My dad, who was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes as a child, died just before my 5th birthday. He wasn't healthy by the time he was in his late 20's, and when he caught an aggressive staph infection one winter, he simply could not fight it. He was only 30 when he died.
In the years following his death I heard endless comments about how he "could've taken better care of himself, if only he'd tried harder." His family often blamed him for his poor health and problems related to diabetes. They said "he ate sweets", they'd seen him with candy, and they knew that was a bad idea for someone with diabetes... They said he tried so hard to be "normal" that he ended up destroying himself. He knew better, but he refused to be controlled by his disease.
I remember feeling angry at him as a child. Angry that he didn't care enough about my sister and I to take care of himself. Angry that he left my mom alone. Angry that he didn't try harder. Angry that he let diabetes win.
Of course I had no idea what it meant to live with diabetes. I had no idea what it meant to live diabetes with NO glucometer, having NO idea what your blood sugar was, EVER. No idea if you would wake up in the morning, or pass out while driving to work, which he didn't and did, respectively, often.
He had only long acting insulin, and he would inject himself with a huge shot each night, a ballpark guess. If his urine was full of sugar, a little more... if he'd had a severe "reaction" during the day, a little less. That was as good as it got. No meal coverage, no corrections, no numbers, no control... no matter what.
I started to realize how IMpossible my dad's life must've been. The frustration. The fear. The embarrassment. The misery. How much he must've hated being awakened many mornings with a bottle of juice in his mouth. How scary it must've been to drive. How angry he must've been about the judgement by people who know nothing about his disease. How much he must have longed for a life that wasn't limited and defined by his illness. How sad he must've been to know how little he could do to change it.
While I never would've imagined that my own spouse (or child) would end up with diabetes, I am grateful for what it has taught me. I understand my father, probably more than most who knew him alive ever did. I know that it was a miracle that he survived for more than two decades with type 1 diabetes, without EVER knowing what his blood sugar was. A miracle. I am so glad I know that now. I'm so glad that I understand.
I now have peace about my fathers life, and admiration for how he lived it. I wish he could've been here to see the amazingly normal life my own husband is able to live with diabetes. The wonderful father he is able to be. I wish he could have had that chance himself. And while I know it would break his heart to know that his precious granddaughter lives it too, he would be thrilled to know how much better her life will be, and how far we've come.
Happy Father's Day dad, with love.