Dateline: 30 June 2011
|Richard C. "Dick" Murphy|
In 1968 I was ten years old and America was in turmoil. That was the year Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy were assassinated. There were antiwar demonstrations on college campuses, and riots in the streets.
My family lived in a little ranch house in a big development outside Syracuse, N.Y. Five years before that, my mother and stepfather had married and emigrated to New York from Springfield, Massachusetts. Both had failed marriages. They were starting out on a new life together, with me in tow.
There is an incident that is forever etched in my mind from that time. Our family was visiting the Bolton family across the street. We were having a summer cookout in their backyard. Jerry Bolton was a city cop. He was a cocky, loudmouthed guy. He was telling my stepfather about some riot control training he had been to. Mr. Bolton had learned some new techniques for using his police baton. He wanted to show them to my dad.
Jerry got his baton and stood on the lawn holding it out in front of him, horizontally with both hands. “Come on, Dick. Try and take it away from me.”
My stepfather, sitting on the picnic table, demurred. Jerry insisted. “Come on, Dick, I want to show you what I learned.” He stood there, holding his baton, waiting.
My dad got up and went over and grabbed the baton. He and Jerry were facing each other, their hands on the menacing stick. “Go ahead, Dick, try to take it away from me.”
They started to struggle. It got serious. I got scared. But it didn’t last long. Jerry was on the ground in no time flat. My dad was standing over him with a big smile, holding the baton.
I was impressed. Still am. Things like that lodge themselves into a little boy’s mind. My stepfather was 36 years old in the summer of ‘68. He was an ex-Marine. He was tough and strong, capable and confident.
Forty-three years later... June 17, 2011...
I am at the Veteran’s Administration Hospital in Syracuse, New York. My stepfather is lying in bed, propped up, looking ahead, at nothing in particular. Numerous intravenous tubes are feeding into his body. His left leg was amputated below the knee months ago. His remaining foot is ulcerated and infected. He can’t swallow food very well. His lungs are filling with fluid. He can barely hear, barely speak, barely see. He is totally helpless. He has been this way for some time.
The doctors and nurses and social workers have left the little room. Our emergency meeting is over. My wife, Marlene, and my youngest sister and I remain. They are looking at me, and they are looking at my father. The door is closed. There is silence in the room.
Marlene and I thought we had been summoned to the hospital to discuss the plans for finally bring my father back to his home. A wheel chair ramp is in place, a hospital bed, a Hoyer lift, all of it unused. But, instead, they called us to this place to tell us there is nothing more they can do for him, except amputate the remaining leg and put a feeding tube in his stomach.
I have to talk to him. I have to make things clear to him. He needs to understand his options. He needs to make his desires clear to us.
After a few moments I position my face down near his. I look at him directly. He looks at me. His eyes are blue and open wide but languid. I say to him...
“It doesn’t look good.”
I pause, considering my words briefly. I say it again, slow and clear: “It doesn’t look good, Dad. The infection is into the bone. Your lungs are filling up.”
I continue. I ask the questions. We wait, straining to hear what he will say. He speaks with great effort... “No.” He doesn’t want any more medical procedures.
I am not prepared for this exchange on this day. I feel flushed. Waves of hot emotion smash into the hard, icy detachment I have maintained for so long.
I collect my composure. I get up close to his ear, my hand on his arm, and speak four words that I have not spoken to him since I was a little boy: “I love you, Dad.”
Marlene and I left the hospital a short while later. We were emotionally drained. Before we were out of the parking garage, the IV tubes were disconnected from his body. He had entered the palliative care stage of his life.
He died seven days later, at 79 years of age.
I don’t suppose it is easy to step into the role of father to another man’s son, especially as the boy, angry and disappointed because he is detached from his “real” father, grows to resent you.
Our relationship became strained as I entered the teen years, But it was never as difficult as it might have been, primarily because of my mother. We both loved her. I did not wish to hurt my mother and I'm sure he did not either. My mother was the glue that held us together.
So my teenage rebellion towards my father was subdued and tempered by an overriding sense of responsibility on my part, coupled, I’m sure, with forgiveness on his part. We were never estranged; we were always there to help each other through the years, but we were not emotionally close. That is a sad and regrettable testimony.
I know now, and I have known for years, that Dick Murphy was probably a better father to me than my birth father would have been. He had his flaws, like all men, but they do not come to my mind like they once did. Instead, I see and understand that he was a model of integrity and responsible manhood to me, and I am thankful for that influence in my life.
He was a hard worker. He was a selfless man who loved and provided for his family to the best of his ability. If he had any bad habits, I don’t know what they were. I’m sure he must have had incidents of anger, but I do not remember him getting angry. He was a man who wanted to do the right thing, to take the moral high ground. That is what I saw in him.
He taught me how to do pushups the right way—the way Marines do pushups. He told me that doing pushups was one of the best ways to get strong and stay strong. So I did a lot of pushups when I was a kid. And I got strong.
