Memories of Dad Wheeler

Jeff’s Dad passed away tonight after a brief battle with cancer and dementia. His sister Lee had called us the day before to tell us that Dad was going into hospice, and earlier today because his health was rapidly failing.

Jeff and I are devastated. We knew this was coming but we didn’t expect it to happen so quickly. We sobbed and trembled. This was the first time either of us has lost a parent; it’s a horrid fear that I have dreaded facing for many years now.

Dad (Doug) Wheeler was a fantastic father (I leave off “in-law”, thank you very much). He was such a quiet man, gentle and inquisitive. I first met him after Jeff and I were married, and loved him instantly.

His visit to Colorado was the perfect time for Jeff and him to strengthen their father-son bond. Brooks, Dad’s sheltie, made the long drive with him, and the three of them trooped around Colorado Springs while I was at work.

We visited Dad in Phoenix for Thanksgiving shortly after, making the long drive in our grumbling Jeep Grand Wagoneer. Trusty vehicle (Lucas) took us over snowy highways even when semis were sliding back down the long climbs.

Dad was a perfect host, taking us all over the Phoenix area after work, and showing us Luke AFB. We explored malls, trekked into the mountains to visit Jerome and other potential places for us to relocate to, and hung out on his back patio. Dad had launched a campaign against rocks in his yard, patiently picking them up (when Brooks wasn’t busy bringing them to him) and he had quite a pile going in his yard. He worked for the AZ EPA for many years, and wasn’t one for water-wasting lawns and landscaping.

We had looked at homes in his Surprise, AZ subdivision (I believe the model was called The Brisas) but were disappointed that the VA would not cover the amount needed to purchase. We put the move to AZ on the back burner, and slowly it slipped away as housing prices shoved us out of the market.

Years later, after our relocation to Ohio, Dad came for a visit. We were so excited to have him here. I was still new to blogging and tried to keep up with chronicling everything, but what I did not capture were all the wonderful conversations we had on the front porch in the evening.

Dad loved to tell stories about his past, and wasn’t ever ashamed of admitting to making mistakes. He loved to invite the Jehovah’s Witnesses in for cold water and a chat. He told of his woes with Lee and Doug Jr, and his happy memories of their childhood (and Jeff’s, although Jeff was a right little shit in his teens). He loved sports, especially baseball and football, but I think he loved napping during games even more. He found joy in watching the local wildlife, be in in AZ or OH. He ate simple meals, lived a simple life and knew how precious peace can be.

These are some of the entries from my blog during the summer of 2006, which was Dad’s last visit with us:

June 17 2006
Dad had arrived the day before, and we picked him up from the Pittsburgh Airport. My reflections the following morning:

I spotted Dad in the crowd and called to Jeff. Dad looks great! He's trim, and as always, has a wonderful smile on his face… Dad enjoyed seeing all the green on the rolling hills (Phoenix is flat and brown.) He also enjoyed sitting on the front porch, listening to the tinkle of the fountain in the yard. Steubenville isn't a busy town, and the night was peaceful. The fireflies have finally come out!

Later, on June 17
Today was the day to partake in all the different festivals going on around Steubenville. Within a few minutes of each other, you could hit the Greek Festival, the Classic Car Show, the Dean Martin Festival, the Lion's Club Block party thingy, and a host of other activities. Our day started in downtown Steubenville, where we caught the parade going down 4th Street.

As the midday sun got to us, we decided to do a lunch at The Ville (fine food and a very good price), and then drove up the 7 to enjoy Yummy's ice cream (soft serve in just about every flavor you could imagine!) Dad has never been to this area, and he got to enjoy all the rolling green hills… The beautiful Ohio River sparkled on our right hand side as we drove to Toronto - not some brown murky sludge, but a cheerful flow of solid river that beacons you to stop, spread a blanket, and bask in the sunshine at its shore. A few barges and some pleasure craft were traveling slowly north, and you could see people enjoying their day out on the water. Yummys was a relaxing stop, and we ate our ice cream under the shade of an umbrella.

Afterwards, Jeff took a nap (the heat doesn't agree with him as far as his medications go), and Dad and I spent a few relaxing hours on the front porch.

June 18 Father’s Day
We had a wonderful Father's Day today. Admittedly, we didn't do much, which is a very nice way to spend a lazy summer Sunday.

