Adjusting to this new diagnosis of autoimmune disease has me doing a lot of researching and a lot of thinking. One of the top things I’ve been looking into is diet.
Oh, I’ve read up about these strict diet protocols before, but never with the intention of applying them to myself. I started learning about elimination diets in the years following my Dad’s death, as I tried desperately to understand the disease that he, and the rest of my family, had hidden from me. Back then, I wondered how things might have been different if his doctors had guided him that direction, instead of deeper and deeper down the prescription path. To be honest, it made me a little angry and a lot disappointed that he hadn’t been presented with this information because it was considered “alternative.”
Today, though, I have had to consider something that I didn’t before. I’ve had to consider that maybe Daddy wouldn’t have been willing to make those changes anyway. Today, I have the perspective of someone who’s been handed a life sentence of sickness.
So many of my memories of my father involve food. Fishing at the lake all afternoon and feasting on buttery rainbow trout, fresh off the grill, for dinner. Waking up from a bad dream to have my Daddy comfort me with a cup of milky hot tea and old fashioned donuts. Or late night snacking on fried smelts. (I don’t know if I could choke one of those little fishes down now, but back then they were a treat.)
How we’d stop at a roadside vegetable stand and buy sweet corn and zucchini the size of Dad’s arm. Then home to fry the zucc’s, and dip in ketchup. He used to cut them in thick circles, and nowadays I can’t be bothered to buy those limp, paper thin strips they sell at pizza shops and bars. Homemade, Dad’s way, is the only way to go.
Memories of my father are filled with fresh churned ice cream from our favorite shop, the signature peach, or “lottery”- the last bits from all the empty bins scooped up together. With waffle cones overflowing with fresh strawberries and whipped cream during our yearly summer outing to a nearby amusement park. Funnel cakes and apple dumplings walking around small, local fairs. Everybody had a fair back then. Volunteer fire departments, churches, tiny rural towns, county fairs and fiber festivals, historic reenactments… I swear we hit them all, each summer, and we ate at each one. Haluski and sausages and pirogi served by women in babushkas that reminded me of my heritage and the people who founded our area.
Food and festivities didn’t end when the snow started to fly, either. With winter came styrofoam cups full of hot apple cider around the bonfire at the big Christmas light display at the county fairgrounds. Kettle corn that steamed in the crisp air, and the smell of fresh fudge and chocolates being sold in Santa’s Workshop.
As I look back, I realize, my father never had much in the way of material things to leave me, but he left me something better. He left me memories of the senses. Music and food and sights from the places we visited. A sensory experience that is held in the very depths of my cells, ever ready to burst into my heart and mind at a smell, a taste, a familiar tune. And these things he left me, they’ve carried me through these almost 19 years without him, constant reminders that he’s still with me. He packed a lifetime of memories into the thirteen short years that I had him. And although back then I feared I might one day forget the little things, instead they’re the very things that I remember most. I have to believe he knew what he was doing.
My Dad didn’t follow strict diets to try to buy a little more time, instead he packed as much life as possible into the time he had. This is a lesson. A lesson I didn’t even realize he left for me. I don’t need to wonder what he’d do, if he could try again. I know. He’d eat fried food, and late night donuts with his daughter. He’d spoil her with ice cream and memories. He’d want these memories to outweigh the days of pain, the days he couldn’t get out of bed. And they do.
As I face down this pain, this illness and it’s repercussions, the possibility of limited mobility, I don’t have to wonder what I should do. I don’t have to wonder what sacrifices I should make for an extra pain-free day. I don’t have to worry that my children will only remember the bad days. I have the best damn example of how to help them remember the good times. I will be like him. And one day, when they’re grown, and I’m gone, they will remember me in every scent, every sound, every taste. There is nothing better I could leave them. There was nothing better that he could’ve left me.