**My dad is dying… (A Work in Progress)

**My dad is dying… (A Work in Progress)

It was 12 years ago when Dad was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and we are now honoring the end of his extraordinary life. He turned 94 in February, itself a remarkable achievement given his health issues. We witnessed dramatic changes since the start of the year. Pneumonia, spots on his lungs, bouts of anger, incontinence, more anger, physical pain, falls to the ground, returns to the hospital, prolonged episodes of sleep, more medications.

He’s not eating.

He won’t take a drink of water.

He can’t walk. He’s in a hospital bed in the living room.

We are living out a vigil now.

My childhood home is now hospice.

Every day that passes stands as a potent reminder of our collective mortality.  I can still see with such clarity the Dad before Alzheimer’s. I can see him working so diligently on my Pinewood Derby racers for Cub Scouts. The memory triggers something in my nose, this pungent smell of burning wood being shaped into champion cars. I don’t ever want it to lose that space in my brain.

I remember the day after my big performance as Charlie Brown in the high school revue when I asked what he thought of the show and my “star” turn. He said, “Mijo, you’re a lot of things, but you’re not an actor.”

He’s right. I was just a still-gestating drama queen, not a drama student. But even he recognized my abilities as a writer and he’s encouraged me to keep writing ever since. (Even if Mom secretly wanted me to be a doctor.)

I haven’t been able to cry over seeing Dad look so helpless and small as he as has these last weeks. That streak ended on a cloudy Wednesday night in my boss’s office. The emotion was piling up on the shoals of my brain, finally overwhelming me amid a deadline.

Dad is shutting down on us.

I don’t blame him.

Dad’s done so much for so many people, family, friends, co-workers, St. Hilary Church, strangers, anyone whoever needed help. He merits a final rest. I see Mom’s struggle with her own hurricane of emotions, barely keeping in the surging waters threatening to break through a weakening levee. But she endures. She is spectacular to behold, but she is also human, and I worry more about her than Dad most days. Every day, to be honest.

The truth is I want to Dad to find the peace of mind to close his eyes and exhale that one, last perfect breath, the one that punctuates the end of an extraordinary life lived on one’s own terms.

We are not supposed to wish our parents to leave this earth. But I do, and I feel guilty about it. Aren’t we supposed to want to keep everyone we love close to us forever? But what about a person’s quality of life?

I smile at Dad, he smiles back. Every time. It is giving me life these days. I have so much I want to say to him. Thank you, mostly. That he was right about so much. That I forgive him his trespasses when I came out to him 18 years ago.

That I will never forget every loan, every lecture, every time we fought, every time one of stormed out the door, every life lesson shared and learned, every time he showed up to my school events, tennis matches, football games, school plays, everything, even though he had a factory to run.

The lunches at the factory from the lunch truck, that juicy peach he bought me one summer or sharing his favorite sandwich tip with me, pastrami con huevo, those visits to McDonald’s off Lorena St., when he said to the cashier, “Don’t we look like brothers?” The visit to Baskin-Robbins when he said I could have ice cream, but I ordered the pineapple shake, and as we walked to the car, he told me never ask for more than a person is able to give without asking. I realized he couldn’t have a cone, and he loves sweets something awful because he only had a certain amount of money on his person.

It’s all rushing through my mind in fast forward. I want to stop and relive those details, but they’re a blur to me now. I feel the macro of the emotions but can’t stop to make sure the micro of detail is also preserved.

I’ll never forget the King Tut ticket.La Brea TarpitsNHM with HelenSingin’ in the rain with the Pico CrewStar Wars –  then and now.Losing him at Bloomingdale’s and Disneyland.ScaringhimonTower of Terror.Empty frame — you project the art you want to see.Or Mexico (Cuatla sulfur springs, the cousins, competitiveness)…ScoutsTheFactoryMexicoandappendicitisMexicoSummerof78onandonandon.

This is just one more thread in our life with Dad, but I know I am running out of materials. Sooner or later, I’ll have nothing else to add to the loom. Sooner or later, the cosmic machine giving him life with cease operations.

I just hope it’s a little later. Please?

**Dad passed away at home on Tuesday, February 26, 2019, at 9:10am. I started this piece in early 2018. It was supposed to be his eulogy. He’d been suffering from pneumonia, and his health was deteriorating rapidly that January. We thought we were going to lose him. We didn’t. We had a little over than a year more with him. I can see now my wish was granted.  Later happened after all, but an ending was destined to occur. After Dad died, I tried to retailor this piece to fit a different emotional and mental landscape. That’s why the time references are all off. Leaving well enough alone, I just walked away and waiting for real inspiration to strike. It did. 

