6 years later: I miss you, Dad

“Does it depress you, to know just how alone you truly are?” – The Dark Knight

Right before I went to college, my Dad, Doug DeFuria, was very sick.  I took him to HealthAlliance Hospital in Leominster for a heart checkup, but he wasn’t doing very well.  They ended up finding an ulcer.

As it turns out, that ulcer was cancerous and had metastasized.  He had cancer throughout his thoracic cavity.  My dad stayed positive, but his health continued to deteriorate.  I lived off of words from 3 favorite songs those days.

“Well, my dad was sick,
and my mom, she cared for him.
Her love, it nursed him back to life.
And me, I ran. I couldn’t even look at him
for fear I’d have to say goodbye.” –On Your Porch by The Format

The Format, “On Your Porch” was the first of these songs.  I had so many mixed feelings- I was having a great time at college, but I felt so useless in trying to be there for my Dad.  But, my Dad, was a great man.  And he reassured me that what I could do was college to make him happy.

Before this time, I never really appreciated how awesome my Dad was.  We often think that our loved ones are going to live forever.  And I also didn’t believe in anything existing out there in the world.

Then, the first weird shift happened, and I started to believe there is something out their in the world.  I don’t like to think of any one superior being; I like to think like Star Wars, most notably

“The Force is what gives a Jedi his power. It’s an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us. It binds the galaxy together.” –Obi Wan Kenobi

George N. Parks announced that we were to go to Montreal and play an Allouetttes halftime show.  But the weirdest part is what happened after: Our Show would consist of Saturday In the Park as well as the Can Can.  Saturday in the Park described a point in my parent’s relationship, when they worked in youth programs at the park.  My Mom immediately thinks about a situation where they could work the 4th of July, and have a 3 day weekend after, or not, and only have two days off.  They chose the first option.

The other weird part about the Can Can is that I played it my freshman year at Gardner High School.  My dad said to Michael LaCava, then director, that he’d love to see the “high-kick” line with the long skirts during a parent-teacher conference. (as a side-note: go see your kid’s teachers during those times.  You learn a lot)  That didn’t happen, but George N. Parks did make that wish came true.

Montreal ended up being the last band trip that my father was able to come on.  I don’t know how, but he pulled himself together long enough to see the show.  He loved it.

I still felt helpless at school.  Brand New’s “Guernica” describes exactly how I felt.

“Nobody plans to be half a world away at times like these,
so I sat alone and waited out the night.
The best part of what has happened was the part I must have missed.
So I’m asking you to shine it on and stick around,
I’m not writing my goodbyes.” – Guernica by Brand New

Around Christmas, Dad’s health was deteriorating quickly.  He had an issue where his lungs were constantly filling with fluid and having to be drained.  He wasn’t responding well with the treatment.  And he was still so positive, so zen.  And I felt like this:

“Well, I’m willing to break myself
To shake this hell from everything I touch
I’m willing to bleed for days more reds and grays
So you don’t hurt so much.”- Break Myself by Something Corporate

Six years ago, on President’s day, I lost my father to a six month battle with stomach cancer.  I went home and brought my girlfriend at the time, Kathryn, to meet my Dad.  My dad wasn’t doing so great, and my Mom was working awfully hard to keep everything together.

My biggest regret happened 6 years ago, today.  When I was leaving to come back to school, I went up to say bye to my Dad.  But for some reason, I never said “I Love You.”  I touched his foot, said bye, and left.  And this is the regret that still haunts me to this day.  Whoever said  “Make sure the important people in your life know how important they are before its too late.” was absolutely right.

I got the phone call when I was living in Field 610, second semester Freshman year.  I never left my cell phone ringer on, but for some reason, I did that night.  I was hanging out with Kathryn in my room when my phone rang from an unknown Gardner number.  I answered; It was my Mom from the hospital.  I remember hearing the words and running from my room to the bathroom, just feeling like I was going to throw up.  I was rocking back and forth on the floor of that dirty bathroom stall, crying and feeling like there was a poison in my stomach that I had to get out.  My mom had explained":

They had been in bed, when all of the sudden my Dad reached up, like he was reaching for something, and collapsed out of bed.  Again, I don’t have a logical explanation of why this would happen (except, you know, The Force.)

Everything seemed to happen so fast after.  Life got fast.  I haven’t had the courage to really talk about this for years.  My family has tried, but it’s really hard.  The wake was a couple of days after that, and it was strange to see the effect my Dad had on so many people.

So many people came.  So many people I knew and didn’t know, to pay tribute to my Dad.  People you don’t think about; People he might have talked to once or twice.  My Dad had this amazing ability to be able to talk to any stranger and immediately become friends with them.

Driving home from the wake, it was in an era where iPod FM transmitters were a big thing.  Earlier in the year, my Dad said he hated “Non Nobis, Domine,” one of the songs we were playing in band.  Later in the season, he told me he changed his mind and loved the song.  So I turn on my car, and this song is playing.  Okay, it must be on my iPod playing.  Then I realized my iPod was in the glove box; there was nothing in the transmitter.  “Non Nobis, Domine” was playing in my car, very loud, and it was unexplainable.  The song finished, and like I had thought (that no station existed at that frequency…which is why I was using that frequency to tune my iPod), static immediately following.  I was starting to think about The Force again, as a plausible explanation

Another unexplainable event happened on my drive back home for Spring Break 2007.  It was actually in a blizzard.  I was in my 1998 Subaru Forester, Dolly.  My father was a UMass Amherst graduate, and had driven my family on 202 frequently.  I was driving back to Gardner on Route 202, and about to get on Route 2 in Orange, when my car slipped on black ice and was heading across the median of the on-ramp into the lane of traffic coming off of the highway.  I kid you not, my car immediately stopped at the edge of the median, like I had hit a brick wall.  Again, maybe only The Force explains it.

When I go home for breaks, I have a hard time at home.  I can only stay about 3 days before I need to go elsewhere.  My Dad was loud- the TV was always on, he cared for me and my brother Josh during the days while my Mom worked. He got us up for school, picked us up, and was always loud.  When I go home, I hear the silence and just feel full of sorrow.

“All the things I wished I’d asked
When I’m lost in clouds
I remember how
I was robbed and I was blessed.” –Away When You Were Here by Ben Folds Five

The truth is: I haven’t been able to talk with my family about this gaping hole that exists in our lives. There are stories I want to hear one more time.  There are stories that I want to tell.  There are things that I want to say.

The most important: I love you, Dad.