Hey, Dad

Circle of Life and All That

Harold Haubrich died on March 2, 2010.  It wasn’t a surprise other than that he lasted a few more days than we expected.  He had made his own decision to discontinue the dialysis that had shored up the work of his failing kidneys.  The doctors told him that he could expect to die 3-5 days after the last round of dialysis.  He was at peace with his decision because even with that treatment, he had been growing steadily weaker over the last year and was unable to perform any of the daily functions of living on his own.  For the sake of his dignity, I won’t describe all of the things that he needed help with, but suffice it to say that his quality of life was fading fast.

He made the decision because the day before he started vomiting blood, and the doctor did a preliminary exam only to realize that in order to determine the cause, extensive testing would be necessary, and then the remedy would quite probably be exhaustive and exhausting.  He decided that with all that he had been through over the last year that it just wouldn’t be worth the trouble to extend a life so far diminished.

Dad had lived a full life and was a relatively happy man, so his was a decision based on his exhaustion rather than a lack of desire to live.  He was tired and he wanted to move on to whatever is next.  When we asked him what he thought was next after death, he answered “I don’t know.”  I don’t know, either, Dad.  The local Lutheran minister apparently knows and described it all to Dad.  He told Dad about reuniting with my mother, dead since 2007.  After the Lutheran minister left following such words of comfort, my sister asked Dad if he now knew what was about to happen after death. He repeated to her the words, “I don’t know.”

Harold Haubrich

Harold Haubrich

In Dad’s last remaining years, he returned to a Catholic Church from which he had lapsed.  I asked him why, and he told me that after he had a heart attack and some bypass surgeries he decided that he wanted to get back to church “just in case.”  I don’t know that Dad was all that serious about his faith in his religion or whether he was just playing at Pascal’s Wager.  He had made close friends with the local priest while they were both recovering from heart attacks in the same hospital.

I am not going to deal with my own grief here at losing my father.  I realize that everybody hurts, and that grief is a process of dealing with loss.  While I feel the pain, I don’t write about it well.  I would rather explain why I am also joyful at his time.

We are the lucky ones, we who have lived.  From Richard Dawkins’ “To live at all is miracle enough:”

We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Arabia. Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton. We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively exceeds the set of actual people. In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here.

Dad and I shared this planet for nearly fifty years.  That is worthy of a celebration in and of itself.  He taught me how to bait a hook with minnows, he taught me how to check the oil, he taught me how to pee standing up, he taught me how to aim a rifle at a pop can, he taught me how to paint a house, he taught me how to balance a checkbook, he taught me how to cook oatmeal, he taught me how to laugh so hard I cried, he taught me how to take a head of wheat and roll it in my hands to shed the husks and then chew it until it turned to gum, he taught me how to use a blade of grass to whistle, and he taught me how to deal with crises with an even temper.

We shared this planet for fifty years.  We lived through cold below freezing, and we lived through heat and mosquitoes.  We saw Mexico together.  He gave me rides on his motorcycle and let me drive his Jeep when I was far too young. He let me know that Bob Dylan is just a poet and not a singer and wondered why people spend good money on records and tapes when FM radio is just fine and free.

His time on this planet as Harold Haubrich is over, but there is more to the story. Nothing ends, matter never disappears.  It changes form and life makes way for more life.  Yes, his body is preserved with embalming chemicals and is sealed in a coffin in a vault to avoid decomposition and a return to the elements. It is only temporary, and in a few thousand years, his body will finally be returned to nature, broken down by bacteria. The molecules and atoms that were him will be returned to the earth from which they originated.

We, all of us, are materially connected to the planet on which we live.  We eat, drink, breathe and metabolize the substances that make us and turn them into the proteins that build our cells and organs, but we are still mostly carbon, nitrogen, hydrogen and oxygen even now and long after we have died those elements will continue.  Dad died and made a little room for another person to eat, drink, breathe and metabolize and in a few years I will die and do the same thing.  My ashes will be scooped into an urn and placed in a mausoleum for a few years and eventually will all return to the earth.  We never go away, even long after death.  The C, H, N and O2 that make us are remnant elements of a supernova that burst some 7 billion years ago because we are “starstuff.” He is still here, and always will be.

I am sad, because I miss my father.  I miss my mother. It is difficult to be an “orphan” because I don’t have their counsel any longer. I don’t have Mom to call and tell about the way things are going with the kids, and I don’t have Dad to call and talk about spring training and to speculate on who the Twins will use as a closer for 2010.

People ask me how I am doing after his death, but I feel awkward because I don’t feel like crying (often).  If I admit that I am not having a particularly rough time with it, will they think that I am cold-hearted?  Will they wonder whether I didn’t love him, or think I had a rough relationship with him?  I am not necessarily responding in a way that people expect me to. I am not forlorn and I am not rending my garments.

I am happy when I think of how wonderful he was to be with, how sly his humor was, how fair he was in dealing with people and how I was one of his (nine) favorite kids.  I am happy that he taught me how to be a loving and kind father to my own kids.  I am happy that he was there for me when I needed help financially.  I am happy that he was there for me when I told him about each of my kids being born.  I am happy when I think of all the people who genuinely liked him.

I am doing okay. Thank you for asking.

Hey, Dad.  You were one of the good ones.

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18 Responses to “Hey, Dad”

  1. March 16th, 2010 at 5:52 pm

    CanadaGoose says:

    You’re right, your dad sounds like a good guy and a good father. Don’t worry about what other people think. There is always a bit of relief when someone dies after a long illness and decline. It has nothing to do with how much you’ll miss him, what he meant to you, etc. The first year is the toughest — but you have much to be grateful for.

