The Rest of His Life

It is very hard to write this entry and the ones that may follow concerning the next seven years of my father’s life. There is no clear record of his illness or his employment. These are the memories or bits of evidence I have culled from documents, photographs, my mother’s answers to my questions (as I remember them,) and my own childhood memories.

  • He returned to live for a time at my mother’s home on Ide Avenue in East Providence. His sister and his maiden aunts lived on Mayflower Street in Providence. I do not know where his younger brother lived on his return from Panama where he served during the war.
  • He and my mother bought a bungalow with a small upstairs apartment on Mountain Avenue, a fifteen minute walk from Ide Avenue. An elderly lady whose name was Mrs. Miller occupied the ground floor. We lived upstairs from 1946 to 1950. At that time, we moved downstairs and Mrs. Miller left.
  • I have only two or three memories from “upstairs.” . . .
  • Standing in my crib, which was located in an alcove of my parents’ bedroom, crying.
  • A fearful memory of my father sick and in pain in the bathroom and my mother’s helping him and telling me to go away.
  • An argument between my father and mother. He had returned from the grocery store with a large supply of household products because “another war was about to start.” My mother was furious that he wanted to begin “hoarding.”
  • When we moved downstairs I had my own room and a “big” bed and rich memories of my father reading to me there before I fell asleep. The kitchen was roomy and I remember Saturday morning breakfast while listening to the radio on the table. My mother did not drive, so my father did the shopping and other errands on Saturday. He took me along with him, and my mother stayed home to clean the house.
  • Both my parents worked. My grandparents provided childcare. My mother continued to work as a bookkeeper at the local dairy. My father worked at the Industrial National Bank where he was a teller. Although my mother told me that he had a Bachelor’s degree,  I have found this to be false. He graduated from Technical High School in Providence in 1929. He enrolled in Bryant Business College (now Bryant University) but his father made him go to work when the Depression began. Sometime in the 1930’s he began working at the dairy as a milkman. That is how their paths crossed. My mother did not disclose this fact until I began dating the son of the owner of the dairy when I was in high school. To my surprise, there was a community of people who knew my parents and had attended their wedding. They were connected by family ties or employment.  I was introduced to these friends ten years after my father’s death. They remembered him but said nothing about his wartime service, his illness, or his death. In literature about the post WWII era, the lack of conversation about the war-connected dead is referred to as  “the veil of silence.”  My mother had moved on to another company in the early 1950’s and lost social contact with this group.
  • We were parishioners of St. Brendan’s Church. My father would go to an early Mass, my mother to a later one. When my father had care of me, we would go to Harrington’s Drug Store for sodas. Sometimes, he would take me to one of the local parks to ride the Carousel which I called the “dobby-horses.” My father was friendly with the Associate Pastor. He was a member of the Holy Name Society.
  • I recall quite vividly that on Friday nights, my father would work late at the bank. I stayed up late and was rewarded with a cream cheese and olive sandwich left over from the supper which the bank employees ordered in.
  • I have no memory of meals at relatives’ homes except for holidays and my grandfather’s birthday on July 4. There is a photographic record of these meals but in many of the photographs from that time, my father is absent. Maybe he was behind the camera? Or was he committed to a psychiatric hospital as the elder relative “revealed” in 2004?

What do I know about his illness? Ulcerative colitis, a stress-related condition, appears as a diagnosis on one form. The cause of death was peritonitis following an unsuccessful colostomy. He had been hospitalized from Thanksgiving to his death on January 12. My mother was bitter that he had not “paid attention” to his problem earlier. This problem/illness was never discussed within the family or in front of me. His worsening health forced my mother to learn how to drive. She was very anxious about driving. When he was hospitalized I was not allowed to visit, a common rule in those days. But he was not permitted to talk to me on the phone. Just before Christmas, when he knew my mother was not home,  my father called me. This memory has never left me. He explained why he had not talked to me and then, my father told me how much he loved me. He was sending me a bride doll that he had purchased at the hospital.

On the morning of January 13, I overheard my mother telling a friend on the phone about “Bill.” When she was finished, I sat up in bed and asked “Did Daddy die?” Later that morning, I went to school with a tunafish sandwich and orange juice in a blue thermos. I remember nothing else about his passing.

My aunt told me during her final illness that she had held me in the car while the rest of the family attended the funeral Mass inside the church.

Why is it so significant for me to record these long ago losses?

As an ordained minister, I have officiated at more than 100 funerals and memorial services. It was my sacred task to be with families while they kept vigil with dying loved ones. It was my task, on some occasions, to assist with the identification of the body. I took part in discussions about halting further treatment or disconnecting life supports. I have buried babies and children, suicides, and the forgotten elderly. I know that my call to be present at the time of death was conditioned by my early experience. Moreover, unconsciously, I  helped others mourn, in part, because of the ungrievable loss of my father. Pastoral education and personal therapy uncovered this profound connection between my work and my past. The wonder is that divine grace does transform our deep pain into gladness.

More.

 

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