 

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Eulogy for My Dad or #Poppadoodlesforever

Eulogy for My Dad or #Poppadoodlesforever

IMG_7617My sister Nancy coined the name “Poppadoodles” way back when. I instantly loved the sound of it, both frivolous and absurd, two words you’d never use when you wanted to describe Dad. He was Big George, Jorge Sr., Tío Jorge, but never Don Jorge, or Jefe. He represented many things to many people.

Dad passed away the morning of  Tuesday, February 26 at the age of 94 at our home in Pico Rivera. It didn’t rain that day. The sun was out. He was surrounded by family and our closest friends. Alzheimer’s was also his nefarious companion during the last 12 years of his life. It finally left us alone, but it never fully took Dad away.  Jorge Sr. knew where he was and who was the source of the love in that living room space that day.

Writing about him in the past tense makes me want to scream. Thinking about him in the past tense makes me want to cry. That is why I choose to focus my emotion on words these days. Words were my best friend as a chubby, eccentric kid. Words were what kept Dad entertained as he shuttled us all over Los Angeles to meet rock bands at record signings, shows, musicals, sports, everything. A carefully folded newspaper or magazine was also with him when he played chauffeur to the exciteable brood that was us.

I never did ask what he read about or what he even thought about what he read. I just know that when it was time to take us home, he carefully folded the material back up and we’d begin the journey. That slice of peace and quiet was always obliterated by our breathless stories about who or what we saw. He’d smile and listen as we cut through the city with caution because his precious cargo was aboard.

God, I wish I did ask him about those articles in the Herald-Examiner or Newsweek. One time, he even stood in line with my brother and me at Tower Records on Sunset Blvd. We wanted to meet the legendary child known as Boy George. Talk about your culture club. (Boom.) When we got up to meet George, we told him our Dad was a George, too. A huge smile stretched across the Brit crooner’s tastefully made-up face. Wouldn’t you know they launched into a nice little chat? Like neighbors stopping for tea. It was something George did not have time for with any of gallery of nightcrawlers and club kids that were desperate for a similar audience? Dad had no idea who Boy George even was, saying “That’s a nice young man” as we walked away. I wish Steve Jobs had already conquered the world for an iPhone! Imagine the photo, heck, the footage! Still, the memory remains a treasure, regardless, and unfiltered all these years later.

It is fitting that Dad made his living as a textile engineer. The yarn spun on the daily at the factory was no less important and as strong as the family ties he weaved at home. It never frayed. Even when it was pulled to maximum tautness, we didn’t break. Sometimes the words I exchanged with Dad were in anger, punctuated by the slam of a door or the start of a car engine. Even our silences carried the weight and text of our thoughts. That wasn’t the case once he began his travels with Alzheimer’s. I’d be damned if I’d let that bastard of a disease rob me of my time with Dad. I fought against the ALZ hard with smiles, laughter, and talks, real talks. It started out in English and then transferred to Dad’s native Spanish when his mind placed me in that category of awareness.

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I have no regrets. I only possess this incredible want to have him here for a little while longer. I was able to say what I carried in my heart to him way before he left us. It is my most treasured moment with Dad. It happened at the Arboretum in Arcadia early last fall. Walking was tough for him, so I got him a wheelchair. We ventured around the gardens. It wasn’t a particularly beautiful day. In fact, it was grey and humid. The grounds were going through some pruning and renovations. The only added color that day was the famed peacocks, which were plentiful. I chose to tell Dad that I loved him and that he was right about so much. That I was sorry for all the hell I put him through. He was quiet for a moment, then, he asked if it was alright if he pushed me around the gardens, that I’d done enough. I said, “I don’t mind.” He answered, “Okay.” Then he started to comment on the peacocks, saying they don’t do anything. Just walk around and show off. I laughed. “Dad,” I said. I can’t believe you’re arguing with a peacock.” He just smiled and folded his hands on his lap. “I want to go home,” he said. So, we did.

Dad’s burial services were on a sunny Tuesday morning in Pico Rivera. I had the task of speaking, along with my brother. Writing his eulogy wasn’t easy, but when I started to write it, the words didn’t fail me. As my dear friend Ann said to me as my grief was in its upswing:

“He may be gone, but please know, as someone said to me when I lost my Dad, “The conversation continues.”

And it does…

A Eulogy for Dad by Jorge Carreón, Jr. 

IMG_2403When you’ve been blessed to live a life as long, rich and vivid as Dad’s, the brevity of a eulogy seems cruel and unfair. Six paragraphs and out. I couldn’t do that. You only have to stop, pause, take a breath and take a look around a room like this and see the emotion and extent of the impact one life can make. You take comfort in knowing that this speaks volumes to the character and respect generated by Jorge Ramirez Carreón. Words were his power, and words are the inherited power we wield today.