One day, when I was 15 years old, and our family had recently moved out of suburbia to the countryside, I was in a new school, and I was arm wrestling with some guys in my class. I remember a big farm boy asked me: “How did you get so strong?” I replied: “Pushups.”
My father had been a Boy Scout. He encouraged me to get involved in Scouts and I did, starting as a Cub Scout. I didn’t go far in scouting. I never got a single merit badge. But it was all a good experience and he was involved to some degree with all of that.
He collected stamps as a boy and gave me his stamp collection. For several years of my boyhood I was a serious stamp collector. He collected coins from a young age and my interest in coins comes from his influence.
When I see a butterfly, I think of my dad. I remember him making a butterfly net when I was a kid. We went butterfly hunting and he showed me how to mount them with pins, like he had done as a boy. I think it is safe to say that, like most fathers, he relived his childhood to some extent through me as I was growing up.
My dad had a lot of hand tools that had belonged to his father. He was not real skilled at using them but we once made a two-step stool together in our basement in the suburbs. The stool was for me, so I could step up and see myself better in the mirror over the bathroom sink. With his guidance, I painted it yellow. In retrospect, it was crude but it served the purpose, and I remember it fondly.
When we moved to the country, we heated our old farmhouse with two woodstoves. He and I cut firewood together out in the wooded swamp behind the house. So I learned about using chainsaws and cutting trees down from him. Maybe, though, we learned together, because I don’t think he had cut firewood before. We bucked the wood into lengths that we could carry on our shoulders, and walked them along narrow trails out of the woods. It was hard work, but it was necessary work, and it was good work, and we did it together.
When I was maybe 12 years old, and feeling sorry for myself because Dick was my stepfather instead of my “real” father, my mother’s sister, Aunt Jean, who happened to be visiting us at the time, told me a story about Dick, and I remember that it made me cry.
He had two sons from his first marriage. I knew that. I had met them once, before my parents married. Their names were Richard and David. One was my age. One was a year younger.
My father had named his firstborn son after himself, and his second son was named after David, his older brother (by two years), who had died suddenly and unexpectedly at 20 years of age, while in college.
My father's brother was a musical prodigy; the shining star of the family. I can only imagine how devastating David Murphy's death in 1949 must have been to his parents.
My Aunt Jean told me that when Dick and my mother were married, a minister who he respected had counseled him to leave his sons, to have nothing to do with them, to focus on being a father to me and on starting a new family. And that is what he did.
He left his own boys to be my father. He never saw them again. Their mother remarried and they took another man's name.
Dick never spoke of his sons to me. My mother mentioned them a couple of times later in her life. I sensed that their loss was a tremendous regret in his life. How could it not be?
Life never turns out the way you think it will.
I had everything figured out years ago. Dick would die first because he had been sick with one illness or another for years. My mother, who had hardly been sick a day in her life, would live to a ripe old age. Marlene and I would get a bigger house and she would have a place to stay with us. I suppose that Dick thought the same—that his wife, the incredible caregiver she was, would always be there for him. But it was not to be.
Cancer came, out of the blue, and my mother was gone within a year. She refused all medical-establishment help right from the beginning. That was some eight years ago. Dick was devastated. My mother’s death was the beginning of the end for him. The next eight years were a long, brutal, agonizing, ugly, hellish decline. Some people are allotted a fast and relatively easy death while others, like Dick Murphy, must meet their demise little by slow. That is the way diabetes works.
Marlene spent countless hours caring for him. There were so many trips to doctor appointments, dressings on his foot to change, food to take up to him, visits to the hospital and rehab. Oh my God. I have been blessed with such a dear woman for a wife!
And then, for the last three years, his daughter, my sister, Tammy, came home from her wayward roving and helped to care for her father. She was able to take much of the load off of Marlene. She was truly a devoted and caring daughter. My other sister, a single mother with four children, living in another state, struggling to make ends meet, was unable to be there for her father as she would liked to have been.
Many of you reading this have faced a similar situation with a sick parent. It’s hard.
As a young boy I was always concerned about my parent’s finances. They struggled with money problems pretty much all their married life. It wasn’t that they squandered money. I never saw that. My parents rarely treated themselves to anything extravagant. It was just that money was always tight. As a result, I grew up careful with my own finances, loathing credit cards and debt of any kind.
It didn’t help that Dick had suffered so many setbacks in his health beginning in his early 40’s. It began with the gall bladder surgery that nearly killed him. He went to the hospital healthy as a horse (at least he looked that way on the outside) and came home many days later, so weak that my mother had to help him from the car, up the stairs into the little ranch house.
In time, he bounced back, only to be knocked down a few years later with another health related setback. That was the way it went for the rest of his life, and money was always tight.
