Let’s face it: I lead a pretty colorful existence – much of which is a result of my “larger than life” personality. It’s granted me friends and meaningful relationships online and in places around the world. I’m a very lucky man.
All of us, though, come from somewhere and (in most cases) this involves the people who give birth to and, often, raise us: parents, guardians, relatives, etc.
While I have often noted to those who know me that I turned out to be a person very different from both my parents, I can’t escape the fact that I am who I am as a result of who my parents were while I was growing up. They are flawed individuals… but I love them dearly.
On Monday evening, November 18, 2013, my father passed away at the age of 63 years old.
I’ve been through A LOT in my life and dealt with some hard struggles, pain, and challenges. The passing of my father, though, has been the single hardest thing I’ve ever had to handle. (Just typing that last sentence has, again, brought me back to tears. For those who know me “in the real world,” I don’t really cry… but I haven’t been able to stop, off and on, for the past three days.)
In 1986, my father bought me my first computer: an Apple IIc. He used to sit in front of it with me watching me learn to write code and help type in some of the longer programs I would find. Oh, the hours the two of us spent together typing in the lines of code to play Star Trek the text game in BASIC. The result of experiences like that in my childhood turned me into a child of the computer age. Thus, here I am turning to the thing that makes the most sense during this time of turmoil in my life: blogging.
I struggled with what to write and what stories to tell about my father, but, right now, my mind is swirling with thousands of memories. I’ve decided to make things as concise as possible by going the “short list” route. So here you go: three things you didn’t know about my father:
NUMBER 1: He used to have hair.
This “you didn’t know” really only applies if you met him. For the majority of my life with him my father had a shiny, shiny head. I honestly don’t remember him any other way. I spent middle school and high school being told I, too, would lose my hair which (in the era of long hair and metal bands) was a BIG deal.
Then I took high school biology and learned that my mother’s father’s full head of hair would be my destiny.
My father always seemed okay with his lack of follicle action, but when Star Trek: The Next Generation premiered and Captain Picard made bald cool… MAN, that was a happy time for him.
The being bald/I’m not bald dynamic was an ongoing part of our banter and relationship. It was our thing. Our joke. Part of us being us.
While sorting through his house in the past couple of days I found many of the old photos he kept and, among them, I found a number of baby pictures I hadn’t seen in years. Here’s one of those photos proving the proclamation: He used to have hair.
NUMBER 2: He took his own life.
I’ve struggled hard over the past couple of days regarding how to approach this since it is such a volatile part of the pain I’m dealing with. I’m opting to not suppress the info (and the pain) because I’m hoping that transparency and truth about this will help with the healing.
So here goes:
Eighteen months ago, my father lost his wife of sixteen years to cancer. Sharon Croom passed away on May 1, 2012 and my wife and I were there with my step-siblings: Jack and Whitney. When it happened, we all worried about my father. You see, he and Sharon were bona fide, honest to God, absolute pure and priceless soul mates. The two of them completed each other in life. They were two flawed human beings that found perfection in the happiness of one another.
When Sharon passed away, my dad was lost. He was in pain. All of us did all we could to help him manage that pain… but he was a private man. For the past year and a half he became more and more of a hermit, but we all worked to find ways to battle it. I even got him onto Facebook and taught him how to play Words with Friends (things that, in retrospect, I am now eternally grateful for because of the interactions it created.)
We spoke regularly – about four to five times a month. By most accounts of friends and family, everything seemed “normal” with him. Since October, though, things weren’t normal. He quietly began planning to end his pain since early last month based on the information and records I have found. He kept up normal appearances up until the end.
His last post on Facebook was about one of his two dogs celebrating his third birthday:
Later the day of that Facebook post, he stopped by McDonalds to buy himself lunch (a McRib) and two plain hamburgers – a treat he often picked up for the dogs.
At about 6:00 PM that night, he made his move on our game of Words with Friends. He played the word “RECLAIM” for 56 points. I saw the move that evening, but hadn’t had time to reply with my move on my via cell phone. This moment would constitute the last interaction I had with my father.
Christine, a neighbor and friend of my dad’s who came by daily to walk the dogs, said she saw him around 7:00 PM that evening when she stopped by.
After that, I’ve pieced together what happened to be best of my ability based on the information at the house and the police investigation: Later that evening after Christine left, my father found a dark blue folder he had that contained information from a local funeral home including paperwork for his pre-planned and prepaid funeral services. In it, he placed a copy of his last will and a note to Christine (who he assumed would find him.)
In the note, he apologized to Christine for putting her in the middle of this, thanked her for being a friend. He explained:
“My life ended with Sharon’s passing. I’ve only existed since then. I now choose to no longer exist.”
In true Russ Croom fashion, the note was short, apologetic, and polite.