I remember the day after my big performance in a high school play when I asked Dad what he thought of my “star” turn. He said, “Mijo, you’re a lot of things, but you’re not an actor. Write. It is what you do best.” He was “right,” for lack of a better word. He was pretty much always right about things.

I’ve been staring at a blank screen for days, crafting this message of remembrance and goodbye for Dad. All I could hear in my head are messages like, “Is this going to be enough?” followed by “I can’t do this.” When I finally sat down to put these words up on a laptop screen, it was surrounded by his spirit at our family home in Pico Rivera. Flowers, his favorite slice of nature, were everywhere. Music, the songs inspired by his varied tastes, provided the underscore. It made sense to me here. He made sense to me here, the house that raised my siblings and me.

My brother has composed a fitting testimony to his life, the details and achievements of a life less ordinary, but extraordinary. He ventured from the security of his home and living in Mexico to venture into the unknown territory of the US. He met Mom, married, had four children; he built the life of their dreams. The palm tree that graces the center of our home in Pico is that perfect symbol of our family history. It stands taller than ever before. It has bent with strong winds, never breaking, even when it felt like life was too much. It is the summation of who we are as his people, his family. You find a piece of who we are with each frond. Lil’s maturity and leadership as the firstborn. Nancy’s devotion and selfless protection of us all. Ernesto’s poetry and introspection. Mom’s love of life and strength. It is resilience incarnate.

With Dad’s diagnosis of Alzheimer’s 12 years ago, the first impulse was to think life was over, that he’d forget us all quickly, that the damage to his mind and body would be relentless. We were scared he’d never be able to partake in our lives most crucial moments as adults. We were cursed and doomed. Yet, in the end, it was a gift. My father getting lost in the haze of this infernal disease allowed me to find him again. It is a personal detail that I will never let go.

My family mobilized upon the Doctor’s word. Nancy and Ernesto led the charge in researching every facet of treatment programs, medications, insurance allowances, anything, and everything to make sure Dad would live his best life with us beside him. That he was with us for as long as he was, glowing with color and filled with energy, is a testament to everyone’s role in keeping Dad healthy and alive. We involved him in all aspects of our lives. He wasn’t “sick” Dad. He was chingón Dad for us, for everyone he’d offer a smile. That’s the lesson of his life. Don’t fear the illness; make it fear YOU.

Like many Latino men, we like to live in our memories, tasked with the preservation of our family lore. Being Jorge is not just sharing the same name. Being Jorge means living as the chief chronicler of my family. You should see the epic collection of slides that remain encased and boxed, dutifully scanned by my sister Nancy with Smithsonian-like care. That is why I was compelled to record all that is Us before Dad’s mental files were purged entirely of data. My family and I will never forget the outpouring of emotion felt by many of you who never had a chance to meet Dad in person but were witnesses to his life in other manners.

My name now carries a stronger aura of poetry and romance. Yet, Dad is singular, the original creation. My task is never to let his memory fade, preserving that beautiful handprint in my heart, in all of our hearts.

Back to the power of words. Dad era creyente, a devout believer. He was a voracious reader, informed, an elegant debater who loved a good match of wits. I ask you all to take a moment at some point today to think of a word that personifies what Dad means to you. Share it with us today, tomorrow, whenever inspiration strikes.

As for us? Let me tell you: Dad is adventurous, sage, loyal, devoted, humorous, strict, careful, silly funny, lover of the song “Guantanamera,” classical music and Lerner & Lowe showtunes, Howard Stern-listener, admirer of Trini Lopez, Willie Nelson & Glen Campbell, damn good long haul driver, world-traveler, Christmas card address monitor, abstract pancake maker, mistaker of wasabi for guacamole, Nescafe drinker, eater of canned tuna fish in Italy, church leader, Eagle Scout motivator, industrious, a textile engineer, cultivated, Catholic, mustached, bald, native son of Celaya, Caballero, Mexicano, husband, father, tío, hero. He is forever our Poppadoodles.

We love you, Dad. Te queremos mucho, Pa.

**This is a video produced by my brother Ernesto for his Mateo & 8th line of home decor. We played it during the rosary services in honor of Dad. Hearing his voice sound so confident was shocking for a moment, then, restorative and calming. I hope you give it a view. 

***Please consider making a donation to one of the following charities:

Alzheimer’s Los Angeles: https://www.alzheimersla.org

Alzheimer’s Association: https://www.alz.org/

Hilarity for Charity: https://hilarityforcharity.org/