It is worth noting that my mother never worked a job until later in life, after we kids were grown. She could have worked (she worked before they were married) to help with the finances but that didn’t happen. I believe it was important to both of my parents that my mother be home for her family, and she always was.
I was ashamed of our financial hardships as a boy, thinking how much better I would be if I was with my birth father, a successful orthopedic surgeon in Maine. But I was a selfish child. The truth is, I and my sisters never lacked the important things in life. Our father and mother both loved us and sacrificed and worked very hard to provide for our needs. We were blessed to have such parents.
In the end, my father was faced with the need to go on Medicaid because he had no money to pay for rehab care after his leg was amputated. There was no money beyond the monthly Social Security check. No retirement plan. No pension. No insurance. No nothing, except an aged car and a home.
He had paid off the 30-year mortgage on the old farm house and 24 acres of land a few years before my mother died. It was a great achievement for them to be debt-free. It was their hope that the home would be an asset that would help my mother after he passed on.
But, as I’ve noted, life doesn’t go according to our plans. My father never imagined that he would lose the house. He thought the Veteran’s Administration Hospital would take care of all his medical care right to the end. Well, surprise... they didn’t.
Marlene and I bought his home and land. We bought it because we could afford to. God had provided us with enough money to do it. He provided through a moderately successful book I had written— a book about how to build a chicken plucker. Yeah, a chicken plucker. We never could have done it otherwise. Pretty crazy, eh?
Thus it was, by God's provision, that my father would not have to suffer the indignity of losing his home, and he would have a place to come home to when he got better. But he never did.
Now, in the aftermath of his life, my father’s estate consists of the furniture and personal effects that are in his house. Nothing more. And I am tasked with the responsibility of trying to sell what I can so my sisters can get some small inheritance. It is a sad task.
I have one more story that needs to be told....
Prior to the fall of 2009, my father had done nothing to prepare for his end of life. There was no will. I did not feel I could talk to him about it. Truth be told, he could be a curmudgeon at times.
I figured I would have to settle his estate the hard way once he was gone. This was before the Medicaid situation came into the picture. But then an angel came into our lives. His name was Stan.
Stan and my father had been the best of friends growing up in Springfield. All I knew about Stan Kusiak was that he sent a Christmas card to my parents every year.
But in August of 2009 I met him. He drove here to central New York from his home in Massachusetts. Though not in the best of health himself, Stan had come on a mission. He felt a strong conviction that he must help his old friend, my father, get a will and put his affairs in order.
Stan worked with my dad to find all the important papers. He took pictures of everything (including the picture of my dad sitting on the porch of his home that is shown above). He located the best elder-law attorney in the area, and he paid the bill. He contacted the funeral home and got that process going. He contacted the cemetery. He left no stone unturned. Stan happens to be one of the most organized and thorough people I have ever met.
Stan told me later that he was the only person in the world who could have gotten Dick to do these things—that my father never would have done them otherwise. Then he told me something that really touched my heart...
When Stan was a boy, he didn’t have the best family situation. But Dick’s mother and father treated him like a son, like he was a part of their family. The influence of Dick’s parents made a tremendous difference in Stan's life; he was a better person because of it. That’s the gist of what he told me.
And when Dick’s father, Earl Murphy, lay in the hospital, dying of cancer back in 1958, Stan went to visit him. In the course of their conversation, Earl asked Stan to keep an eye on Dick.
Stan didn’t feel like he had kept an eye on Dick in the ensuing years, but he made up for any shortcomings in the end. It was out of respect and appreciation for Earl Murphy, and his lifelong friendship with my dad, that Stan felt a strong compulsion to do what he did.
I thank God for Stan Kusiak.
|Dick Murphy and Stan Kusiak in August of 2009|
This month’s blog installment has been out of the ordinary for me. I have told you very personal details of my life and my family. I felt compelled to do this because, for one thing, I find catharsis in writing and sharing these things and, for another, I want to honor the memory of a decent man, my father, Richard C. Murphy.
You can read my father’s obituary at THIS LINK
Life Goes On
|Marlene took this picture of a young robin in our raspberries this month. It is about to leave the nest.|
This is the second month of my self-imposed five-month summer sabbatical from blogging, but you'd never know, would you?
As I am sitting here in the living room of my house, typing on my computer, there are 50,000 poultry shrink bags in boxes, stacked over four feet high and ten feet long right next to me. They are the next chapter in our Planet Whizbang home business. You can learn more at www.PoultryShrinkBags.com
|We are now selling poultry shrink bags like shown here. You can see a complete photo-tutorial about how to use these bags at This Link|
Pictures From Our Garden
Pictures From Our Garden
|This is part of the garden in early June|
|We love beet greens!|
|I've been experimenting with some homemade solar cones this year.|
|Here are the melon plants with the solar cone removed. They are perfectly healthy, perfectly beautiful, and ready to really take off.|
I hope you have been reading my twice-a-week postings at Agrarian Nation. If not, here are links to the June excerpts: