Friday, February 12, 2010

Remembering my Father

Sometimes I find it difficult to write on this blog. Forgive me if I sound trife at times. This is all so new to me. Frankly, I am a bit scared with all of this. My new venture, my new life, my new passion. I was always one to not take too many chances. I calculated my every move. I did what was "right" and expected of me. I want to succeed at this. Gain your confidence and respect in all that I do. For all of my life, it was my father whose approval I sought. A year ago this month, he left this world. Without him, I have felt lost. Without him, I feel that I have lost that pilar of strength that used to guide me when things did not look so clear. I wonder what he would say if he knew I left the safety of my legal profession to follow my bliss? He would not have approved. I know. He was the one who convinced me to give up art in college and pursue a more "lucrative" career. But now, now that he has gone through the experience of life and death, will he still feel the same? Would he tell me to seize the day because he himself now realizes how short it all was?

Just before he died, I held his hand and told him how much I loved him -- something that because of our huge generation gap and distant relationship, we never truly voiced out loud. He looked angrily at me, but not in a "I can't believe you said that" way, but rather in a "you don't have to say that because I always knew" way. He was blind at the end but he took my hand and said, "I know!" and patted my hand.

Oh, how I miss him!!!!! Forgive me for being so silly and emotional. He was in the hospital for two weeks during this whole Mardi Gras festivity last year. It was the end for him and we all knew it. On Mardi Gras day last year (which fell on February 24), he turned 89. Knowing him, he hung on to show all of us he could do it. He died the next day while the entire city celebrated something distant to us.

So if I have been boring or down on this whole Mardi Gras, partying thing, is because I'm still grieving and now more than ever as I am reminded of losing someone I loved so dear.

My father and mother were/are (because my mother is still alive) the most amazing, strongest, most passionate people I have ever known. His death left a huge void in all of our lives. There is not one day that I don't talk to him -- in the shower, as I brush my teeth or put my kids to bed. He is more alive to me now than he was then. But still, I wish I could hold him just once more.

I started to write a book in the weeks after he died but could never finish the first chapter as it was too painful to do so. Every day, when I'm alone in my shop, I take the pen up again. I want him to know how much he meant to me and I want the world to know who he was.

I don't know who each and every one of you who reads this blog is, but if I may, for his sake, I would like to share that unfinished chapter with you. This new venture of mine is as much his as it is mine. His death made me want to live to the fullest and I think he would have wanted me to. So, Papa, I am remembering you today and every day.

Here goes:

Chapter 1

Something yanked me out of my comatosed sleep. Something was ringing. I instinctively picked up the alarm clock and moved the on and off switch several times. But the annoying ringing kept going and I couldn’t make it stop. Forced out of the blissful ignorance of my sleep, I realized that it wasn’t the alarm going off but the phone that kept ringing. Now, fully aware, my heart sank. The dreaded call at what I saw was just before 2 a.m. I had survived through many of those calls unscathed, but I always dreaded them. A call at that hour of the night could bring nothing but bad news. And this time, I knew. This time it would not be an inadvertent wrong number or a prank call or even one of those collect calls from some unknown person in prison. This time it was the real thing. This time it was the call that I never wanted to get. But it was here -- the call that would end the dreaded anticipation of any other further calls in the middle of the night.

I picked up the phone. It was Glenda – the youngest of my siblings and the one who always got the first call. I couldn’t get my voice to work – my heart was beating in my throat. “Mom just called,” she said with a cracked voice. “The nurse said he is taking his last breaths.” I knew this moment had to come eventually but I wasn’t yet ready for it. I would never be ready for it. How do they know this time? How can they be sure? He had beat so many odds in life. He had challenged life so many times before. He had stared death in the face and always beat it -- for us, for Dorita, for the only people that mattered to him. He had spent a lifetime fighting for his family. He was invincible. He was immortal. The thought of him not being there – here, alive, whether for better or for worse -- just didn’t factor into the equation. “Are they sure?” I asked as if challenging the inevitable.
“Yeah,” she said softly.
“I’m on my way.” And then, as if it needed reminding, “Did you call the others?”
She had. Of course, she had. All for one and one for all.

I slipped on the same sweat pants and sweat shirt that I had tossed on the bedroom floor just a few hours earlier when I had returned from yet another full day of vigil at the hospital. Ironically, it was the same set of sweat pants and sweat shirt that I had come to wear for every momentous occasion in the last couple of years – the birth of my two children, the last minute evacuation from Katrina, the emergency room visits in the middle of the night for my father which had become more frequent in the last months. There was something so comforting and so predictable about those gray, worn out sweat pants and sweat shirt. They even had paint stains from a hideous, obnoxious yellow that I had made AJ paint our first born Liam’s nursery and then made him paint over the very next day. They were part of my history and with each stain, each tear, a new memory was carved.

