My earliest memory of my dad is squirting the hose at my mom with his encouragement. I remember my mom screaming in shock and my dad and I laughing hysterically at her reaction. My last memory of my dad, is his unresponsive face covered in an oxygen mask as I was crying “I love you” via a video chat in hopes he could hear me while he was dying of COVID-19.
I’ve documented my dad’s experiences since breaking his hip in September, which included his contracting COVID-19 while recuperating in a rehabilitative hospital in a previous blog, “Please“. His experience with COVID is tragic. His life, however, was filled with greatness.
My dad was 84. He the 2nd oldest of 14 kids and the oldest boy. After graduating high school, he joined the army and was later recruited by the Central Intelligence Agency. Growing up I heard about Area 51 for years. I knew it was a secret place, but it wasn’t until I saw the movie “Independence Day” that I learned it was notoriously associated with aliens. (For the record, my dad has debunked all of that and swears the only alien stuff found was in Roswell, NM. He laughed hysterically at the movie). My dad was head of security at Area 51 and lived the bachelor life in Las Vegas for many years. I remember watching the movie JFK and a documentary about the Bay of Pigs and my father suddenly saying things like, “That didn’t happen” or “He’s not still alive, I was in the room when he died”. My dad was hesitant to tell me much about his time in the company, but I know some small pieces. I purchased a book about the A-12 Blackbirds that were housed at Area-51. In one chapter the author describes a courier traveling from Alaska to Seattle to Rochester, NY to get film developed that was taken over Korea. My dad had me read that chapter and when I asked why he said, “I was the courier.” Many books I purchased for him having to do with the CIA in the 1960’s or Area 51 over the years had him pulling out momentos that he collected while living there. Sadly, I could never get him to tell his stories. He believed that somethings belonged left in the past.
In 1968 he moved back to his home town and quickly met my mom. They met and married in 4 months and ended up being together for almost 52 years. They had ups and downs over the 52 years, but at the end of the day, love always saw them through. One of the last times my dad fell before breaking his hip, he told the EMT that my mom was the greatest nurse he ever had. He only ever wanted her to take care of him. I truly believe the separation forced on them during this pandemic added to his quickly declining health. My mom was his inspiration and biggest cheerleader. He viewed them as a team. His pride and love for my mom was apparent to all who knew them. After leaving his work with the government, dad worked in a glass manufacturing plant as a mechanic and was the union president, vice president, and stewart during his 30 year tenure. My dad was always involved in things like the Union, American Legion, and later the Honor Guard where he attended military funerals and played Taps. I’ve had so many friends tell me how beautifully my dad could play Taps. His big secret was that the bugle had a button on it that played the song. Dad always did his best Dizzy Gillespie impersonation with his cheeks and faked everyone out. Service and charity meant something to my dad. He didn’t brag about it, but he often worked on charity drives. I remember seeing his photo in the newspaper over the years when I was a kid and that instilled in me the importance of supporting charities and helping others. When my dad retired, he went to work for my family’s business a small cafe. Every year on St. Patrick’s day, my parents worked together to put out hundreds of ham and cabbage dinners to celebrate the holiday. They were truly a remarkable team.
I was an only child, but always had a dog as a kid. My dog Sam was my dad’s constant companion. The first time I really saw him cry was when Sam died. My dad always acted like our dogs were an imposition or a pain in the neck, but he taught me that a pet is a commitment. He faithfully walked our dogs when I moved away from home (I was the dog walker up until that point). My mom was the one who handled the medical aspects of our dog’s lives, but my dad never stopped her. He loved my Georgia Grace. In 2013, I fell and broke my leg on a Sunday and Georgia fell and broke her leg on the following Tuesday. I recuperated at my parent’s house because it was one floor and when we found out Georgia also needed surgery, my parents kept her for months. One day my dad called to say, “I think you need to come and get Georgia soon.” When I asked why, he responded with, “She is starting to look really cute to me and I may want to keep her”. He may have complained about our pets over the years, but he is a big reason as to why I am such a huge animal lover. The apple did not fall far from the tree.
My dad also instilled in me a love of sports. He grew up idolizing Ted Williams and the Boston Red Sox. He also met Mike Ditka in an elevator years ago and that interaction spurred a 50+ year love of the Chicago Bears. Proudly, I got to take my dad to his first Red Sox and Chicago Bears games. Memories I will always cherish. My parents were huge baseball fans. Dad loved his Red Sox and mom is a Yankee fan. I know, I know….it was a mixed marriage as they say in the baseball world! It’s a wonder I turned out so normal and ended up a Phillies fan. No one was happier than my dad when the Red Sox won the World series in 2007. We must have bought him every sweatshirt, t-shirt, car magnet, hat, etc. that highlighted that victory. For one of their anniversaries, I sent my parents to Yankee Stadium to watch a Red Sox/Yankee game, but sadly, my dad’s arthritis made traveling hard for him, so I could never get him to Fenway Park or to Soldier field as I had hoped. I plan to turn all of my dad’s shirts into a quilt to keep him with me always.
My dad became disabled in his later years. His body was worn out from years working in the factory. Although he couldn’t do much physically, the man who was never known for his patience, would spend hours watching 70’s TV classics like Ponderosa, The Rockford Files, and Wonder Woman. To keep his mind sharp, he listened to radio news while working on word searches and read book after book on politics, the CIA, and Area 51. He was famous in our family for his love of Bloody Mary’s and for making his meatballs in red sauce for family events. Dad loved to cook and experimented on me throughout my childhood. His stir-fry period with his new Wok still makes me laugh and cringe in equal amounts.
