My Father—The Zombie

[Update: Carl Krueger, born 07-01-1929, died 10-13-2015]

A Memorial to a Man Who is Not Quite Dead Yet

(Warning: inappropriate humor follows. And tears. But mostly badly expressed grief.)

Writing an obituary is a soul-grinding task. Trying to boil a person down to facts and enumerate their import after they are gone is doomed from the start. It is impossible to purely reflect an image—even with the most highly polished mirror. Call it the Hubble effect, if you will. You can use all the technological expertise teams of scientists can provide to accurately reflect the way the universe looks, but a measuring error will leave you with a fuzzy, indistinct picture.  Keep this in mind when you read about my father—the reflection comes from an inexact mirror. It turns out, writing this while he is still living isn’t any easier.

Born to Adolf (Chi) Krueger and Laura G. (which stands for nothing or Geraldine--depending on who you believe) Draper (VanDenBosch--which is another long story and involves divorce, abandonment issues and adoption). My father was born July 1, 1929. It was the end of the depression, but cameras were scarce. Enjoy what little I have of him from that era.
My father was born July 1, 1929 to Adolf (Chi) Krueger and Laura G. (which stands for nothing or Geraldine–depending on who you believe) Draper (VandenBosch–which is another long story and involves divorce, abandonment issues, and adoption). In this photo, my Dad would be about 10 years old. Pictured: Chi, Carl, Baby Hale, and Laura Krueger.  The dog is not mentioned.

In our phone conversations from his deathbed in a hospice house out of state, I have come to realize my father is already leaving me. He tires past the first two sentences. There are long pauses and moments of silence where I am unsure whether he has fallen asleep or died mid-sentence. It is funny, in a macabre sort of way, to find oneself saying, “Dad? Did you die on me?” And then wait for a reply. When it comes, haggard and incoherent, I am overcome by a mishmash of emotions: relief that he is still here and anguish that he is already gone.

Devilish Good Looks Run in the Family.
Devilish Good Looks Run in the Family. [Froebel Elementary – 6th Grade 1941
I’ve been trying to make the most of our final conversations—to ask the big questions. “What do you want the world to know before you are gone?” Unfortunately, I should have been asking these questions before he started slipping away. And that is the painful reality of the nearly-dead. They are on their way out and what mattered to them while they were alive no longer holds significance. Today’s conversation, for example, primarily revolved around the passage of a blue bird past his window. (Apparently they are not just birds of happiness—they arrive at all kinds of emotional crossroads.)

Me:    “Dad, I wanted to know, what is the most important thing you learned in life?”

Dad: “A blue bird just flew past, from left to right outside the window.”

Me: “Oh, well, winter is coming. Maybe it is flying south for the winter?” And then I catch myself, “but, Blue Jays stay up North for the winter. So the birds down south must be different?”

Dad: [Garbled, indistinct speech including the word ‘bird’ at random spots.]

The conversation, when it is clear, drifts from how he is feeling, to whether or not he is in pain. There is a bizarre moment when a doctor comes in and dad mistakes him for the pastor. It is a surreal thing to overhear. My dad finds energy to exchange a few words. For a moment, I recognize the man I used to know. But then, he misses the joke the doctor makes about hunting up his bible for the next time he visits. The doctor is kind when he explains he was kidding—but dad has lost the train of thought and drifts away from what he was saying.

Our conversation ends shortly after this moment—talking wears him out.

Dad: “I’m feeling tired. I think I’ll say goodbye now.”

Me: “That’s okay, Dad. You rest. I love you.”

Dad: “I love you too sweetheart. You know, you are my favorite daughter.”

It’s a glimmer of our past, this old joke. (I am his only daughter.) I hang up, crying. I know one of these times is going to be the last. And all we can manage is small talk.

But that is how people talk in real life. We don’t bring up the weighty conversations about the meaning of life and what was our greatest achievement. We talk about birds and the price of gas or some other commonplace topic. It is only when we realize we are running out of time that it occurs to us there are questions left unanswered. But, by then, it is often too late.

If what we keep reflects who we are--my father valued education and his service to his country. Above - Froebel Elementary School (May 1941), Muskegon High School Diploma (June 1947), Army Private Krueger with JAG Staff (July 24, 1954). (My dad was 24 when he was drafted and immediately pulled from being shipped to serve overseas by someone from the Judge Advocate General's office who noted he had graduated from law school.)
If what we keep reflects who we are–my father valued education and his service to his country. Above – Froebel Elementary School (May 1941), Muskegon High School Diploma (June 1947), Muskegon Junior College Diploma (1949),  Army Private Krueger with JAG Staff (July 24, 1954).

I am putting together a photo logue to help me compile his life legacy.* I am posting the few that spoke to me here. This will be my memorial to my Dad. It is my way of coping with losing him before he is really gone and acknowledging that knowing him isn’t a collection of facts and dates, but recognizing his spirit whenever I trip over something that reminds me of who he was to me.

Still loved me, despite the hair cut I gave him. Aug. 2015.
Still loved me, despite the hair cut I gave him. Aug. 2015.

My father requests that we not hold a funeral for him or even to publish an obituary; he failed, however, to stipulate that parody songs not be written. This is an astonishing oversight on his part and, as a former lawyer, he should be ashamed of his lack of vision. Please enjoy my tribute to a man who taught me everything I know about being cheap and that what really matters can’t be bought for any price. This is his anthem, his fight song, if you will—feel free to sing along:

The Parsimony Power – The Ballad of Carl Krueger

(To the tune of The Wildwood Flower)

Oh I’ll shop and I’ll hunt to find a good bargain

But buying Hallmark Cards is a waste and a pain.**

I’ll squeeze a thin dime ‘til my own fingers ache.

There’s nothing that can’t be fixed with enough duct tape.

