Reasons why I make jokes about my dad being dead…

Some of you may know (others may not), but my dad died at the end of April. That’s just over four months ago. Since then, I’ve been making off color jokes left and right on social media and in person.

If you’ve known me for a while, you know that I have a very dry or even wicked sense of humor. I deliver lines with snark and sarcasm that is appreciated by some and not by others. Sometimes it’s out of anxiety, fear, pain, stress, or other factors. Sometimes it’s because I’m just being a bitch.

Either way, when dad first passed, I didn’t really have time to mourn because I was on the clock. My brother, husband, and I had to get his hoarded apartment cleaned out before the end of May or risk having to pay ANOTHER month in rent. We had to salvage anything of use to sell to cover dad’s mounting debts. We also had to try and find any useful information to build up a profile of where dad had bank accounts, safe deposit boxes, any and all assets. Seeing as he was a hoarder, he didn’t really keep records like that. Dad also died without a will.

In many states, if someone dies without a will, and there is no spouse (my step-mother died several years ago) you have to automatically go to probate court to get someone assigned as the administrator of the estate. Because my brother wasn’t able to serve and my sister lives overseas, I was chosen. The responsibilities associated with being an administrator mean time, money, aggravation, and dealing with the type of bureaucracy most people mock in political cartoons. All of this doesn’t make dad’s death any easier, nor does it explain why I joke about it so much, but that’ll come soon, I promise.

Dad at his 50th high school reunion in 2014.

Dad at his 50th high school reunion in 2014. (photo credit: Nick Krassy)

So that aforementioned drama, compounded with the fact that dad and I had fought on the phone the night before he died, means that you get all kinds of guilt brewing (growing up Catholic didn’t help).

See, after that phone call, my husband and I had prepared a whole speech for dad. We were going to see him the next day (the day he actually died) at 10:00am and compel him to give me power of attorney. I knew his finances were (are) a mess, and I had begged him for years to get a will, but dad was stubborn and would always say, “I’ll get around to it, Baby, when I finally get my feces together.” Using appropriate words for vulgar intentions was his sense of humor.

So the night before dad died, he and I got into this argument. When I hung up, hubs and I had had enough of dad’s shit. Our state of the relationship speech was prepared; we each had our part, and I remember going to bed that night with a sense of purpose. Then I heard my cell phone ring at 6:23am. I had gotten early morning calls before in reference to my dad, like when I had to bail him out of jail for a DUI or when he was arrested for swinging at a cop during a welfare check. However, since dad was in this care facility, I figured this wouldn’t be one of those kinds of calls (unless he planned an escape which was unlikely, but not ENTIRELY off the table for him).

Dad circa 1971.

Dad circa 1971.

By the time I got into our home office (the smaller of our two bedrooms), the phone had stopped ringing. I didn’t recognize the number, but there was a voicemail, so I fumbled to get it to play. Then the caller called again. It was the rehab facility dad had been transferred to a day earlier.

The woman on the phone was frantic. She told me that the paramedics were there and they were working on my dad. I asked her for how long. She was confused by that. I told her that back in 1978, my dad flatlined for over two minutes. He had a “light at the end of the tunnel” experience, but was brought back to the land of the living. She said that the emergency team had been working on dad for more than 20 minutes already. I told the woman with a calm voice, “Okay, he’s gone.”

Now this is where things divert for a moment, and I need to do some explaining. I’m the type of person who is scarily calm in emergency situations (you’ll ALL want me on your zombie apocalypse team). Some people find this unsettling and even robotic. I can’t help it. I was always taught by my parents (my mother an RN and my father a medic when he was in the Army) that if your blood pressure rises, it affects your judgement. If you’re bleeding, it’ll make you bleed faster. I wasn’t bleeding, but I wanted to make sure that my judgement was clear.

Dad and I at the zoo (likely the Bronx Zoo) circa 1984.

Dad and I at the zoo (likely the Bronx Zoo) circa 1984. Notice we had the same smirk.

The woman on the phone continued to be frantic. I explained to her that I lived about 40 minutes away and asked if she wanted me to meet her at the facility or at the nearest hospital. She sputtered out, “The hospital.” I agreed and asked her if she was okay. She was confused by this. She said she wasn’t prepared for this and how “it’s so sad when a patient dies,” etc. I told her it would be alright, and she was unsettled by my calm once more. Time was burning, so I got off the phone so I could drive up. My husband had already been woken up by my commotion and was getting dressed.

