My memories of dad from when I was young are not like the way Laura Ingalls Wilder described Pa. Rather they are of the guy who was my dad but didn't talk much and was mostly the disciplinarian.
When he picked me up from school, I sat in the backseat because I was kind of afraid of him. Not that he ever did anything to warrant fear, he just wasn't the loving/fuzzy kind of dad.
When I was about 9 he joined the third class of permanent Catholic Deacons for the Diocese of Salt Lake. He was ordained when I was in fifth grade. I was now, the Deacon's daughter or part of the Deacon's family. This defined my Catholic school experience (and apparently my dating or lack there of it. How was I supposed to know the boys were also afraid of my dad) and my role in our parish as an adult. Not that I haven't done a lot as me, but its always been nice to be one of Deacon Steve's kids.
In high school dad got sick. Idiopathic cardiomyopathy and congestive heart failure most likely the result of being a preemie which weakened his heart and a virus attacked it. When he was first diagnosed, he coded and was "dead" for a few minutes until they revived him. He remembered watching them work on him, but was trying to tell them to stop. He said he felt at peace and was happy. He was glad he was revived but also felt like he had something he needed to do on Earth.
I'm embarrassed to admit it, but at the time, I really didn't care that he almost died. I mean why should I, I was in the midst of the selfish teen years.
Luckily for us and the whole community, dad got a second chance. I grew to love him and appreciate his witty, subtle and sarcastic sense of humor. He continued to be a deacon for the church although he was unable to hold a regular job due to health issues and was medically retired at the very young age of 36. Funny how at the time, I thought it was old.
A few years later, he found out that the police dept was opening a position for a chaplain. He signed on and continued for SL and WVC Police as well as WVC Fire. He was there to help notify next of kin of a death and there to console the officers after a difficult case. The one case that never left him was when the five little girls in WVC climbed into the trunk of the car to hide. Then they couldn't get out. It took several hours to find them and by then it was too late. Dad arrived at the scene with five girls ages 4-6 lying on the grass being hosed down to try and cool them off. All the friends, relatives, neighbors gathered around sobbing, praying, grieving. Dad was there to console them, council the police/fire workers. He brought comfort to strangers.
In 1996, the medication being used to treat the health conditions wasn't working and his doctor referred him to the University for a transplant. He was admitted in June for testing and observation then sent home to wait and see. On August 2nd he got the call. It was the middle of the night and he actually almost said no, he didn't want it. He was scared. My father in law was doing rounds and saw his name on the board and scrubbed in. The surgery was text book perfect and another true miracle because it was determined that he would have lived maybe 3 more days with his old heart.
He continued to struggle with medical issues: diabetes, prostate cancer, skin cancer, joint issues from the anti-rejection medications etc. But he lived with humor and dignity. He continued to selflessly serve others.
He lived 15 years with that new heart. In July, he passed out and then was very weak. He refused to go to the hospital. We finally convinced him to go to the doctor. They ran a bunch of tests and then found a spot on his lung. He kept saying it was just this cold he had ( a horrible cough that he'd had for too many months). But sure enough it was lung cancer. I went with him to a few appointments but missed the one where they gave him treatment options. Mom was with him and she didn't say anything until after but he was told that chemo was risky with his co-mobilities.
He went in for chemo on Friday the 21st of October. Sat he was fine-he was zippy actually. We made plans for dinner at my house on Sunday. Sunday he overslept mass and didn't come for dinner so I took it to him since mom and her sibs wanted to go to a play. He was OK, weak and had some side affects. He was thirsty, but I assumed from sleeping all day and water loss from being sick. He ate some and I made him a pitcher of the drink he liked. Emily and I put his feet in Epsom salt since they were swollen and cracked. I left because I had to get my kids ready for school the next day.
Monday he was sick. The paper said that was normal. Mom let him sleep most of the day. He apparently threw up everything he tried to get down.
Tuesday, I called and mom said he was sleeping- I didn't question it.
Wednesday I got a call that he had told mom to take him to the hospital. That right there should have been cause to hear foreboding music in the background but for some reason I didn't. I was told that he was still very sick and had turned up the thermostat to 88 degrees but was shivering. I told my mother in law that I was worried he had an infection but she told me that wasn't as much of an issue as the dehydration. She told me to go find my father in law and we could walk up to the cancer hospital to see him. But I was busy in my office and my FIL had finished his patients and gone home. I kept meaning to go up but got distracted- my daughter wanted coffee and was on lower campus, a staff member was giving me her schedule, a community leader wanted to collaborate on stuff. Then it was time to pick up carpool so I left.
I called Em and she said she was going up so I went ahead with my plans to take Keegan to the Halloween festival. After we played for several hours we drove home and I called Em. She said he was weak and drifting in and out of sleep but OK. Then she said they moved him to special care for acute renal failure and a temperature. I asked if I should head up and we went back and forth. I decided to call my uncle who had been up there and is a hospice nurse. He said that he thought the night would be the deciding factor so to just wait for morning. I called my sister in Oregon and told her to hold off getting on a plane that I would call her in the morning. I drank a rum and D/C, took a hot bath and finally laid down at 11:30 PM. I couldn't sleep. Dad's life was running through my head. I dozed off and the phone rang-12:03 AM. That is never good. Mom was on the line and said he wasn't doing well. I asked her if I was heading up there and she said yes. Now the ominous music was there. Mom NEVER calls for medical stuff EVER! She didn't even call us to tell us about the transplant; she waited until the surgery was over.
I got there by 12:30 and then my sibs began to file in. I called my husband and told him to bring the boys (Kate had come up with me). I called my sister to get the first flight out of Oregon. Fr. Dave came to give Last Rites. Then we waited. Dad made it until an hour after my sister got there. Then he passed away surrounded by all his kids, half of his children in law, 9/12 of his grandchildren, his three sibs in law, the West Valley Police Chief and two Captains, as well as a few others. The bishop of the dioceses and Fr. Dave came just after he died. He died of sepsis as a result of the chemo and an already weakened immune system. If you have to die, its the way to go-quickly without suffering. But I don't want him gone. I never imagined the ache in my heart from losing him. Pa Steve, the dad who scared me as a kid and who I didn't like as a teen. The man who married me (as in presided over the ceremony), baptised all my children, was the first one at the hospital after all three of my kids were born and the person who I had learned to go to for advice, encouragement and just to talk.
The funeral was beautiful- as funerals go. More than 200 people came to the viewing, I gave my tribute, Deacon Mark did a prayer service. The church was packed for the funeral. Bishop Wester said mass and the whole left side was filled with deacons and priests. The Knight of Columbus were there as well as WVC Police and Fire and Salt Lake Police. There was a bagpipe player at the cemetery and the police sent out the final resting call over the airwaves. He would have been humbled by the number of people involved.
Here are the links to the articles written about his death: