March 11, 2011, An Anniversary of Great Loss
In the early morning hours on March 11, 1998, I received a phone call from my younger brother, John; “Dad’s gone, he died tonight.” Numbness overwhelmed my body. He was only 50 years old.
I got the details of what happened from my Mother. Apparently, Dad had gotten up in the middle of the night to use the restroom. He had a massive heart attack he fell and hit his head on the vanity. My mother heard the noise, called 911 and rushed to his side. She performed CPR until the paramedics arrived. One of the paramedics was a childhood friend of my brother. His Dad and my Dad were good friends. He tried like hell to save my Dad. It wasn’t meant to be. He was gone.
I hung the phone up, sat on the floor, of our bedroom and sobbed. Aaron (my husband) tried to comfort me. We made plans to make the ten hour drive from Tennessee to Ohio the next day.
My Dad and I were always close. I looked up to him. He had an amazing ability to command attention in a room, he was quick witted, honest, and funny. He could be tough when needed, and he always looked out for the underdog. I am not kidding when I say he was a larger than life personality. People either loved my Dad, or loved to hate him, there were no shades of gray. As a teen, if I hosted a campfire at my house, my friends would ask him to come out to the fire so he could tell us stories and give us advice. He wasn’t like any other dad I knew.
Dad talking to the media during a strike
Dad was a Steel worker and a union man. Our family survived many strikes. Dad would walk the picket line and figure ways to stop the “scabs” from crossing it into the steel mill. When a strike stretched on, he’d help give out government cheese on the food pantry line. He’d organize toy drives when labor disputes put a damper on the holidays.
It got hard to be a steel worker after he had five bypasses on his heart at age 38. He filed a claim with the VA because he suspected agent orange had caused his heart problems, that was in 1984, twenty seven years ago. He had to support his family. He went back his labor intensive job in the mill. During this time, Dad helped veterans. He was Commander three times, with the Steubenville, Ohio chapter, of the Disabled American Veterans. He also served as a service officer. He cared deeply for the men who were being under-served by the Veterans Administration. He did all he could to help guys get the services they were eligible for.
By the way, Dad's claim he filed in 1984, is currently part of a forensic review by the VA. Twenty seven years later, how's that for prompt service?
One of my favorite everyday moments with my Dad was riding in the car with him, just he and I. Most of the time, my father seemed as if the weight of the world on his shoulders, but alone in a car, on a sunny day, he’d be transformed. He'd crank the radio, sing loudly to his favorite songs (if he knew the words or not!) and drive faster than his normal speed demon rate. I would sing along, enjoy the high test ride, and marval at this light hearted side of my father. I felt free because for a moment, he did too.
Dad was a great guy, but he like all of us, had his flaws. He suffered from undiagnosed post traumatic stress disorder. He could have mood swings, be irritable, and withdrawn. At times, he seemed selfish because he would leave all the family responsibilities to my mother, even though she worked full time too.
His health problems would get him down. He developed diabetes and also survived a stroke. I think the stroke saddened him the most. It was hard to use his quick wit when his words didn't flow like they once did.
Today is March 11, 2011. It has been thirteen years since my Dad’s death. Sometimes, I imagine what it would be like if Dad were still alive. I know he would be thrilled with how his kids turned out. His grandchildren would adore him and he would be a kid again with them. They would ask him for advice. He would be a regular at the antique store, Aaron and I own, scouting for bargains. He’d be a Face Book nut with a thousand friends and an EBay junkie. He and John would finally be very close. He would love Fergie, the Black Eyed Peas and Pink. Dad, John and Aaron would go shooting together. This year, he’d be trying to talk me into allowing Luke (my oldest) to go too. He and Mom would be retired and they would be getting ready to move to be closer to their kids and grandchildren. He would have been in Columbus, Ohio during the recent protests regarding collective bargaining rights. He would go to support the teachers and the fire fighters. He would still be trying to help his fellow veterans.
This was supposed to be his time; sadly it’s not. The chemical Agent Orange kept him from realizing the fruits of his labor. The decision to spray Agent Orange sealed my Father’s fate and took him from his family to an early grave.
On certain sunny days, I cannot help cranking the radio, singing at the top of my lungs, and driving just a little too fast. I feel the freedom I felt along side him so many years ago. It's a feeling I cherish. In honor of my Dad, please consider clicking the link below and singing your guts out. He'd like that, and so would I.
Do you want to learn more about my Dad's story? Click Here
Bill Morris my Father, my Advocate, and my Dear Friend