We drove up to the hospital, and all I could think is, “Dad couldn’t have waited just a few hours, that bastard couldn’t have waited a few hours!” We made it to the hospital in record time, and I didn’t know where to go, so I just went into the ER. It was 7:36am.

Dad Smile

Dad and I circa 1993.

I told the young woman sitting behind the desk, who had the names of her children tattooed on her arm, that my dad had been brought in from the rehab facility. She asked me to please wait while she made some phone calls. I was pacing in the empty ER waiting room and remembered that the last time I was there was when I was visiting dad in the hospital the night of my 20th high school reunion in October (2015). My best friend had come with me, and dad boasted to the nurses that two pretty girls visited him in the hospital.

My husband was sitting quietly, trying to stay calm, but I was restless that morning. I was focused, but restless, if that makes any sense. I was making jokes about the weatherman who was on the TV, but none of the jokes were funny. My husband had just lost his dad a few years earlier, so I think he was silently reliving that experience.

A nurse came out to meet us and had us follow her behind the electronic-locked door. She introduced me to the doctor who had worked on my dad. I could see the doctor had been distraught. Losing a patient is never easy.

The doctor started dumbing down the technical language for me, but I told him I went to EMT school and was more than a layperson. He seemed relieved by that. Then he threw out words like hypoxia, intubation, and tracheitis. He told me the paramedics had gotten dad’s pulse back for a brief period, but lost it again. He told me the TOE/D (time of expiration/death) was 7:19am. All I could think of, again, was that dad couldn’t hold on for a few more hours. The doctor said he was sorry, and my husband I thanked him. Then we were taken into a room down the hall by the nurse.

EdCarlson_Vietnam

“Vietnam Miniskirt.” Dad’s caption for when he went overseas. Just a taste of his sense of humor (Circa 1967).

I’ve been in the room with dead bodies before. Growing up Catholic, you’d have to go to wakes with open caskets, not to mention having seen someone expire in a hospice. Dead bodies don’t scare me because I don’t see them as a person anymore. Maybe that’s bad, but it’s just the way I am. I’ll say my dad was on that gurney, but it really wasn’t him.

They opened the door to this room, and there he was. Dad’s blue eyes were closed; the eyes my older sister got and I was always jealous of. The doctor had warned us that the intubation tube was still in him. It was virtually wired to his mouth because of the tracheitis, thus leaving his mouth wide open. I thought, “He had sleep apnea, so this is appropriate.” The nurse told us to take as much time as we needed, and I thought, “How long is ‘enough?'”

My husband solemnly sat in one of the chairs by the body and prayed. Hubs is a good guy, and he’s DEFINITELY going to Heaven. I’m very lucky to have him then and now. But me? Nah, I had to be me. I cocked my head to the side, looked at my father’s dead body, and said, “Would it be uncouth to take a selfie?” Even knowing me as long as he has, hubs was appalled by this comment. But that was my dad’s sense of humor rearing its ugly head. Dad was the guy who sat in the back of the auditorium during my chorus performance in the 8th grade and visually mimicked (not audibly, thank God!) Peter Boyle from Young Frankenstein during our tribute to Irving Berlin.

Dad's old guitar that I turned into art several years ago. It says "Father" and "Daughter." Circa 2008.

Dad’s old guitar that I turned into art several years ago. It says “Father” and “Daughter.” Circa 2008.

Then two women came into the room. One was dressed too nicely and put together for just before 8:00am. I was in a Batman t-shirt and college baseball cap, and I hadn’t showered or brushed my teeth. There was probably still the remnants of sleep in my eyes, and I didn’t have my contact lenses in. The other woman was tiny, skinny, and easily in her late 70’s. She was a nun. The younger woman was some kind of hospital administrator. She was polite and said she was sorry for our loss. She gave me her business card and left…leaving the nun in her wake.

Nuns don’t scare me…At least the NICE ONES don’t, but I’ve had a history with nuns, and I wasn’t so sure about this tiny septuagenarian. She asked me questions about my dad, whether he was a religious man. I told her he grew up Catholic, but he didn’t believe in God much. I told her he was originally from the Bronx, and she said, “Me, too!” That made me crack a smile. She was getting kind of gushy about God and how he’s watching over dad now, shepherding him into Heaven or whatever, and I put my hand up. I told her that I respectfully disagreed. Just because someone was dead didn’t make them a saint.

