It would seemed that my Dad’s life was always a struggle. He lived with his brother and three sisters in a house which was no bigger than my dining room and kitchen put together. Born into poverty and raised by two alcoholic parents, I can’t imagine what his life was like. My Aunt told me about the time they were left in a truck until two in the morning while his father drank his paycheck away at a bar. Then there was the time his father threatened to drive off a cliff; coming inches to near death. I never heard my father tell me about the time in War World II when he served with General Patton’s Third Army in Germany; crawling on his hands and knees in a field with his buddy one moment, the next his buddy was blown apart by German fire.
When I did hear my dad talk about himself it was usually for a good reason, a lesson, or to give someone a good laugh. I remember when he told me about his paper route when he was young, spending his weeks earnings on a 1/2 dozen jelly donuts and eating them in front of his sister! He told me about the time in W.W.II when General Patton walked right by him and he saw the famous General’s ivory handled pistols. Years later, retired and watching the gulf war on CNN, did I find out that he had worked on the Patriot Missile system used to protect Israel from Iraq’s Scud attacks. He had worked at Raytheon Corporation for over 45 years!
My Dad, like most of the W.W.II generation, served not only their country without hesitance, but their families. Even though my Dad suffered through twenty five years of often severe and unbearable ulcerative colitis, I can not remember a time when he used it as a crutch for his faults. He was a very opinionated man; a man with self built morals, a strong man that never cried, never admitted weakness and had a work and family ethic that anyone would be proud of. My father’s death and preceding 25 years of ulcerative colitis had a profound impact on my life and my brother’s life. I am sure that his illness effected our whole family in a way which we will probably never know. Looking back now, I don’t think my Dad knew that his decision to have an operation which would remove his colon and replace it with a colectomy bag, would have such an effect on the lives of his loved ones.
Dad always had a zest for the good things in life, but was never able to fully achieve his dreams because of his battle with a disease called Ulcerative Colitis. In short, this disease produces severe bleeding sores in the colon which do not heal. The disease, at times, made him short tempered and irritable. He was not capable of doing the normal father-son activities with me because he was very ill when I was growing up. I remember wanting to play in a baseball team, and not understanding why he would not take me to the sign up. I recall walking downtown with my Dad when he had an unexpected attack; he ran behind some bushes in embarrassment.
But even with this very harsh disease, he hardly ever let it interfere with family plans or trips. We went to Disney World countless times, numerous trips to Washington D.C., Gettysburg, Virginia, Amish Country, Quebec and endless times to the White Mountains and Lakes Region of N.H. were he enjoyed himself immensely on Lake Winnipesaki in his motor boat. I only found out after he died how many times he had been in severe agony and pain, but still managed to attend family get togethers with his cheerful and witty sense of humor. We would often share our thoughts on the wonderful food delights we indulged in over the years. How sad it is for a man to love the sense of taste and food so much, but to have an illness that would prevent him from enjoying the foods he enjoyed the most. I heard recently from my Mom that Dad would say to her, “Ruth, if this new medication works, you better watch out for me!” Sadly, in the year before his death, he sank into my mother’s arms and cried that he could not take the pain of his disease any longer. He decided in January of 1993 that enough was enough and he was going to have his colon removed and a colectomy bag put in its place.
The preceding days before my father’s death as he laid in that hospital bed still effect me today. It was in March of 1993 and it was absolutely the most fantastic and exciting time of my life. My dad, worried about the operation, decided to wait until after the birth of my son to go through with the procedure. I remember the excitement of the great blizzard of March of 1993, as my wife was in labor, the weatherman on the television was talking about a storm of mammoth proportions. How could I imagine that just a little over a month later I would be dealing with the darkest and saddest time in my life. My father had the surgery 2 weeks later, but the colectomy did not take. We found out later that he was not a very good candidate for the surgery to begin with. During the course of my father’s three major surgeries to correct the hemorrhage problems, my family and I were on a roller coaster of emotions. One day we heard good news of recovery and salvation for my father, the next, pure hell as our father lay in pain waiting for the inevitable.
For myself, some of the memories I have are imprinted on my brain as life itself. The first operation was successful, at least we thought, and I wanted to visit my father to see how he was doing. I remember it to be a Tuesday and I always refer to that day as “that Tuesday.” It was an incredibly beautiful day and the sun was shining in all of its glorious spring time rays. My Dad was happy to see me and he thought I had made a special trip to see him. I never understood why, but I told him that I had gone out to lunch at McDonalds and just happened to be driving by. Perhaps I didn’t want to seem weak in his eyes, but to this day I am bothered by not telling him the truth that I had come only to see him. I remember another time I visited with my Mom. My dad always loved to plant and grow marigolds in his gardens. It was truly a love that even today is remembered by everyone in my family. When we arrived in his room, my dad was under heavy medication and I really don’t think he wanted to see my mother at that time. We stood there for a few moments and let him know we were there. My mother told him she was planting the marigolds he had grown and they looked beautiful. My dad jerked his head up and looked around, pulling at the tubes he started to get up! The nurse repeated “Mr. MacArthur”, “Mr. MacArthur”, “Your a very sick man!.” My dad said, “I have to go home”,”I have to go home.” The nurse repeated, “Your a very sick man, Mr. MacArthur, and you can not go home.” He finally did listen to the nurse and settle down. My mother thought it best if we left at that point.
When my father died, it made me realize that the values that I thought were important, were not as important as they first seemed. What is important to me now are times with my kids, telling my family that I love them, believing not only in yourself, but in the people that you live with, living and breathing each day like it was your last.
I remember a dream I had years ago when I first met my wife and we were staying in her father’s cottage in Maine. In my dream I was standing next to a hospital bed. My father lay in the bed and all sorts of machines and tubes were hooked up to him. I was extremely distressed and I wanted to tell my Dad that I loved him, but the words would not come out. Finally, I was able to scream the words “I LOVE YOU” as it pierced the silent of the night and woke me up! It was not your normal dream, but rather a very vivid and terrifying dream. You could say that the dream was a premonition, or perhaps you might say that I knew my father was sick all my life and my dream was simply an expression of my father dying before I could tell him that I loved him. Whatever you think, that dream did stick with me through the years and I believe it saved me from living with a regret.
The night before my Dad died, the thoughts of that dream were in my head. Like destiny I found myself at the hospital at 11:30 p.m., alone with my Dad. His hand was tied to the bed railing and he had a very solemn look on his face. I tried to hold his hand and he struggled for a moment so I let go. He turned and looked at the clock, then turned and looked at me and moved his hand up to be held. I never saw my father cry, he would never have allowed it. I can’t imagine were he got the strengthen to hold back the tears as his eyes filled up. I then told him how much I loved him and how much my kids loved him. I told him that we were all thinking of him and that we loved him for everything he had done for us. He looked at me and tried to speak, but he could not. I knew what he was thinking though and it showed in his eyes; I love you Son.
As I stepped out into the cool of the spring night, I knew that was the last time I would see my father alive. It would be a few years before I could sort through my life with him and a thousand different memories from the past. When I did finally come to terms with my father’s death, I found that I am not the same person that held his hand that night. I realized how important it is to tell your kids and your family that you love them. The last lesson I learned with my Dad was to tell the ones you are close to that you love them; before it’s to late.