Dad helped me weed the backyard flowerbeds while Jeff retreated into the air conditioned house; he is still worn out from yesterday, and we both have sunburns on our necks and noses. Later in the day, Jeff bar-b-qued a London broil (tenderized with rub and some of my marinara sauce), and we made twice-baked potatoes, and broccoli and onions. We presented Dad with a Steeler's Terrible Towel (if you don't know what that is, I don't think I should ever be able to properly explain it!) Later, Dad and I sat on the front porch and enjoyed conversation. It was a beautiful day.

Jeff's Dad, Doug, is a delightful man - a true Southern Gentleman. He speaks softly, and can capture your attention in witty ways as he recalls things he has done in life. He was Air Force, and now works for the State of Arizona. Between those two jobs, he has done just about everything. He is a hard worker, and never hesitated to do what needed to be done to make ends meet. He has known ups, and he has known downs, and all the while, he has kept his head and done his best to get through everything life throws at him. He is always very polite, and will open doors for women. His smile lights up a room. He is a little shorter than Jeff, but they both have beautiful white hair (Jeff just keeps his close cropped so no one notices that he is balding while his father still has a full head of hair!) He loves to nap during football and baseball games, gets up at 2:30 am (before the hot Arizona heat sets in), and loves to read science fiction. There is no one I would rather have as my Father-in-Law.

19 June
Jeff and Dad have spent the day puttering around the house. I came home [from work] and promptly went to bed. Dad really enjoys sitting on the front porch. He's been getting up early to observe the birds and chipmunks at play, and he enjoys seeing all the green. We have a lovely rain this morning (more storms should hit us this week) and he was able to see our morning fog.

21 June
We spent a lovely two days sightseeing the Ohio Valley area and Pittsburgh. Jeff had VA appointments yesterday and today, which was a wonderful excuse for us to all get out and about!

Tuesday was his Physical Therapy evaluation at the VA in Aspinwall complex in Pittsburgh (it looks like things will go well with that.) This hospital is nestled in a densely wooded area, bordered by fine old homes with magnificent front yards. The drive there is a little hectic, as the highway we take has all sorts of merging ramps and various off ramps, but we found the complex with little effort. We took Dad to the Strip after Jeff's appointment, to show him the shops - we also were low on olive oil and I needed some breadcrumbs - so the timing was perfect. We stopped in at the large Italian market there, and at Parma's for sausage. I found some delicious zucchini at the fruit and veggie market, to boot!

Afterwards, we headed home and I set the men to cleaning while I started my marinara, stuffed peppers and meats. Company showed up right on schedule (my Aunt Helen, Cousin Linda, and Keith and his wife and 2 boys) and we sat down to a huge Italian feast. My Aunt and Cousin absolutely adore Dad, and are so glad he his considering relocating to Ohio. Sorry, no pictures yesterday.

Today was the other VA appointment, again in Pittsburgh at the Highland Drive complex, and Dad was treated to a drive through one of our favorite Jewish neighborhoods (excellent kosher deli there!). I remembered my camera this morning, and took a few snapshots around the VA complex. There is a cozy garden area just behind the building Jeff's doctor is in, and I often sit outside and read my book or smoke while Jeff is being seen upstairs. It is a tranquil place, and I was so happy to share this favorite green nook with Dad. The small garden is surrounded by a high wooden fence, and if you didn't bother to leave the smoking area, you would never find it. Heavy stone benches and tables offer a cool place to rest, and small green trees and shrubs, plus my favorite rock, adorn the inside of the fence proper. It has become slightly overgrown, which only gives me reason to love it more, and birds chirp in the trees overhead.

We stopped by the CEKSF on the way home, in search of a light jacket for Dad. Oakdale really is a charming community, and the scent of freshly cut grass and approaching rain only made the trip all the better. Clothing Sales and the PX were a bust, as they didn't have anything, but I did spot the perfect birthday gift for my Mum (and will return there next week to pick it up!)