  2. March 16th, 2010 at 6:50 pm

    Adamo says:

    We just passed the 1st anniversary of my mom’s death. The past year included moving my 95-year-old father into the house with us. On the 1-year anniversary, I put him in the car and we took a long drive. We never actually mentioned her or the date that day. I’m not sure anniversaries are that significant. But each day we both think of her, of how our lives changed without her. And we live the days we have left.
    I’m glad for you that you have such good memories of your dad. Whatever was waiting for him, we’ll all find out eventually. Meanwhile you have the life he gave you, and I mean more than your simple existence. He left you a legacy of love. Spend it well.

  3. March 17th, 2010 at 4:56 am

    Glendon Mellow says:

    Beautifully and wonderfully written Mike. Harold indeed sounds like one of the good ones.

    All the best to you, man.

  4. March 17th, 2010 at 7:01 am

    Tanja Sova says:

    Hello, Mike
    if Glendon skip to post this page on his buzz, I would never find it. I am glad he did. It is full of love and I appreciate you wrote this. For long time unwritten words about my own father are lingering inside, waiting to be shared. He was way to young in my opinion to leave, he was 64 ten years ago, but he also decided to go, just like your Dad. Heart attack was his choice (whatever you may think, but he had heart condition and it was just the matter of time). What matters, really, is the same joy of sharing 33 years of life with him, to have him as amazing Grandpa to my sons. The impact he had (has still) is huge, the only missing is his physical body, but the print he has on our lives is with us every day. Humor, above all.
    I know he would have such a good belly laughter seeing me in various situations with my boys, as he was one of the mischievous when he was young.
    Thank you for sharing, it is appreciated!
    Sincerely
    Tanja

  5. March 18th, 2010 at 3:19 pm

    NewEnglandBob says:

    Well said, Mike. Thank you for sharing.

  6. March 18th, 2010 at 5:25 pm

    Stacy says:

    I’m so sorry for your loss Mike. 🙁 Take care of yourself.

  7. March 18th, 2010 at 5:54 pm

    Mrs Tilton says:

    Mike, I don’t know you, nor did I know your father. I don’t think there is an afterlife in which he will be reunited with your mother, though if I am wrong about that, I suppose it would be wonderful. But if I am right about that, then I can still say this: if your father’s life could inspire the tribute you have written above — a tribute that made me, who did not know the man, fight back tears — then his was a good and successful life. My condolences to you and yours on your loss, and my respect to your father’s memory.

  8. March 18th, 2010 at 8:08 pm

    Mike Haubrich says:

    Thank you sincerely, all of you.

  9. March 18th, 2010 at 9:20 pm

    Norm says:

    My condolences to you and your family, Mike. That was a great tribute. Be thankful that you had some time to prepare, but otherwise do not feel guilty if you are not living up to some societal expectation of overt grief display. It sounds like your dad was a good guy, and no one can fault him for making the decision to end his life. In my fictional history there is an old saying: “Do not weep for the dead, for they have found peace, but rather for those in the world who still struggle.”

  10. March 19th, 2010 at 8:30 am

    Kathryn says:

    Sounds like your Dad did a great job of showing you how to be a man. Your grief is your own and no one else has the right to it, so experience it as you must, not as they expect. Condolences to you and your family.

  11. March 19th, 2010 at 5:26 pm

    khan says:

    Mike, Peace and Love.

  12. March 19th, 2010 at 7:23 pm

    Dan J says:

    My thoughts are with you, Mike. I lost my own father when I was 17, so I missed out on a lot. Your post was wonderfully written, and expresses a lot of true sentiment. Couldn’t ask for more than that. Thanks for letting us get to know your dad a little bit through your writings.

  13. March 20th, 2010 at 2:31 pm

    Paula says:

    Mike –

    Don’t lose touch with your extended family!

    Sorry that we were not able to attend Uncle Harolds services-We all loved him and care about all of you!

  14. March 21st, 2010 at 9:17 pm

    Mike Haubrich says:

    Absolutely, Paula. And I know that you wanted to be there.

  15. March 22nd, 2010 at 6:32 pm

    Theo Bromine says:

    Mike:
    Heartfelt condolences for your loss. Thanks for posting your tribute – the world is surely a better place for having had your father in it. (March 13 marked 2 years since I bade farewell to my stepfather who suddenly and unexpectedly died of a stroke at age 82.)

  16. March 23rd, 2010 at 1:50 pm

    Kristin says:

    Mike, thank you. A tribute to Harold and how well said. Great photo.Thinking of you all and missing him too. Harold was a character and a good egg, too. We are all better for knowing him and of course your mom also.

  17. March 24th, 2010 at 6:28 am

    Mike Haubrich says:

    Thanks, Kristin. Mary told me that part of the reason that he bought the Focus was that you and Paul had been such good friends to both Mom and Dad and that he felt bad that he had never bought a car from C & M Ford. He really appreciated your friendship.

    Theo, I appreciate it, and both you and Eamon have been very supportive in the past as well.

  18. March 28th, 2010 at 4:27 pm

    Connie says:

    With deepest sympathy to you and all the family. I knew your mother better than I knew your dad (I worked at NW in TRF), but they both helped me through some difficult times in my life. I have tried to pass along their love and compassion they showed me to others.
    “Normalacy” changes when we lose our parents, but we do go on to realize how truely remarkable people they really were.

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