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OPINION

My Hero Is Gone: My Parents Are Reunited

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.
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AP Photo/Patrick Semansky

It’s a weird thing to think of yourself as an “orphan.” I’m an adult, and have children of my own, but I am and will forever be the son of Carol and Doug Hunter. We lost mom a few years ago, dad joined her Thursday morning. Orphan isn’t the right word, but it is the only word we have. All other words fall short.

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It wasn’t a surprise, my father was 82 and a half, had cancer and chose not to accept treatment. But it likely wasn’t the cancer that ultimately took him, he never started hospice and at last checked that evil hadn’t grown much. No, my father’s heart probably simply gave out.

It was never the same after my mother died of an infection after bypass surgery. Dad was sad. They’d been married 57 years, in love and affectionate through all of it. My mother’s health was never good, at least since I was 10 and she lost her leg to a circulatory disease, but it didn’t slow them down.

They were 2 high school drop-outs – him by choice, her by invitation due to her association with him (the details of which I will keep as quiet as they wanted while they were here) – who had 5 kids who all love them as dearly now as we did then. Our family lived in a 1050 square foot house with 1 bathroom until my dad installed a tiny “half bath” in the basement, and I don’t remember any fighting over someone hogging it. There were lots of fights over someone touching the thermostat, but not hogging the bathroom. 

Mom stayed home, dad worked…a lot. He got his GED to get a job driving a forklift for General Motors at Fischer Body, where he worked for 30 years. He retired at age 49, living more years retired than working. Not because he was lazy or rich, his pension was very small. He retired as soon as he reached 30 years because under the union contract if he’d continued to work and died, my mother would’ve only gotten his health benefits for 6 months. But if he retired and died, my mother would’ve gotten those benefits for the rest of her life. 

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It wasn’t like he didn’t work, that was never an option. My father worked harder and more than anyone I’ve ever known. In the summers, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday were spent working the concession stand at the local softball fields. In the winter, he drove the Zamboni at the local ice rink. This on top of Fischer Body. 

He always worked, he had to. Nothing he did paid a bunch, even the UAW job. But it was enough. We’d go camping in Mio, Michigan, in the summer for $1 per day for the lot. We had no idea we didn’t have a lot of money because we laughed all the time. My dad didn’t laugh often, something I inherited, because it’s funnier when the person making a joke plays it straight, but we both make it clear we’re having fun. My mother laughed, and he loved making her do it. She’d laugh to a point where she went silent – a high-pitched breathing a dog could hear – and she’d shake. You’d walk into a room and hear near-hyperventilating and see dad smirking and mom shaking in her chair; that’s when you knew to get out of the room. I’m not too proud to admit they’d often laugh at their own gas.

I’ve never known 2 people so silly, so happy. My dad’s best friend was Pat, who he’d met in kindergarten. Seriously. To the end, brothers. Thousands of friends, they were impossible to escape. It was tough to do bad or “kid” things because my parents knew everyone. “Tell your parents” so and so says hello when you got a speeding ticket or just bought a sandwich somewhere. Nothing but the best people get that.

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There were still laughs after my mom died, they were just fewer. Dad’s knees were pain – bone on bone with no cartilage. Walking hurts. He’d passed on replacement 10 years ago because he didn’t want to have that period of not being able to help my mom, a period of being dependent on others. The pain got worse, as did his health, and then doctors wouldn’t do it because he likely couldn’t handle it. 

Nothing worked to deaden the pain of walking, and this man who will forever be a giant to me in my mind – the strongest problem solver who could fix anything, crawl under or around whatever to make it work – had to use a walker at home and cane in public. He would not take a chair, he hated the idea of someone pushing him around; that he would be a “burden.”

Of course, he never was a burden. He couldn’t be. 

We spoiled them both as much as we could, and him to the end. My parents were impossible to buy gifts for – they didn’t want extravagances and had everything they needed. They retired to a double-wide trailer in lower northern Michigan in the late 90s, built a 2-room addition off it and lived there the rest of their lives, content. And that’s the right word: content. 

My parents never wanted what they couldn’t afford, they didn’t want anything. I’d have to listen closely to them to see their reaction to a commercial or something I had, so side comment they said about something they’d heard about that was remotely interesting in order to get them something for Christmas. 

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My mom once mentioned that my dad loved Hydrox cookies, not Oreos (there’s apparently a difference), but they stopped making them. Well, they didn’t stop making them, they just stopped being carried widely. I found them online and would ship him a bunch from time to time. He would complain…that he was eating too many. Aside from telling him, which my siblings and I always did every single time we saw or spoke with him, it was a way to show him we loved him.

We always will.

He’d gotten very, very tired in recent weeks. That wasn’t unusual, they’d switch up various medicines he was taking and there’d be an adjustment period where things were weird for a week. But this time there wasn’t a change in medicine. Last time I saw he looked like he’d aged 10 years, last time we spoke he had little energy and a tough time focusing. He still wore the cape, in my head, he’ll always wear the cape of a hero, but it was different. He had an appointment this week with his doctor, and the answer might’ve come there. 

But Wednesday night, after returning to his home from where he’d been staying for the winter (too much snow for him to be up there), he went to bed and didn’t wake up. My sister and brother-in-law drove him up there for the weekend, because he wanted to be home, and for his appointment. They found him, gone. 

He had been unambiguous, he was tired and ready to die. He was also clear that he didn’t want to die in someone else’s home. He missed my mom and wanted to be back with her. He got what he wanted on his terms. Thank you for that, God. I would have wanted another 100, but it’s not about me.

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My dad is now with my mom again, kissing for no reason, holding hands whenever they’re close enough to reach, and laughing. There is no more knee pain, my mother can walk without crutches, and there is no more snoring. My parents’ bedroom was right above mine when I was a kid, and my dad snored like you couldn’t believe it. So much so that when I couldn’t hear it I’d sometimes sneak upstairs to stand by his door to make sure he was still breathing. Being right under them also meant you heard things no kid wants to hear from their parents. Good luck with that, too, God.

My family might blush or not appreciate me including that last bit, but it’s true and it’s who our parents are. 

That call we all dread, that call we sometimes know is coming, came Thursday morning. My sister would never call right before work if it weren’t something important. I’d been expecting that call, not for a while, but it was expected. There’s a weird sense of relief that comes after getting it, it means you no longer have to live in fear of it. It also meant dad was back with mom. 

You think of all the questions you didn’t get answers to, the questions you want to get the answers to again, and just how much you miss them. The urge to make a phone call to someone gone is a strange phenomenon, likely a component of denial, but a very real feeling. We may technically be orphans now, but our parents are reunited again, this time forever. I hate that they’re gone, I hate the couple of dozen crying breaks I had to take while typing out this (likely incoherent – sorry about that) column, but knowing that they’re back together does make it a little better.

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I love and miss you mom and dad, always.

(If yours are still with you, call them now and often. I’ll never regret the amount of time I spent talking with or visiting my parents, only that I didn’t do more.)

Derek Hunter is the host of a free daily podcast (subscribe!), host of a daily radio show, and author of the book, Outrage, INC., which exposes how liberals use fear and hatred to manipulate the masses, and host of the weekly “Week in F*cking Review” podcast where the news is spoken about the way it deserves to be. Follow him on Twitter at @DerekAHunter.

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