Saying Goodbye, Part I

It was New Year’s Day 2014, cold and gray. Albany hadn’t seen much snow yet and the ground was bare. I boarded Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited mid-morning and headed west. When I arrived in Buffalo, in the dark, the snow was coming down steadily; the roads were white and slick. I still needed to travel fifty miles south, through the dreaded Lake Erie snow belt, to get to my Dad’s. Early the next morning I’d be driving three 80-year olds: my father, stepmother and her sister, Thelma, to their winter home in Florida. My parents had reached the age where they didn’t feel comfortable making the trip on their own so I offered to drive the thousand miles for them. It was still snowing when we left pre-dawn. The going was slow, trying to stay in the two thin, bare asphalt tire tracks in an otherwise white-covered Interstate. We knew that once we got a little south of Erie, PA away from the lake, the snow would ease up and we’d have good roads again. An hour after we left home Joyce remembered she’d left her cellphone charging on the kitchen counter. We weren’t going back. Her son could mail the phone down to her.


Dad and Joyce

Dad rode shotgun, the two sisters shared the back. Over the two-day drive the four of us bantered and bickered and bonded. Every couple hundred miles I prodded Dad with questions about his family, his eight brothers and sisters and their life growing up. I asked him about the war in Korea and his gunshot wound and about my mother and their early years together. Joyce was surprised these two stoic and non-communicative men were actually talking to each other. Being an only child I was closer to my mother when I was young and have only gotten close to Dad since she died back in 1989. Oh, we got along well enough then; it was a happy childhood. But we didn’t do much together. Dad worked hard and had his hobbies and putterings and alone time and I had mine. I am my father’s son. Nowadays we are comfortable with each other and we can sit and not talk together for hours.

I was joining the Peace Corps and would be leaving before they got back from Florida, so this was our goodbye. I’d be gone for two years and I might not see one or both of them again. As things turned out my assignment to Ukraine was aborted just before it began and I received the blessing of another year to spend time with my father and Joyce before my new assignment in Thailand. On New Year’s Day 2015 we said our goodbyes again.

My family and I are from the ‘no news is good news’ school of communication and during a year and a half in Thailand we had chatted fewer than a half dozen times. My Dad doesn’t use the computer and Joyce isn’t one for lengthy emails. She sometimes loses them before, or while, hitting the send button, so she keeps them brief, having less to remember when she needs to type the message a second or third time. The message this one particular morning said that they “didn’t make out well,” that they were keeping Dad in the hospital for more tests and it didn’t look like he’d be getting a new valve. It ended with, “Give me a call!” It was 6:30 AM my time (Wednesday), 7:30 PM her time (Tuesday). I needed to call before she took her hearing aids out for the night.

Dad has had heart problems for years, two bypasses, two pacemaker installations and he’d been getting increasingly weak over the past year. He’d lost all energy and couldn’t move off the couch. It was a struggle for him to take a shower. Joyce couldn’t remember everything the doctors said, she has her own issues and she’s been tired and frustrated dealing with Dad’s weakness and obstinacy. Apparently the doctors couldn’t, or wouldn’t, fix the heart valve. His lungs and stomach were filling with fluids and he needed frequent draining. The doctors were willing to take care of that and keep him comfortable. The news didn’t sound good to me either. I needed to go home.

Dad and Joyce are both 84 and even though we’d said our goodbyes twice, I felt that wasn’t going to be enough. I needed to be closer than half way around the world. I needed to sit with him a few more times and ask more of the questions I failed to ask during that trip to Florida and throughout my life these past 60 years. Joyce’s email and the ensuing conversation rattled me and it gave me the excuse I needed, the excuse I’d been looking for, to end my Peace Corps service. I was going to need to say goodbye to Thailand too.


About rich1019

A new adventure is just around the corner. While not an adventure seeker by nature, I'm open to new experiences. Peace Corps. Life is calling.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Saying Goodbye, Part I

  1. Nancy Alexander says:

    My heart is with you my friend.

  2. Prayers are with you.

  3. Judy Hedstrom says:

    Hi Rich,
    I’m sorry to hear this and I’m sure you will be leaving with mixed emotions.
    Although I don’t know your situation very well, I do know what it’s like to say good-bye to parents, having lost both of mine about ten years ago. You are undoubtedly doing the right thing.
    I also understand the loneliness of your PC situation, although being a couple, our sense of isolation was nothing like yours.
    Just know that you have indeed fulfilled the three goals of PC. I’m not familiar with what work or projects you were doing, but I believe the 2nd two goals are ultimately the most important. Your Thai community has been privileged to get to know you as an ambassador for our country, and your inciteful, well-written blogs have already gone a long way in fulfilling the 3rd goal. You have stuck it out for eighteen months, and you should leave with a real sense of accomplishment and fulfillment. I don’t say that lightly–when we left, even though it was for Ron’s health, I had a really hard time, and felt like a failure. It has taken me ten counseling sessions and all this time to realize, that perhaps, just possibly, I did accomplish something.
    I hope you are able to have some very special time with your dad, and I wish you many blessings.

  4. James Borgia-Forster says:

    Welcome home. We are looking forward to going for a ride on the motorcycles with you.

  5. Ed Denehy says:

    I look forward to reading your posts, but I wasn’t expecting this one. Our hearts are with you and we wish you safe travels.

  6. Christine says:

    First, my thoughts are with you and your family. I hope for peace and ease for you and your loved ones.

    I’d also like to add that I know that the culture of Peace Corps can make not completing 27 months feel like a failure, and that your commitment is anything but. I am proud of you and your service, and to call you a fellow Thailand RPCV.

  7. rich1019 says:

    Thank you so very much Christine. Your words are very comforting.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s