Then, apparently, he sat at the kitchen table and swallowed two partially filled bottles of prescription painkillers left over from his wife’s battle with cancer and drank them down with a large glass of water. He then got up, trudged into the bedroom, and laid down in bed. His two loving dogs, Benny and Sophie, went to bed with him.
And he never woke up.
His body was discovered the next morning by the neighbors when they realized that he hadn’t picked up his morning newspaper (a daily ritual of his) and he wasn’t answering his phone.
I got a call on my cell phone (from his) at 12:06 PM. It was the neighbor telling me what had happened.
My life has been a blur since that moment.
NUMBER 3: My dad was my number one fan.
Writing this post is very hard for a number of reasons – but biggest is that, since moving from LiveJournal to “TomCroom.com” in 2007, my father was the one person in the universe that read every one of my posts. This will be the first blog post I’ve written that he will never read.
In talking to his friends and work associates over the past couple of days, I began to hear the same things repeatedly…
- “You’re Tommy? Wow. He always talked about you. ALL the time.”
- “He said you were sort of famous, is that true?”
- “That man never stopped talking about you. He was so proud of you”
A number of people have recounted stories about me that he had told them as if to confirm the truth behind it all.
Since news of his passing became public, I’ve begun getting emails from complete strangers. Here’s part of one of them:
“You don’t know me, and I don’t know you but I did know your dad in a business sense. He shared your blog and website with me one time which is how I am able to contact you, he was very proud of you.”
Dad raised me to have a healthy mastery and command of the English language and I assumed his regular reading of my blog was always an extension of that. In retrospect, though, it seems that it was always more than that. My dad was a fan. He was THE fan.
In his bedroom, I found this:
Those were bottles of ramune I gave him and Sharon YEARS ago when I first started running fan conventions. This was back before the stuff was easy to get/find and the fascination of a Japanese drink with a marble in it was the coolest thing in the world.
I didn’t know they kept the bottles. I saw them for the first time when I walked into my dad’s bedroom on Tuesday and I was speechless.
My writing and blogging has always been something that the Internet has been welcome to read and enjoy, but I have always done it for the selfish reason for giving myself a creative outlet. In short: I write for me.
It seems, though, that I was wrong – and I’m happy for being wrong. My father loved being in my life so much that phone calls were never enough and we was an avid reader and re-teller of my exploits.
My dad was my biggest fan… and I miss him so much it hurts.
I always hear about how hard it is coping with the loss of a parent, and I’m glad I always kept the stories I’ve heard in mind when handling my relationship with my dad. My final moments were all as they should be:
HIS LAST THANKSGIVING was spent putting up with my cooking. Shannon and I joined him at his house for the holiday. His face lit up as it reminded him of memories of Thanksgiving with his wife. He posted these photos on Facebook with the caption “Family is all that matters at Thanksgiving.”
HIS LAST CHRISTMAS wasn’t alone either. Myself and Jack (his stepson) came over to harass him for the holidays. We had a great time together.
THE LAST TIME I SAW HIM was Sunday, July 28th. I was in town for work and I dragged his ass out of the house for dinner. We went to Ted Peters Famous Smoked Fish. He told me that it was the first time he had left the house for a sit down dinner since his wife died. https://twitter.com/TomCroom/status/361601412221771777
THE LAST TIME I SPOKE TO HIM was about two weeks ago. We small talked about TV shows I thought he should be watching (The Blacklist) and how I was fighting off a really bad cold. We ended our conversation the same way we always do…
THE LAST WORDS I SAID TO HIM were “I love you.”
Do they have Internet in heaven? Is there a heaven? I don’t know the answer to these questions, but I do know what I want to believe – and I want to believe that somewhere, somehow, my dad is still reading my blog. So:
You shouldn’t have gone. While I don’t agree with your choice to depart the way you did, I want you to know that I understand. I love you, I loved you, and I hope you have found peace and that somehow the cosmos has reunited you and Sharon again.
I’ll miss you every day and you’ll always be with me.
P.S. Karma Jean and Shannon say hi.
P.P.S. I still have more hair than you.
My father was a peculiar cocktail of anger and love all in one person. His relationships with family were often rocky since he was a private person that shied away from showing emotion. While he might not have always showed it or expressed it, I know he had a lot of love for more his family than even some of them realized.
In going through his wallet while getting his estate in order, I found the usual collection of stuff: I.D., credit cards, AAA card, etc. Among those things, though, I found three photos that he apparently kept with him at all times:
In order: his grandson, his daughter with his grandson, and his step-daughter.
In case there was any doubt, he loved you all very much and kept you with him at all times.
As I continue to go through the records and information for my late father, I have found (what I believe to be) the oldest photo of my father and I together and the final one.