Before Sean Puffy Combs wanted to be called "Puff Diddy," there was a "Diddy" in my life. He was my father, Stanley Kersey. Years of smoking burned all the hairs on his throat and despite the warning to stop smoking, he didn't. Cancer took his life on May 18, 1999. He was 72 years old.
Two images are forever seared in my mind: seeing the South Tower of the World Trade Center break apart and collapse and seeing my father take his last breath.
The first image was visually traumatic and violent. The second was peaceful and emotional. Peaceful for Dad; emotional for us.
Dad had the soul of a poet but no idea how to function in the world. He muddled his way through in that department. Anxiety and self-doubt plagued him enough to prevent him from doing anything more than become a local celeb for his limericks, publishing religious newsletters and his bottomless well of music knowledge. Lots of "I could haves" came at the end of his life. I felt badly for him when he thought this way and I attempted to remind him of all that he had for people. He and my mother bought me books from the time I could crawl and I learned to read before the average child. I loved Dr. Seuss and Dad loved to read to me. If you took your shoes off in the living room and then went into the kitchen to get something, he would put the shoe high up on something - a place you would never expect to see a shoe - until you realized the shoe was gone and you were looking all over for it. Dad always looked innocent but you knew the shoe didn't walk on its own.
Baby Diddy Kersey
Just as I bond with my mother over our innate understanding of how the things work in the world and other more practical issues, Dad and I shared an instinctive understanding what what made our very being - those invisible lenses we use to take in what's around us and absorb what is not easily articulated. Music does a lot of that for us too. I'm very lucky to have gotten the best of my parents; each have marvelous gifts. I need some of all of those gifts to be what I am.
A few days before May 18th, Dad fell into a drug-induced coma. He was at home under the care of Delaware Hospice. The doctors had provided him with morphine from the start so the pain would be minimal. His stomach was upset from the medication though so he was not free of discomfort. Those who came in each day to visit him from Hospice had gotten to like him. One nurse had asked him how he was feeling today and his response was "With my hands."
The family knew Dad was terminally ill. My uncle Herb (whom I mentioned yesterday - my mother's brother) and Aunt Joan flew in from Washington State on May 10th to visit with us. Dad had not allowed anyone else to see him but was happy to have Herb and Joan there. Dad had survived from intense anxiety all of his life and now this manifested itself into not being able to breath well at times. He had an oxygen tank beside his chair. Prior to Aunt Joan and Uncle Herb arriving early that evening, Dad pulled the oxygen tube and mask over to his face and was taking in air. He knew he didn't look very good and this bothered him.
When Aunt Joan and Uncle Herb arrived, they didn't make any big deal of the fact they were here (we all know they were here to see Dad before he died) and when Uncle Herb went into the living room where my father was sitting with the oxygen mask around his face, Uncle Herb picked his foot up poised over the oxygen tube on the floor and said, "Hey Stan! How about I put my foot down here?!" That cracked my father up. It was a good laugh. One of the visuals that could put my father on the floor was The Honeymooners episode where Ralph put the vacuum cleaner hose in his mouth to try and blow out whatever was stuck in it and Norton turned the power on. Uncle Herb was my hero that day and the rest of his life. He handled the situation beautifully.
A week later, Dad was in a bed downstairs in the living room and I heard Dad stop breathing for a moment. I yelled to my mother in the kitchen, she came in and each of us took one of his hands and as we told him how much we loved him, he took a few gulps and was gone.
I never really knew what sorrow was until that day. I thought I did but I really didn't. It was as if someone had opened up my chest cavity and pulled my heart out, stomping on it all the while. Grief is physical pain. I was relieved for him, of course. It's no picnic deteriorating as he did but fortunately Dad did not live long after the diagnosis and was only unable to take care of himself the week before he died.
Nothing prepares you for losing a parent. It's shattering. It's how the life cycle works but intellectual understand of anything flies out the window at the moment a loved one dies. You do go on, of course. I know I will see him again and he won't be sick anymore.
The following day a telemarketer called asking to speak to Mr. Kersey. My brother, Chris, who had answered the phone, was caught off guard. "Uh, he's resting," he finally spat out. Mom, Chris and I then were hysterical with laughter. It was dark humor my father loved.
A friend of mine opined that we used humor to deflect the pain. Not really. We don't use humor as a tool for anything for that would put humor in the last resort category. Humor is in the fabric of life. Bad things will always happen. There are always obstacles. Just as that is true, humor is there as part of what is delightful about life, what makes us smile and lightens the burdens we face. When future telemarketers called asking for Dad, my mother or whomever was visiting and answering the phone would play along "Oh, he's unavailable right now" or something like that. It amuses us to come up with something.
It would have amused my father. I still miss him and there are days where the grief is just as fresh as the moment he died practically in my arms. Today was one of those days probably because other things are up in the air and I feel very insecure.
If you ever do get online, Dad, in the great hereafter - remember this!
I meant what I said and I said what I meant
I will always love you 100 percent!
Dad around 60