AJ and the kids were long since asleep. As I was walking out the bedroom door, AJ opened his eyes. I looked at him and gave him the all-telling look. “I’ve got to go. Glenda just called.” He knew as I did.

Everything was dark outside. Was it my imagination or did it seem darker tonight? My hands were sweating as I grabbed the steering wheel. Thank God we were back in New Orleans instead of an hour and a half away as we had been for the past 3 years since Katrina changed our address and our lives. Katrina took everything – well, maybe not everything. It had left our family, our entire family, intact -- but that too was about to change now.

My eyes were burning from tears that would not come. I had cried so much the past few days that my eyes seemed to have run empty. The streets were deserted as I sped down Causeway Blvd. towards Ochsner Hospital. Only 8 minutes had passed since I got the call and less than 5 remained before I’d reach the hospital.

Suddenly, I heard his voice. His calm and soothing voice, “Now, remind me, how does it go? You know it, hija. How does it go?” He started reciting, “All creatures great and small, all things wise and wonderful…or is that all things bright and beautiful? No, wait, All things Bright and Beautiful and then all creatures great and small? Or is that backwards? Tell it to me. How does it go?”

“Be quiet. I can’t think,” I told myself. How can you be thinking of that stupid poem at a time like this? But his voice kept going and going and I couldn’t make it stop.

“You remember that poem, hija, don’t you?” his voice continued. Of course I did. How could I not? Afterall, it was that poem and the books by James Herriot that inspired Marcelo to become a veterinarian. All of us had read each and every one of those books and watched the BBC television series. All of us had loved the James Herriot stories and wanted to be country vets when we grew up or at least have a dozen animals in our house. Most of us ended up having a dozen animals in our house, but only Marcelo became the vet … and he, I believe, was and still is the happiest.

“Allright, Allright. Let me think,” I cried in an attempt to quiet the voice. “I think it’s All Creatures Great and Small … All Things Bright and Beautiful … No, wait, I got it wrong. Damn, how DOES it go?” I became more and more frustrated with myself as my brain would not engage.

My cell phone rang. Damn, can’t she just wait until I get there? I’m almost there, for God’s sake! No patience, I tell you. But then again, who had patience in our family? Not me, that’s for sure. Hell, my patience these days came from 10 mg of Lexapro each night.
“I’m almost there!” I yelled into the phone.

“Ok,” I heard Glenda say softly and then she paused as if she wanted to tell me something but hesitated. But something changed her mind and she did go on. “He’s gone. You don’t have to hurry to get here. He’s gone.”

“No!” I cried. No, he can’t be. “Just wait, Goddamit! I’m almost there!” and hung up. That’s right. Ignore her. That will change things. I sped through a red light. I’m almost there. I’m almost there.

The parking lot was empty. I found a spot right infront of the Second Floor entrance that connected to the hospital. I ran. I ran as fast as I could, skipping steps down the stairs, and running through the empty corridors. Thank God I wasn’t like mom who, in every crisis situation, insisted on wearing the most uncomfortable, the most impractical, but the most decadent pair of high heeled shoes she could find.

I had run through these same halls, wearing these same sweat pants and these same damn tennis shoes twice before in the past 5 years. The first was when I had Liam. I was new at the child bearing thing and I had visions of a wheel chair comfortably transporting me through these halls. But the wheel chairs were non existent and had I waited for one to become available or for AJ to find one, Liam would have been born in the lobby of the hospital. So I ran. I ran down those long halls to the elevators in between labor pains. When the labor pains came upon me, I would stop and curl over in pain. And then, once they went away, I would straighten up and run again.

By the time Roma came along, I was a pro. So I started off running from the start with AJ trailing behind. It was obvious he did not have any great motivation to run to Labor and Delivery like I had.

This time, however, life did not await at the other end of the hall and the pain in my gut was not from labor pains. There was nothing exciting about this time.

I got to the elevators and hit the button. The doors opened right up as if they had been waiting for my arrival. I hit the number 3 button. “Come on, come on, move!”

It seemed like eternity before the doors opened again and then I took off running again, past the Visitor’s Garden where we had spent many a night the past 2 weeks crying, laughing, shouting, sleeping, eating, consoling, reminiscing, accepting…

As I sped by the nurses’ station, two chatting nurses stopped upon seeing me and gave me grave, sympathetic looks. I don’t want your sympathy! I want you to keep talking as if nothing happened! Tears started rolling down my eyes as their looks confirmed what I already knew but just didn’t want to believe. Just a few more steps….