On a whim, we drove back to Ohio and headed up the 7 towards St. Clairsville - the Ohio Valley Mall has a lot of shops - and Dad got a chance to see the lush rolling hills. Luck was with us, and we found a nice dark blue light jacket for Dad (who, being from a desert climate, finds or crisp summer mornings a tad chilly.) We had a refreshing rain, and I captured some houses in the mist, as well as the photo below of Jeff and Dad (and his purchase find!) A stop at the Cracker Barrel for lunch, and we headed back. Jeff thought he'd be funny, and started snapping pictures of road signs, as my parents will be heading along this route in a few days. Needless to say, the man took pictures of every turn and sign they would need to look for during their trip from I-70, complete with shots of the corner of our street and driveway! I emailed them to Mum just now.

We are back at home, the men are napping while I work on this entry. I'm fairly exhausted - seven hours of driving does wear one out!

We are really going to be sad when Dad leaves for home, but we are all hoping that things work out well so that he can return here soon, perhaps to stay! It's been wonderful having Dad visit, and Jeff and I are blessed to have him in our lives.

22 June
… I routed home, and picked up Jeff and Dad. We soon found ourselves back at the DMV… A massive storm hit as we waited in line, sheets of rain pouring down, and Dad was able to appreciate a true summer storm, having waited outside to enjoy a cigarette.

23 June
Today was the last day of Dad's visit. It was raining today, as if Ohio, too, was sad to see him leave and openly expressing its tears.

I took my shower and found Dad and Jeff sharing their last few hours of the visit on the front porch. Dad loves spending time out there, watching the birds and chipmunks at play. He loves the green tree and the friendly neighbor's. So, part of me will always think of our front porch as Dad's Porch, the place I always knew I could find him when I came downstairs.

It has been wonderful having Dad here. It did Jeff's heart a lot of good - he has missed his father! They shared laughs over military careers, and talked about the future. I suppose many daughter-in-laws would be grumpy over having her husband's family visit; I am not one of them. Dad is a blessing in our lives, and I can't think of anyone who could replace this handsome Southern Gentleman in our lives. There is no "in-law" tacked onto his title in my heart - he is a Dad in the fullest sense.

We drove up to the airport under rainy skies, and parked. The airport was not crowded today, and we stood in line with Dad as he confirmed his ticket and checked his bag. And then the moment came, when we could have to say good-bye, as we could not follow him beyond the security checkpoint. Dad thanked us for our hospitality, and we reminded him that he would always be welcomed in our home... his presence made it feel like home, to us! We hugged him and kissed him, and turned away, and Jeff put his arm around me as I began to cry as we walked. I was already missing him - we both were. There is no sweet sorrow in partings; there is only sadness because the one you love has to leave. None-the-less, we comforted ourselves in knowing that we would all meet up again soon. It was not a final good-bye - only a farewell until we see you again!

Jeff and I stopped at Cracker Barrel by the airport, just to sit and nibble on stuff. I saw a plate there which had a beautiful painting of a bird. I thought of Dad, and how he loves to watch the birds, and bought it. It sits upon my Victrola, so that, as I gaze out the front window, I can see that plate out of the tail of my eye, and remember a very special gentleman who so enjoyed all the beauty of our new home state.

We love you, Dad!

We will miss Dad, and never forget his quiet ways. Part of me is doused in the deepest grief, but part of me knows that, had he a choice, Dad would have preferred to slip quietly and quickly, not a burden upon family or placed long-term in a home or hospice. Had he a choice, a real choice, he would have chosen to live much longer, exploring the world through long drives interspersed with short naps.

We’ll don’t know the state of his estate, and Jeff has asked if Lee can take money from the estate to fly him out there so they can settle matters and make arrangements. We don’t know if Uncle Neal and Aunt Jan will be able to fly out.  We've never been through this process and suddenly everything looks imposing.

1 responded with...:

DMTesh said...

Having known him for only a short time, before, life stepped in and we were sent in different directions. My only memories of my father are going to Georgia to visit with grandma and grandpa Wheeler outside of Atlanta, going to Six Flags and Stone Mountain. These memories are good ones and all that I have of him, I was 10 years old and that was the last time that we ever saw each other. I heard from him once more several years later with a proposition that I felt was not fair to the man who raised me and since then we had never spoken. I do not know how much that we were alike or if we were complete opposts. I do feel as if a piece of me is gone and I wish condolences to those who have been close to him, especialy my older brother Jeffery Scott Wheeler and his wife Toni (whome I have not met yet, but hope to someday).God speed father( Douglas Macarthur Wheeler)
David Michael Tesh and family