*

I will dance, I will sing, I will drink Stewball’s wine.

With vast quaffs of Squirt, wine highballs are fine.

I will ask you to find a particular song for me

But I will give you no lyrics, composer’s name, or symphony.

*

Oh, I’ve taught the importance of turning off lights

Of searching the ads to find prices just right.

If you buy me bananas, I’ll bake muffins galore

Just make sure you get them at the second-hand store.

*

I’m a man of my word—and words I have plenty.

For each word of yours, you know I’ve  got twenty.

I can argue convictions all the day long—

A palavering opera—a most contentious song.

*

So maybe you’ll miss me, and maybe you won’t.

I’ll not have a funeral, nor monument of stone.

Just scatter my ashes along the creek where I roamed.

For the woods are my temple, my refuge, my home.

Good-bye, Daddy. I love you.

Asterisk Bedazzled Macabre Footnotes:

*Obituary is such a bleak word—when I die please refer to it as “Her Glorious Death Rattle—At Last, She Gets the Final Say.”

**My father took great pleasure in being outraged at the cost of greeting cards. I would send them as a joke to him, goading him into exaggerated offense. Feel free to send them when he dies. He’d be both mortified by the expense and secretly thrill to feel superior to you in every way. In return, I will use duct tape to stick them up In Memorium.

________________________________________________________________

 

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29 thoughts on “My Father—The Zombie

  1. My mother went slowly as well.
    For me, it was easier than quick in that I was prepared when she was finally gone.
    She, of course, would have rolled her eyes and said something hilariously sarcastic.

    Here’s to your dad. He sounds like a great guy, and thank you for introducing us.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. A moving tribute indeed, and for what it’s worth, that mix of light and shade – I think you pitched it perfectly. I recognise the place you’re in, as I was in the same, many years ago. Those small talk conversations seem so out of place, and yet, one can’t talk endlessly of death or those weighty ‘life, the universe, and everything’ questions. Big cyber-hug from across the pond.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. And this is why I plan to write my own tribute and publish it at death’s door. Whether it will in fact reflect anything having to do with me besides hubris and an overinflated ego, I am not making any promises. (I get my sense of humor from my father.)

      Like

  3. WordPress seemed to have eaten my comment. I’m sorry.

    I had a longer thing to say, but the gist is that it is awing to see your family still maintain the deeper joy and humor during this time. It’s one thing for a person to say “Play ‘Another One Bites the Dust’ at my funeral!” and quite another to live it.

    My thoughts (and extra witticisms) to you in this time. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think the people of New Orleans have the right idea–giant gaudy parade down main street with exaggerated mourners and syrupy, humid jazz. And there must be a man dressed as a skeleton. If you’re going to go out–go out in a big way!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. There’s something so gentle and human about that small talk. What a great way to leave the world, marveling about simple things like a bird flying past. It must give you peace to know that’s what was on his mind instead of heavy things that burden the rest of us. With that said, I’m sorry to hear this. My dad went unexpectedly, like a lightning bolt. It’s been twelve years and I think of him every day. Hang in there. 😦

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Sadly, its when I’m losing him that I realize how many things we never talked about, and now, never will. I’m trying not to focus on that, but I’m all about the story never told. Thank you sharing in the sorrow. I wonder if there is an electronic equivalent of ‘Sitting Shiva’?

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Sometimes I think the weight of our thoughts is best carried in the “small talk”: the moments and textures of shared life.

    This is a moving tribute, favorite daughter. I would offer you something witty and sarcastic, and somehow still profound, if I could. I’m not so good at that, however, so I will send instead: compassion to you in your grieving.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. What a lovely tribute to your father, and yes, this process is surreal. I’ve always felt that the “facts and figures” of one’s life pale when compared to the legacy of love. And you are so right, how does anyone capture that completely and accurately in words. To look out the window and notice the birds is, to me, an act of presence and peace, a recognition of the beauty of the world and the great gift of our one life.
    Okay, gotta go get a tissue. My best to you and your family during this heart-rending time.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you. My father died yesterday. It was a comfort to read your words today as I updated this post. I will write something to commemorate him and, perhaps, find some closure. I appreciate the kindnesses people extend at this time, even as I feel clumsy and ill-equipped to answer it.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. That was a lovely and fitting tribute to a dad who loves you very much. That love is the greatest gift one person can give another. It leaves us with a warm memory for the rest of our lives. Saying goodbye is never easy. He lived a long and full life. That’s the best thing anyone can be remembered for. My parents and brother lived through the depession. I was taught not to waste anything. That’s a good way to live, so I understand your dad being thrifty. It’s fitting that you make an album of pictures. You’ll always treasure it. Virtual hugs, Kiri.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. So sincerely touching I nearly teared up, really! Months before my Dad died, I found myself asking him some very personal questions, when he asked me with a smile, ” What are you doing ?, digging for information before I die!?” I replied, ” Well yes , I cannot get answers after you are dead ! ” We both laughed.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I put a “like” because you managed to write such a beautiful tribute to him. He’s gone, and you will miss your favorite father. Please hang in there and it will get better by time. I know it does. Hugs

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Your dad is able to appreciate your post now, Kiri. I’m sure he got a good chuckle out of it, and also a lot of pride at the strength it took to write it. Since you say you got your sense of humor from him, he must have been so much fun, despite the frustrating habits your song describes : ) . I know going into this holiday without him is going to be heartbreaking. I send you a hug now, and another to use when you need it most.
    O O (now I can’t remember–are those kisses? Here, just to be safe: X X )

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I did read some of this to him before he passed. His response to my telling him I had a blog: “What is this internet thing you keep talking about?” He was always a card, my dad. Even when you weren’t sure he wasn’t kidding.

      Liked by 1 person

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