After the Army, Dad was an auxiliary policeman. Circa 1976.

After the Army, Dad was an auxiliary policeman. Circa 1976.

I told her dad wasn’t a great dad. He was an abusive drunk, but like most abusive people, he was charming at times, and it was those times that we all lived for; the times when he was funny as Hell and not throwing fits, glasses, bottles, or punches. But that wasn’t that day. No, dad wasn’t throwing ANYTHING that day. Dad was just…dead.

I told the nun all this and I may have even said, “He’s likely in Hell.” That kind of riled her up. She disputed dad’s entry into Hell (like nice nuns do), so we agreed to disagree. I guess the exhaustion had gotten to me, and I got choked up or just overwhelmed, and this tiny little nun pulled me in for a hug. I felt like she needed the comfort more than I did, so I sobbed something to the effect of, “I’m just waiting for him to open his eyes,” or something that felt “right” at that moment. She patted the back of my head and told me he wasn’t going to do that.

Dad on furlough in 1967 just before shipping out to Vietnam.

I guess had shown my modicum of remorse to her satisfaction (be it false or not), and she released me from the hug. Then I asked her if she had a quarter so I could see if I could pitch it into dad’s mouth from across the room.

The nun gave me a scolding look and went over to my dead dad. She prayed over his body and said a few God-like words with my husband. She put her hand on my dead dad’s forehead, and I guess gave him the last rites (you’re a little late!). Then she gave me her business card and left. I had had enough of the whole, “I’m in a room with a dead body who isn’t likely to get up any time soon,” and wanted to get into BGSD mode, so I shepherded the husband out so we could get the ball rolling on “the arrangements.”

Left to right: Sheba, Isis, Dad (and his ever present bag of pretzels). Circa 1986.

Left to right: Sheba, Isis, Dad (and his ever present bag of pretzels). Circa 1986.

The rest of the story is pretty boring: Making off color jokes to the guy at the funeral home (“If you need my dad’s ID, he’s in the hospital right up the hill. I’m sure we can just roll him down.”), talking on the phone with multiple family members (“He really is dead. No, I didn’t take a photo…shit, should I have?”), and stopping by his apartment to assess the damage, and the mess that we’d be cleaning up.

Strangely enough, dad’s sense of humor would have been fine with all those bad jokes and sarcastic nods. That’s just the way he was. He loved cats. He loved dirty jokes. He was a voracious reader (he was the one who got me into Tom Clancy when I was young). He loved playing the guitar and singing. He was a great photographer when he was younger, and he had several published photos.

Dad with me just before prom. May 1995.

Dad with me just before prom. May 1995.

Dad was also immensely proud, and that pride is what overwhelmed him from accepting help. He wouldn’t have guests in his apartment because of its condition. Hell, you couldn’t sit even if you wanted to. Like most people in his position (depressed, lonely), he was overwhelmed in his situation, but was too proud to admit there was a problem.

He refused to listen to you when you told him something he KNEW would benefit him. Whenever you said something he didn’t want to hear, he’d dig in and hold his ground even more firmly than before. Time and again I implored him to go to the community center because his only person to person interactions were with his doctors. “I’m fine, Baby.” That’s what he kept telling me. He was stubborn. I know I said that before, but there’s no better word for him than that.

Now that he’s gone, I wish I had dug in my heels earlier. I wish I had forced power of attorney years ago to get his finances into shape. I wish he had listened to me, and I wish that I hadn’t coddled him and been his enabler. I wish I had listened to my instincts tell me that he had started drinking again, but I was too proud of him for being sober, I didn’t want to ruin the fantasy. I wish…

“She’s your problem now.” Dad to my husband on our wedding day, 2006.

I can wish all day and night, but the truth of the matter is this: I’m stuck with the situation, and I’ll continue to be stuck with it for a very long while. Dad, you may have loved me, but you really screwed me over. I love you, but it is and will always be a complicated love. And that’s something we both have to live with either in this life or the next. So until I can see you and yell at you and hug you and yell at you some more, I’m just going to make jokes about you kicking the bucket, because that makes me hurt just a little less.

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