oh ! Add the tears here from Oz! Beautiful , Beautiful, poignant, personal and very appreciated! I am so pleased that some of your Dads grief has subsided, and he has found his way back to himself, and you . Such courage ! I am also so happy , that his birthday xould be a celebration this time, and even though your collective breaths were held, all wass good for your family. My Dad has just turned 82, and unfortunately has been diagnosed with Prostate Cancer, with Grade 4 secondaries in his bones! A huge shock to all of us . Despite that, he gets outside everyday and gardens for at least three hours. When i say gardens, it is more like , landscaping , planting , and serious gardening. He comes from that generation, post war and depression era, and left schol at 13 , to work and earn money for eight other siblings . So we are talking a tough cookie here !! He is still a beautiful, intteresting, intelligent man, who always asks about all of his family, grandchildren etc, and is so proud of all of us . I can’t imagine, the pain to come, but for today cherish the time Ihave with him. Thank you BRenda, for sharing your beautiful story with us. As always, sending love from Oz.

  • Reply
    Trinnie Q
    January 31, 2018 at 4:01 am

    oh so beautiful Brenda. More tears, from Oz , joining the others. I am so pleased for you both, for the heartfelt healing, from his , and your own, profoubd grief. So true, what doesn’t kill us, makes us stronger! My beautiful Dad has been recently diagnosed with cancer, and grade 4 secondaries. He is still however, gardening, landscaping and working in his garden, three hours a day whilst he can . At 82, work of some sort or other, is all he has known. I cherish, every extra day he has on the planet. Loss is never easy! Sending much love from Oz x

    • Reply
      Trinnie Q
      January 31, 2018 at 1:46 pm

      Addition

      something went wrong with my first post, and I hey did not show up, ( pending acceptance) . so i posted a second similar comment. Please excuse this odd mistake !

      • Reply
        Brenda
        February 2, 2018 at 7:19 pm

        No problem! My blog should know you by now and automatically accept you!

    • Reply
      Brenda
      February 2, 2018 at 7:26 pm

      Every single word you said had me shaking my head up and down and agreeing. Yes, profound grief. Yes, strength comes in time although it can look helpless and feel hopeless while you’re waiting for that realization. You are right to cherish every day. And his landscaping and being in the garden is darn good medicine! Love from Sonoma.

  • Reply
    Sandra Sallin-Apart From My Art
    January 31, 2018 at 9:51 am

    Oh my, what a time you have all been through. Please say hello to your father. What guts he has. You left me with tears in my soul. What a strong and loving family. Wouldn’t it be fun to have your father on Facebook? We could all say Hi and he needs to see how talented you are!

    • Reply
      Brenda
      February 2, 2018 at 7:23 pm

      Oh, you are a dear! My cousin and his wife visited my dad on his birthday and Carla pulled out her phone and showed him my post and all the comments people had left. He loved it! That may be what motivated him to want to get an iPhone! You’re a dear. I’ll share your wishes with my dad!

  • Reply
    Mary
    January 31, 2018 at 1:31 pm

    Hi Brenda, Read this beautiful post yesterday and knew I would share with you–but which wonderful story? Decided to just share today’s.
    Dad will be 95 in a few short weeks. Last summer we got him an iPhone so he could use voice commands to call and FaceTime when the iPad isn’t nearby (very useful when he calls me to help him with a computer Q). We set up alarms for the medicine my mother has to take every eight hours. An alarm goes off at 3pm each day and every so often when he clicks to turn off the alarm, he ends up speed dialing me! At first, my heart skipped a beat when I saw his number in middle of day. Elderly parents’ unexpected phone calls will do that… I’ve learned to take a deep breath and treasure these ‘mistakes’ and am so very grateful that I get to hear my dads deep voice and have a quick midday catch up!
    He’s also mastered the art of the ‘butt dial” (which in my family must be properly called the rear end dial :-)) and I often find myself yelling out Dad! Dad! Are you there? Then I just smile and say a prayer of thanks that I am blessed to have this contact with my ever young at heart –and still pretty tech-savvy–dad.

    • Reply
      Brenda
      February 2, 2018 at 7:22 pm

      Wow, Mary! What a great share! And I’m amazed at your Dad and his savviness. I think he’s doing some things a lot better than I am–like voice commands and FaceTime. It always takes me a minute to remember what I’m supposed to do. I guess I don’t use those features enough. Now I’m inspired by you and your dad to get more out of my phone. Gosh, just sending a hug to another daughter enjoying her elderly dad. Blessings to you both!

  • Reply
    Cindy Scurry
    February 1, 2018 at 4:08 pm

    Wonderful post. I feel the same about my Dad at 87 years old. I go to Atlanta to visit him pretty often – every few months. He is such a sweetie. He is doing great after my Mother died. He is happy and independent and living his life on his own terms. I write about him in my blogs. https://middlesisterstyle.com.

    • Reply
      Brenda
      February 2, 2018 at 6:37 pm

      Thanks so much for sharing this Cindy and sharing your blog site. And so happy your dad’s doing well. Daughters like that feeling!

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