I ran into my father’s room and stopped dead on my tracks. There he was. Lifeless. Just lifeless on the bed. The tremendous life energy just gone from what had been such a strong, relentless body. “NO!” I shouted.
“I didn’t get here in time. I didn’t get here in time!” I turned for support to my mother who sat next to my father, sobbing either in disbelief or in real pain, I couldn’t tell. But she offered nothing but her own suffering. So I threw my arms around the man who knew me better than I knew myself. The man who sat by my hospital bed when I broke my arm on my first day of kindergarten. The man who never refused to take my hand and, in fact, insisted on it, when my own insecurities and anxiety made my palms sweat profusely. The man who had struggled all of his life so that all of us could have a better one. I hugged him and I wanted him to hug me back. I so wanted him to hug me back, but he was no longer there. His body was just a shell. He was cold. He was so cold and I tried with my arms to warm him so that he would wake up. But he wouldn’t wake up and there was nothing I could do. For once, there was absolutely nothing that I could do. I was sobbing like a child and the pain I felt was suffocating. This could not be happening. He can’t be dead. It was a pain that kept getting stronger as the realization of his loss kept forcing its way into my reality.

I noticed Glenda standing on the other side of the bed next to him. Her face also swollen with grief. And then Vanesa. I barely notice her walk over to the bed. She had been the strong one throughout all this. But the reality of it finally set it and she too sobbed. She half smiled in between tears and said, “You know, I kept hearing his voice all the way here. You know Dad. He kept asking me, ‘Did you check your tires? When was the last time you checked your tires? And the brakes? Have you checked your brakes?’” I manage to actually chuckle amidst my crying, all of us being all too familiar with the “Have you checked your tires?” drill of my father’s. His thing was, your car could break down at any time, any where and chances were, you’d be okay, just stuck in a bad place and inconvenienced. But if your tires blew out, chances were that you’d crash and may not be okay. And that to him was unimaginable. So every Sunday, we checked our tires and every Sunday, he asked if we had.

I looked over to the bed again. I just couldn’t believe that he was gone from us – that someone so strong, so dominant, so much a part of our daily lives, our existence, our universe, our being, could no longer be alive, breathing, telling us what to do. And as I stared in disbelief, it came to me like a prayer, “All Things Bright and Beautiful, All Creatures Great and Small, All Things Wise and Wonderful… The Lord God Made them All.”

As if on cue, I felt Marcelo’s presence behind me. He was somber, almost expressionless, already all-too familiar with the reality and finality of death, albeit of animals and never his own father’s.

Still, I saw his jaw tighten and his eyes well up as he saw the motionless figure of dad. He was fighting it as if it strength of emotion was expected of him. Instinctively, I went up to him and hugged him, something that as brother and sister we never did. And I felt his muscles relax as he hugged back and sobbed.

Okay, deep breath, we can get through this, I told myself as I straightened my shoulders and wiped my tears. “Now what?” I asked. It seemed like a callous question to ask considering the circumstances but I felt as if we needed to do something, to take action. We needed to keep moving forward like my dad always did.

“I guess we clean up,” Vanesa suggested. Cleaning up had always been our family’s answer to any crisis. We cleaned. Everything was always handled better when things were cleaned and organized. So, like in every other crisis in our lives, we all went through the process of tidying up the hospital room from the domestic and medical clutter of two weeks’ worth of round the clock vigilance. Cleaning involved mostly the throwing away of all evidence of what had transpired during those two weeks—unused catheters, bloodied suction sticks, creams, lotions, diapers, spitting buckets.

When we came to my father’s clothes – the clothes he had come in to the hospital with and expected to leave with – we paused. “Just leave them,” my mother said quietly. One by one we walked out of the room. I was the last. I looked back and I rested my eyes on my father. He was finally sleeping peacefully -- no more pain, no more blindness, no more suffering. And although it was against everything I felt at that moment, I turned off the lights and closed the door behind me.

We walked in silence down the long hallway, down the elevator and through the hospital lobby. We looked like wounded soldiers going home after a long, losing battle. My mother was leading, as she had had to do many other times in our lives. And we, the four children, followed in unison like we always had. Together always. And as I took in the view from the rear of the troops, I realized that this was the same exact scene of 30 years earlier when we first arrived in America from our home country of Argentina. My mother leading through Miami Customs, venturing into an unknown and unfamiliar new world, with us children, tired, scared, silent, following behind. But this time, my father would not be waiting for us on the other side of the Customs’ doors ready to take us to the home he had prepared ahead of us in New Orleans. This time, we would have to keep walking together alone for a long time without him.

