after a very sudden onset of illness that landed him in the ICU, which resulted in us finding out that he had lung cancer, my father, henry gagolewski, passed away on the afternoon of march 25, 2011. he was 73 years old.
dad was a character, to say the least. he led the most colorful life but acted as though he was a regular guy from down the street. my father was a cab driver, a bouncer, a retired NYC police officer, an exterminator, and a business owner. he was the father of 4 -- two children from his first marriage, and myself and my brother from his second (and longest, and last). he would tell random stories of stabbings, of drug dealers, of NYC in the 70's, of people he knew and met along the way, as though he were talking about buying a bottle of milk. he was my little girl's best friend, my mother's husband of almost 39 years, my brother's travel partner for weekend boys' trips, and everyone's favorite talker.
i am the first to say that my dad and i did not always have a good relationship. my dad was a flawed man, like so many of us, but as his young daughter it made me angry and resentful. we fought constantly through my young days about anything and everything -- his addiction, religion, the world. when my father got sober i was 20 years old, and we started to heal. the last few years have been good ones for us -- we could chat, we could laugh, we never argued anymore. i was older and understood more, and he was past his real demons. and while dad could still drive anyone crazy -- he never listened the first time you said something, he would interrupt constantly, he was still a very religious person that didn't understand my lack of faith -- he became more of a fixture in my daily life, and i was all the happier for it.
my dad had the best relationship with our daughter, anna jae. from the day she was born, there was just something about the two of them together. he could make her giggle, then laugh out loud. he would talk to her, and read to her, and joke around with her, and play with her as best he could. she would run to him the minute she walked into their home. she would do impressions of him. they just adored each other's company, and i can't imagine him not being with her anymore.
dad had a neuropathy in his legs, something that he had for about 10 years, was diagnosed with about 7 years ago, and something that he started to get treatment for about 4 years ago. for the past few years he had to walk with canes and a walker, and had a motorized wheelchair for certain trips. he was terribly stubborn about doing things for himself though, and insisted on still going food shopping, making himself dinner, and going up and down the many stairs at my parents' house.
this neuropathy may have caused his first illness that sent him to the ICU -- a brain illness that came on so suddenly and that they could not find a cause for. but while looking for that cause, they found the cancer in his lungs. this was not a big shock -- the man smoked for over 60 years, we knew it was bound to happen. but the brain illness hurt his chances at treatment, and he spent the longest 3.5 weeks of his life (and ours) in the hospital. after bucking all odds, his body finally succumbed to the illness on thursday night. he was put on a ventilator friday morning, but we knew that there was no hope. and so we let him go friday afternoon, with his children, his wife, and two of his three grandchildren next to him.
i leave you with some photos of my dad from my wedding, and several of him with our daughter. i will always wish i had taken even more.