My dad was without doubt one of the hardest working people I've ever met. When he was part owner at Saugatuck Drug Store, he was there early, and often stayed well past 2:00 am. When we got phone calls in the middle of the night (which happened with surprising frequency), it didn't matter whether it was the alarm going off from a storm or a mother in need of popsicles for her son with tonsillitis, he would always pop out of bed and go. Truth be told... I think he loved it! He loved taking care of people. He loved feeling needed and relevant and of use to people in their daily lives. I don't know what brought him greater joy, than being able to help someone in need!
Sometimes you have to work a little harder to find the blessings buried in the challenges life lobs at you. When my dad's partners at the drug store brought him into a meeting to discuss "retirement plans" his partner Dan said, "there is no easy way to say this Russ, you're fired." I can't begin to imagine how heavy those words, hanging in the air, must have felt to my dad. He was completely and utterly stunned! After working for over 30 years to build up the store, putting an unimaginable amount of blood, sweat, and tears into it - we never saw it coming! It was hard to imagine what good would come of it then. It tested his faith in his own value and made him feel disposable. We all sat around my aunt's table that night, crying for hours. The drug store was like another member of our family and it felt like a death. My brother and I grew up there. We all worked at the soda fountain together and it was one of the best things I can remember from my childhood. But the one sticking point dad kept coming back to was... "who is going to take care of my customers?"
My mom, brother, and I were spitting mad and ready to wage full out war for what the had done to him, and all the pain they had caused him! We were talking about suing or at the very least telling people in town that he didn't abandon them, it wasn't his choice to leave. Dad would have none of it! He just said over and over again "it is always better to be the bigger person." Now that I am older, I appreciate more what it took to take that stance, and I realize whole heartedly it was the RIGHT stance to take, but it sure didn't feel like it at the time.
Before he was forced out of the drug store, he had 2 major intestinal surgeries, that he almost didn't survive. He was in the hospital for 10 days the first time and 13 the second - and that cost him 5 years worth of vacations at the drug store!! FIVE years without a vacation is a long time without a meaningful break. He had been working like a dog. He needed a break, and getting fired from the drug store was just that... a BIG break! He went on to work at Family Fare Pharmacy in Holland, Michigan. Many of his customers followed him to the new store and before long he had more than doubled and then tripped their business. He was promoted to pharmacy manager and he loved the job. He loved the people. He loved the interaction. He loved it all.
Then if you'll pardon my language... shit began to unravel! Dad's back went from bad to worse. We got him into Orthopedic Associates of West Michigan and thankfully found Dr. Kenneth Easton (who I couldn't possibly say enough good things about). He diagnosed dad with a degenerative disc disorder and suggested putting surgery off, might leave dad with permanent paralysis, so he went under the knife. Getting back to the buried blessings... because he worked for a large corporation, he thankfully had much better insurance AND disability coverage. It was a fraction of his income, but better than the whole lot of nothing he would have gotten if he were still at his own store. Coming back to... everything happens for a reason, even if you don't see it at the time.
He recovered and went back to work. Then (and I forget the order of all of this to be honest) he had neck surgery, a few more back surgeries, shoulder surgery - and that went so far south they had to take everything out and do 4 more surgeries to repair it the best they could. They still left it a mess. He bounced back from it all! At one point he was administering his own IV pic, infusing antibiotics with one hand, while he was counting pills with the other. Man did he bounce back from a lot, but with each surgery he lost a little bit more mobility. His fine motor skills in his hands took a big hit with the neck surgery. His ability to stand up without falling down took a big hit with each back surgery, and before long he was too physically disabled to continue working.
His self-esteem really took the biggest hit. He still misses working and "contributing to society" as he often says, but it physically isn't an option at this point. My mom had to take time off work to take care of him with every surgery and was eventually forced to retire early as well. Between the drastic cut to his income and complete loss of her income, things started to get pretty stressful financially!
"This Too Shall Pass"
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