Regardless of how bad things became, Dan was an amazing person. Intermixed within the struggles and therapy, were 18 years of love and happy times. He had a strong love of family, even though he avoided family gatherings like the plague. He would give the shirt off his back to anyone in need. He was a respected Paramedic who was exceptionally good at his job, that he loved. He was supervisor and a preceptor and there are many Medics out there whose skill can be attributed to his teachings. He was good at pretty much anything he set his sights on, all facets of construction including plumbing and electric. He fixed our cars on his own by buying manuals, he could fix almost every computer problem, and the list goes on. He would however, refuse to teach me anything, often stating that “it was mans work”, and if I could do it myself, “I wouldn’t need him for anything but killing spiders and cleaning up dog puke”.
Of course I would rebuke these claims (except the spiders and dog puke), always telling him I thought it better that I wanted him, instead of needed him. Although, as my current therapist has suggested, I guess men do need to be needed. I had just allowed myself to become overly independent, swearing I would never ‘need’ someone. The catch on this is, my independence is the very thing that most attracted him to me in the first place… and the very thing he hated in the end.
Aside from his professional life, Dan was very much a large child at home in most aspects. He and my boys formed very strong bonds, something they didn’t have with their father. Even when teaching them “how to be men”, building things, working on their vehicles, how to properly shake hands… All the big and the little things, he always made it fun. When his emotional fears and self-loathing were under control, he was very laid back. You could never count on him to be on time, for anything. He stressed over very little, where I on the other hand would then stress about everything. I hated being late.
He would quote every movie he ever loved and his choices in genre were but two: anything History (favorite Apollo 13), and comedy (favorite Joe Dirt). He consistently watched the History and Discovery channels and he loved reading books. He also loved animals. We never had any less than 3 dogs. A stray cat that he took in one winter that had a bad leg, so he took it to the vet. $10 to put the cat down, $100 to remove the leg. We ended up with a permanently indoor cat he aptly named Lucky. His dad told him he was crazy, he’d get him a 100 cats for 100 dollars, but I think Dan felt a little ‘kinship’ to Lucky. He even talked me into a potbelly pig. He kept saying he just wanted a cute little pink pig that would watch TV with him. What she ended up being was a 200 pound black pig that never shut up. For two years she followed him around everywhere and then one day she went after our 2 year old granddaughter for no reason. Things seemed to be okay, maybe she had just startled her. The next month, she started attacking the dogs, and once again went after our little girl. He felt bad, but we could no longer keep her, she became mean and aggressive. That is a mistake I will never make again.
One of our greatest passions was riding the Harley, alone or with a group. We put so many miles on over the years, and made some great friends. When I first met Dan he had a Suzuki, and one weekend I had plans to go on a ride with friends, who had Harleys. He went and traded up, on his own, and showed up with our first Harley. We’d go on bike runs, toy drives, the polar bear run on January 1st, Easy Rider rodeo’s, you name it. We had fun. He always loved to be the center of attention, and could tell a good story in any situation. There were plenty of stories to be had.
7 years later and it all began to end when the doctors wanted to take his knee. He refused, but he couldn’t work anymore, or ride the bike without significant pain. Six months and a couple more surgeries, he was now eligible for disability. He was spiraling into depression. It was about this time that he would make derogatory comments about God… he believed more in science. Although he was brought up Catholic, we never really chose to go to church. Religion was a struggle for him, but it broke my heart when he would say he no longer ‘believed’.
By the end of that summer, my parents had been showing some significant decline in their health and ability to manage on their own. My dad had stopped driving the year before and my mom was getting forgetful enough that she lost her wallet 3 times in 3 months. It was becoming more and more difficult to run two households. It was time. We remodeled a few rooms in our house and they moved in in August of ’06. It was very difficult (for my mom and me mostly) the first 6 months, as usual nothing was quite right or good enough, but I finally sat her down and told her she could go to a home if that’s what she wanted, but dad would have to stay with me because there wasn’t enough money for both of them. The next day she apologized and things began to improve. (Thank God for Seroquel) Suddenly Dan had purpose again, and for two years we cared for them together. My mom had always wanted us to be married so on Feb 14, 2009 we finally made it official, in Las Vegas, by Elvis just as Dan wanted. My mom died in April that same year, my dad followed in July saying ‘his girl was gone’. That was hard.
Before my parents moved in, I was getting a lot of resistance from my oldest brother. He was never my biggest fan right from the beginning, and at times could be quite the bully. When it came to my parents I easily spoke up in defense, especially for my dad, who my brother seemed to dislike for as long as I can remember. But, when it came to myself, I’d shrink to avoid confrontation.. but he wasn’t planning to care for them, they couldn’t afford a home, so I was it. My sister had sadly died a few years prior from cancer, I was crushed as she was more my mother growing up, but here we were. I remember one particularly awful morning after a long night of no sleep over the bickering, on my way to work as I was trying to merge onto the interstate, bawling and asking God to please tell me I’m doing the right thing. Traffic was unusually busy at that time, and as I finally was able to merge a tractor trailer almost cut me off moving over in front of me, going at least 20mph under the speed limit. The traffic continued to be excessive and I couldn’t get around him. Getting more frustrated, and still crying, I finally looked up and focused on the back of the truck where there was a sign that said… “discouragement is Satan’s path to destruction, be patient and have faith.”. I felt instantly calm. This isn’t the first time God has shown me his presence, or the last, but it was certainly one of the most profound as it was almost instant. Within two weeks, there was no more resistance, and everything went as planned.
With my parents gone, Dan’s depression resurfaced. He again felt he had no purpose. His boss had become a good friend of his, and called us up in September with an offer that he initially refused, but I was all for. In hind sight you’ll find I question that decision now, but that’s for another day. A small personal care home needed someone to take over as the owners health were failing and they couldn’t keep up with it. It would be a management/purchase agreement. Agreements were made, paperwork was signed, and we took over. Dan could guide me on handling staff, as I had never done this before, and more than that, he could do what he loved. Sitting and talking to the residents, getting their stories from the war, or the depression, or whatever vast knowledge 80+ years they had to tell. They all loved him so much, and he loved them. He was smiling again. He learned the workings of everything mechanical and taught the boys how to manage things. We had hope again… for now