Then, on a record-breaking cold night in January 2015, his hand went still in mine and he was gone. He disappeared and I was relieved that his fight was finally over.
The man who was still making silly faces even from a hospital bed. Barely able to lift his head, but still trying to comfort us with laughter.
The man who I could smell remnants of his roast beef dinner lingering as we lay on the pale green (seafoam, as my mom called it) floor of our living room, struggling through my homework.
The man who woke up extra early every morning just to be able to read the Detroit Free Press, in total peace and quiet, before 50 little toes of five children came down to greet him.
The man who, in his dementia-roused hallucinations, literally flirted with his own wife, mistakenly taking her for a nurse. “That one, Maria. She’s really pretty.”
The man who never slept in. Ever.
The man who laughed hysterically at Eddie Murphy’s, Delirious, stand up with me (only after mom was already tucked safely into bed).
The man who loved music. Especially jazz, The Beatles, The Moody Blues, classical and musicals.
The man who never, ever allowed his baby girl to be wet or cold when delivering newspapers along her paper route. Always following me, at a snail’s pace, from the car as I ran from house to house.
The man with the most beautiful and perfect handwriting and the greatest signature ever.
The man who wore the same style eyeglasses for 30, maybe 40 years.
The man who loved to drive.
The man who would rather read than turn on the television.
The man who literally taught me math, loved history, seemed to know everything and could outplay any Jeopardy contestant.
The man who never, ever complained about the psoriasis and rheumatoid arthritis he suffered through most of his life.
The man who, as a kid, rode his bike 50 miles one way, without permission, just to buy fireworks.
The man who entertained us by making up stories to classical music while we sat in the car waiting for my mom to finish her “just a few minutes” escape to JoAnn Fabrics. (It was NEVER just a few minutes.)
The man who always seemed to have a hole in his black Gold Toe socks and was sincerely happy to receive a few new pairs at Christmas.
The man who wore tall, black socks with shorts to cover up his psoriasis. His only form of protest against the disease.
The man who loved his evening treat of ice cream or popcorn or cashews, and who would completely snap if I ate them too quickly and didn’t savor and appreciate each bite.
The man who loved The Far Side and who happily would talk about the comic books he read as a child.
The man who loved puns and silly jokes (“Last night, I dreamt I was eating marshmallows. I woke up and my pillow was gone!”)
The man who loved being “Up North” and Clark Lake and calm, evening boat rides.
The man who loved his Finnish heritage and all things SISU.
The man who loved literally everything that my mom made for dinner.
The man who never complained that his birthday was three days before Christmas.
The man who ritualized the process of coming home and leaving his wallet, glasses and ring in the same place every.single.day.
The man who closed his eyes during Mass…but, swore he wasn’t sleeping.
The man with the big, friendly smile and bright, happy eyes.
The man who could shake the entire house with one sneeze.
The man who hated to be the “bad guy”; overlooking his kid’s faults rather than having to raise his voice and scold them.
The man who loved his bride like a newlywed until death did he part.
The man who made me believe I could do anything.
The man who I heard, more than once ask my mom “what did she do now?”…referring to me, and would love me anyway.
The man who loved sunshine on his face.
The man who loved being at home with his family more than anything.
The man who called me Maria Lizard and referred to his two daughters as his “gills”.
The man who slowly and carefully walked me down the aisle...not sure who was more frightened, me or him?...
The man who was so proud of his son-in-law and the way he loves his daughter.
The man whose greatest pride was for his family.
The man who loved being Papa and taught his grand children to love the History Channel and airplanes.
The man who loved reading bedtime stories to his grandchildren.
The man who we stood vigil for, in the same living room where we used to do homework and celebrate Christmas; now, giving him morphine to ease the pain and comfort him along to his new journey in Heaven.
The man who, by the time that God called him home, was so exhausted from the work, that I couldn’t begrudge him the chance to leave.
The man I’d never hold again, but who would always be with me.
The man I loved like no other and never will again.
Today, Dad, I celebrate you, your life and the life you gave me. Miss you every day and my heart still hurts, but so grateful to see you live on in my children’s eyes. You are still the best.