I was so blessed to come from a large family (eight brothers and sisters) and parents who loved me and cared for me. Really, my childhood was quite good and normal except for one thing. My Dad was a diabetic and his diabetes was poorly controlled. I have so many memories of fear filled moments because of Dad’s diabetes. I remember huddling on the couch with my sisters as the paramedics tended to my dad in the next room, and peeking out the window to see all the neighborhood kids standing outside gawking at the ambulance outside our house. I remember lots of visits to Dad in the hospital and leaving so sad because he was in a diabetic coma and didn’t even know I was there.
I remember coming home from school for lunch while in the third grade and finding Dad passed out on the floor in diabetic shock. I felt panic inside because I was alone and didn’t know what to do. I remembered that Mom usually gave him orange juice to help raise his blood sugar. I couldn’t find any orange juice in the house, so I cut an orange in half and was trying to squeeze the juice into his mouth when my sister Cathy came home from college. She was so calm, like she had been through this hundreds of times before. She said “Annie, it’s too late for that, he’s beyond shock.” She called the ambulance and my mom at work. There was nothing left for me to do, but go back to school for the afternoon. I remember how strange and lonely it felt to try to continue to have a normal day at school when my life felt anything but normal. School was the last place in the world that I wanted to be that day. My mind and heart were miles away.
I learned to avoid Dad whenever there was any sign of his blood sugar dropping. I would leave the house and escape to my friend, Sylvia’s house, or go for a walk in the cemetery across the street, or retreat to my bedroom, just to avoid the trauma of watching him resist any care that Mom would try to give him. Under the influence of low blood sugar, Dad would become a different person. As Mom would frantically try to feed him candy or orange juice, he would push her away and yell at her, saying that he didn’t need anything and she should leave him alone, yet at the same time, he would be taking the food she was persistently, lovingly offer him. We all believed that Mom was a saint for all she had to cope with. We all believed that it was Mom who was keeping Dad alive.
That shadow of his imminent death hung over my head all the years I was growing up. I was always told that he only had a few years to live, that his out-of-control diabetes was killing him. My mind was frequently filled with sad imaginings of hospital scenes and funerals. Although the hospital scenes were frequent, the funeral, thankfully, was years away.
Those fear filled and painful memories followed me into adulthood when I helped to care for Dad in his old age. It didn’t matter that I lived with his diabetes my whole life, I still felt like I was incompetent and incapable of really taking care of him. After Mom died, my children and I would take him on his weekly grocery shopping trip, and that worry was always on my mind “what will I do if he passes out?” I’ll never forget the day when that fear became very real.
My four sons were very small, in fact, Jack was still a baby. Dad was taking a longer time than usual to finish his shopping. The boys and I sat on the counter at Aldi eating apples and reading books, while we waited for him to finish his chore that gave him some much needed independence. The clerk in the store had come to know us very well. We were the family that always lingered long after our shopping was done to wait for Dad.
On this particular day, I began to suspect that something wasn’t right because the wait seemed longer than usual. I could see Dad walking up and down the same aisle, looking lost. I went to see if I could help him find something, and I knew by the look in his eyes that we had to leave right away. He had been popping glucose pills in his mouth, but they weren’t helping. I got him to the checkout and as luck would have it, the woman behind me was a doctor. She ran to the back of the store for orange juice. Another woman came running with candy bars. All I could think was pack up these groceries and get out of here! If I had to call an ambulance, I wanted it to be from his house and not the grocery store where we wouldn’t be afforded any privacy.
The boys had grown restless and didn’t understand what was going on. My panic level reached an all time high as one of the boys, cranky and overtired, decided to lie on the ground in the parking lot and throw a temper tantrum. I didn’t have time or patience to waste feeling sorry for myself about the unfairness of life, of how I was too young to be grieving the loss of my mother and still have to find the strength to carry on in a situation like this. All I could do was react. So, while I was carrying Jack in the baby carrier and holding Dad with my other arm, I used the only thing I had left, my mouth, to yell “Get up! We have to go now! This is not a time to fall apart!” I should have been yelling those same words to myself because that is exactly how I felt, like I was falling apart!
I hurried Dad and Jack to the van, and scrambled back to scoop up my son who still lay there overwhelmed and crying. Anger rushed through me as I grabbed him by the arm and dragged him to the van. There was a woman who witnessed this scene in the parking lot, but had missed the one inside the store. She came running to me with a bible tract, thinking that I was some evil mother who needed advice on how to lovingly care for my children. That was the last straw and I did fall apart. Tears fell from my eyes as I drove back to dad’s house. And suddenly, I felt that God was with us. He must have felt my frustration and been moved by my tears, and he brought a sense of peace to me. By the time we got back to Dad’s house, he was fine, the glucose finally kicked in, the overtired children were sleeping and my tears had dried up. But now, I was completely exhausted. I was very thankful that the boys and I could return to our home, instead of accompanying Dad to the hospital, and we could spend the afternoon resting in God’s love.
Even though there were many challenges living with a diabetic father, I am grateful for the love he gave me and the growth that the challenges of living with a health impaired parent produced in me. We were all amazed that he continued to live for eight years after Mom died. God blessed him with 83 years on this earth filled with hard work, prayer and quiet witness to the presence and strength of God. Now, I am confident that God is holding him close in heaven and thanking him for his loving service as spouse to a warm and loving wife, father to nine children, master gardener and antique dealer and most of all, for loving service as a child of God.
Happy Father's Day to all Dads and those who love them!