I found out a few years ago that my dad never wanted me to go to college. He thought I should stay home and get a job so I could get married. He didn’t want me to leave home. I surprised him by leaving and pursuing multiple degrees. I remember his pride as I received two of my three degrees and he loved to wear sweatshirts from the universities I attended. My mom told me he thought of me as his greatest achievement. I’m glad that I was able to make him proud.
Now that I am processing all of this, I feel equal parts grief, disbelief, and rage. Grief that I no longer have my dad in my life. Disbelief that I couldn’t be with him to hold his hand as he crossed to the to the other side, and rage that he was exposed to a deadly virus as he was recuperating from an injury in a facility that was supposed to keep him safe. This pandemic has become so politicized. People protest against masks as if it is the most egregious thing in the world. Those who do wear masks often think because they wear the same mask over and over again while they go into a store they are doing their part, and they go to bars, restaurants, and get-togethers on the regular. It’s selfish to know that a person’s right to go to a bar or out to dinner is more important than another person’s right to live safely. Don’t get me wrong, my heart breaks for small businesses, but people are dying. I see photos of kids at sporting events on social media without masks or social distancing, and often with their arms around each other smiling. These are the same people who complain when schools close as a result of high infection rates.
Now I am fully aware that most people will come through this pandemic unscathed. My life, however, is forever changed by it. I posted on facebook recently that if one more person points out my dad had preexisting conditions I would “throat punch” them. I was only half kidding. If my dad was hit by a bus, would his preexisting conditions have been the reason for his death? No. The catalyst would be the bus. It’s the same with COVID. My dad’s healthy organs failed as a result of this horrid disease. Inflammation ravaged his body and he could no longer fight it. I can’t tell you how painful this disease is on a person. My dad suffered greatly as the result of people who refuse to do the right thing to protect others. As a society we are all consumed with “US” and never them. I learned from my dad that service is important. My dad served his country, he volunteered for charity, he honored fallen vets by playing Taps at their funerals…..and he was killed because our society can’t get their act together enough to fight against a deadly virus. So I am outraged by those who rail against regulations on social media. I blame you all for his death. Those who claimed the virus would be out of the news after the US Presidential election (because these brainiacs can’t see this is a global problem) can disappear from my life and I won’t miss you at all. I will however, miss my dad until the day I die.
I don’t share these pictures of my dad’s final days easily. I don’t do it for shock value, but rather to show people the devastation this disease brings to a family. My father, my hero, and my biggest supporter deserved better at his end of life. He deserved to cross the bridge with my mom and I by his side. We couldn’t even view his body after he passed due to COVID regulations. He is just gone and alone. My anger may dissipate in the future, but for now I will use my rage to demand more from my friends and family, and my government. My dad always fought for me and I will ALWAYS fight for him.
This disease stripped my dad of his life, his family, and his dignity. He suffered in his final days and he did so alone. If you are one of the people who feel wearing a mask is against your civil rights, if you believe this virus is a hoax, if you feel like you should only focus on yourself and others don’t matter, then please stay away from me and those I love. Don’t give me your 3rd rate website statistics or your conspiracy theories. My dad is now a COVID statistic and I am broken hearted for both myself and my mom. We all deserved better. He was a great man.
Rest in peace dad. You were loved and you will be greatly missed.
My heart goes out to you Kelly for your loss. Your message to the world about the seriousness of COVID is so important. Sending love at this difficult time for you and your family, Sam x
Sheryl and I wish you the very best. I am so thankful for your father and the men and women who served with him. We owe such a debt of gratitude and I am so grateful.
Many blessings from Sheryl and I.
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Kelly, I had tears in my eyes as I read this. Wow your Dad was truly amazing. What an amazing life with his experience in the CIA along with everything else. I see so much of you in him. I have lost a parent and it is unbearable. It breaks my heart that you were not able to see him. What an amazing tribute you have given to his full and amazing life. Love, Amanda
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Thank you Amanda.
Oh Kelly, I don’t know what to say. I cried reading this. I’m truly so incredibly sorry for what your dad went through, for you having to lose him in a way that feels so very cruel. I’m close to my dad and can’t even begin to think about ever losing him. I think you’ve done very well in sharing this. It’s a beautiful tribute to your dad. Sending my love and very best wishes 🌹
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This is so beautiful and heartbreaking at the same time. Praying and thinking about you and your mom. This is truly devastating. Rest In Peace, Mr. Conway xoxo
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Thank you Erin
Oh love, my heart is breaking and my eyes are full of tears 😥 What a beautiful tribute to an obviously beloved man. I am so sorry that in his hour of deepest need, your Dad was so horribly let down. 😦
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Kelly, thank you for sharing your dad and your relation with him, with me. I wish I would have been able to meet him in person. There are so many questions I would have wanted to ask him about his amazing life. There is good news here. In John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life,” it is clear that your dad is not alone and will live forever. Look at his passing as a “See you later, dad,” not a “good bye.” Keep the faith Kelly “Those who mourn will be comforted.” Blessings your and your mom’s way!
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Thank you Bob.