Our family of six kids was raised in an era when children weren’t coddled. We were aware of our parents’ expectations. If you knew what was good for you, you did it. Without complaining. I remember showing my parents a challenging test marked 98%. Dad looked at it and said, “What about the other 2%?” I never heard: “Way to go! That’s amazing! You’re a rock star!” We were expected to do our best, to take pride in what we did and not to look to others for acknowledgment. It helped us develop into strong adults who were accountable for themselves. We were told “It’ll build character” and “Life isn’t fair” so often we never wallowed in self-pity when things didn’t go our way.
When I was to leave for Haiti to help out after the earthquake, Dad phoned at 6 am before I caught my plane. He told me he and Mom were proud of me. Well, let me tell you, their pride meant a lot to me. Those words sustained me through some pretty traumatic times. They were proud of me. I can’t let them down. Carry on. One foot in front of the other. Be strong.
Dad’s always supported me. When there was a little problem with my grade 5 teacher, the one who would put masking tape over our mouths, Dad rescued me. I was a little stress ball, wound so tight! He and Mom decided I should skip school for the month of June. Instead, the plan was to fly with Gramma to Nova Scotia to visit Aunt Sue. And take a leisurely train ride home. See half of Canada along the way.
Well, that led me to develop a life-long love of flying and of travel. And I learned if you can’t fix a problem, you can always escape it for a while. De-stressing is good for the soul. Maybe the problem will be manageable with a better attitude.
Because we were raised to “Finish what you start”, one of my most dreaded times was gathering the courage to tell Dad I was quitting engineering school. After he supported me for three years of it. His immediate response? “Education is never a waste.” While I don’t use calculus at all in my nursing job, I know I can if it ever comes up. I love math.
I required financial help in order to volunteer in Haiti. I asked Dad for an advance on my inheritance. Dad’s answer? “How much do you need?” “Are you sure that’s enough?” I felt blessed he could see in his lifetime what I would do with my inheritance. Hundreds of lives were saved because of his generosity. For believing in my far-fetched dreams.
One time he didn’t support me. Actually, he yelled at me. I’d been asked to be Team Leader for a disaster relief mission to Pakistan after floods displaced 19 million people. Dad shouted, “NO! The Taliban will kill you!” You see, Dad read two newspapers a day and knew more than I. Crushed and defeated, I went home and googled: Taliban+humanitarian aid. Sure enough, the Taliban were causing serious trouble for disaster relief workers.
Later that night, the phone rang. Caller ID: Richard Ricciotti. Dad. I hesitantly answered,” Hello, Dad.” Then, Dad surprised me. He told me, “Rita, if in your heart of hearts, what you want to do is support these people, then I will support you.” I wasn’t going to let something like the Taliban stand in my way of “doing good”. I took up Dad on his offer and helped 100-150 people each day, thanks to him. Afterwards, learning of any earthquake or hurricane, Dad would ask, “Are you going?”
In the last few years, I’ve been the driver for Dad for medical appointments. There was a time when he required several blood transfusions. These ER visits easily became 6-8 hours in length. We did crossword puzzles and chatted. I never tired of spending time with Dad.
Once, when an ER nurse needed to remove some of Dad’s clothing for an EKG, she commented, “You dress like a proper gentleman!” Dad wore dress pants with a belt, an undershirt; dress shirt and a vest over top it all. It made Dad feel good to hear her words.
On one occasion, when the transfusions were complete, the nurse removed the IV and told Dad to get dressed and leave. Dad asked- always requesting permission- if he could apply pressure to the IV site for five minutes. He was on blood thinners and had bled all over the car on a previous occasion.
The nurse yelled, “I don’t care what you do. You can stay here until hell freezes over. I have other patients to take care of!”
Dad and I looked at each other, shocked. I told him, ”Take your time Dad. We don’t want all that blood you just received to run out of you!” I didn’t want his good clothing ruined.
When we got to the parking lot, I exploded about the nurse’s actions. Dad said softly, “Rita, we had a good day. It was only a few minutes that weren’t so fine. We don’t know what that nurse is going through. She could be beaten at home, have other struggles…” I know I’ve told this story before but the compassion Dad taught me in the parking lot was immense.
I helped tend my parent’s flower gardens this year. They required a lot of watering as it barely rained all summer. Once, I asked my hubby to help me out. We stayed to visit as was my usual pattern. My hubby later remarked, “Now, I know why you’re so long watering.” Because the visits were never about the watering, they were about love.
I knew in my heart Dad might not make it through another night after an extremely brief illness. A sister reassured me I didn’t have to spend the night as Dad was in competent hands. And, he was; the ICU staff was the best! My sister knew I hadn’t slept the night before. She had my best interests at heart. But, I needed to hang on to all the time left with Dad.
The last time he opened his eyes was when I told him he wouldn’t be alone and that I’d be staying the night. This brings me great console now. I held his hand and cried. Told him I loved him and that we kids would take care of Mom. Freed him to move onto the next chapter.
Dad waited until all family was “dismissed” the following morning to take a sudden turn for the worse. The nurse retrieved us in time to say a final good-bye. But, Dad’s spirit lives on. I’ll try to be more compassionate. Be strong. Do kind deeds. Dad’s proud of me. I don’t want to let him down.