I wiped the tears from my eyes and looked up again to my brother and sisters and mother as they walked ahead of me, their heads down ... and then, something happened -- a powerful and unexpected feeling overcame me. And I felt our father walking with us. I felt him! I truly felt him! He was there! He was with us – guiding us as he always had. And as his presence uplifted me from the sadness of the moment, I wiped the tears away. We had not left him behind in that dark hospital room! He was with us, now and forever, in each of us, in the family he had so much loved and fought for. He had gone ahead of us, as he always did when we moved countries, to prepare the way for us. And he would remain with us as we had with him. This family would survive and get through this like we had with so many other challenges in our history together. Afterall, we were each others best friends, worst critics, faithful guardians, loyal advocates, and life-long companions.

We would keep marching to our own drum, like he taught us to do, and we would be a testament to who he was and had been.

My father once said that life began for him when he met my mother. They lived hard, they fought hard, and they loved hard. And we were a testament to who they were and what they lived for.

My beloved father, Mario Raul Gentinetta, 2/24/1920-2/26/2009


  1. Dear Karina,

    As I'm spending this Firday night counting down the minutes till I leave for the airport I decided to check in on the blogs so I found yours. :-)

    I just read your story about your Father. I'm sobbing. You have grabbed my heart and placed it right there. Family is SO important to me, I relate beyond 100% with your fears, hopes, wishes and thoughts. You have done an amazing job letting the world, whoever reads this, to know how special he was and still is as he remains in your heart forever.

    I bet he's proud that you're following your bliss, you'll surprise yourself and him. Just know you have given so much to the world by pouring out your heart and the world will only give back.

    In your first chapter, I admire your humble tone, sincere thoughts and how you expressed loosing someone make some sense. I didn't know that was possible.

    I'm so sorry he's no longer here. Keep Flying~~

    Thanks for filling my cup tonight. This post is larger than life..


  2. Noel, thank you so much. I felt silly putting it out there, but I felt I needed to. I feel he is out there somewhere and I wish I could reach for him. You have a safe flight and thank you for acknowledging my fears and making them feel okay.


  3. Karina -

    I am also crying reading this post. Your father and his presence, remind me so much of my own and how, no matter how frequently I consider his death [he is 80] I can't imagine our family without him. It was a seriously brave and honest thing for you to do and I think, he would be so proud. You have such a sense of solid gratitude for what you have and where you are; I can't imagine him feeling otherwise.


  4. Kate, just try to spend as much time you can with him while you still have him. I wish I had those moments again. Believe me, I wish I did. Thanks for being there.


  5. Karina - I'm sobbing too. I knew bits and pieces about this but to see it all in front of me in your voice makes me understand. He is a huge part of who you are and I know he would be so proud of your new passion and direction. You should finish that book.


  6. Dear Karina,
    Thank you for sharing this moving tribute of your father. Your writing conveys your love for him and he would be so proud of you and your accomplishments. I know firsthand the heartbreak of losing both of my dear parents - you are never the same, but you can be at peace to know they are in Heaven and one day you'll will be reunited!
    Please continue with your book, it is good for you and everyone who reads your beautiful words will be reminded not to waste a single second with those we love.
    Happy Valentine's week-end for you and your family!

  7. How could a Father not be proud of a daughter like you. Your love, your passion and your creativity shine through and your Father would have to be proud that you have chosen the beat of your own drum as we all must. As I also wipe away the tears and sit here with memories of my own Father I realise that I am very glad I chose to follow you. Thank you for sharing

  8. This is such a beautifully moving piece of life and art mixed together and I'm honored to have read it. You have such courage to share your poignant and very personal experience. I too sometimes have a hard time deciding how much of myself to share on my own blog or in my everyday life...I tend to hold people at a distance while trying very hard to win their approval. I understand the need to calculate every move, trying my very best to always do my best, to not disappoint. My father has always tried to gently dissuade me from the "impractical" creative career and I sometimes wonder if he's disappointed in me. But having the strength of character to follow your own dreams and convictions is the most important thing in life; you clearly have that strength and I'm sure your father would be very proud of his daughter as she pursues an extraordinary life.

  9. Hope Ava, thank you. I'm glad you are one of my "groupies."

  10. Karina, I came over to your blog from Bonjour Madame's, just before I sat down to do my own writing.

    You have moved me to tears. I felt as if I was there with you in the hospital room as you sobbed, holding your hand as you were walking away from the hospital. You are strong and he would be so proud of you and your achievements.

    Thank you for letting us into your world and into your Bright and Beautiful, but aching heart. Keep writing.


  11. Oh Karina I just know your father is looking down from heaven and beaming with his love and pride for you. He's probably thinking to himself "This is why I became a father" You've done him proud! What a blessed family you are to all have each other......And I'm still crying...... Vanna

  12. I'm speechless. Me enternecio esta historia. I have no idea what I'd do without my father. And now I'm crying.


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