The Last Time I Hugged My Dad

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by Jackie Babiarz |

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My dad, Joe Corrado, was my real-life Superman when I was young. He was larger than life, the smartest and strongest man I knew.

He always shared wrestling stories from his years at Lane Tech College Prep High School in Chicago. He even kept a piece of cartilage in a jar from his knee surgery, after tearing it during state wrestling finals his senior year.

My siblings and I knew how proud he was to send all six of us to his alma mater, the University of Illinois. We had to go with him to the engineering campus every time he visited.

Rett Syndrome News | An old photo shows Jackie's dad, Joe Corrado, at the University of Illinois in 1965. He is wearing a white Superman t-shirt and posing with his arms up like he's flying.

My dad, Joe Corrado, our very own superhero, at college at the University of Illinois in 1965. (Courtesy of Jacqueline Babiarz)

I was a tomboy growing up, and I wanted to be beside my dad constantly. When we went to the theater, we watched events put on by the WWE, known at the time as the World Wrestling Federation. The biggest treat was sitting in the 11th row at the UIC Pavilion in Chicago (now called the Credit Union 1 Arena) for actor and wrestler El Gigante‘s World Championship Wrestling debut. My dad would wrestle with us at the YMCA and show us how to do various moves. We’d cheer for fighters Ken Shamrock and Royce Gracie as neighborhood friends packed into our living room because we had UFC on pay-per-view.

My dad never cared about getting ahead in work as long as he could provide for his family and be home for all of our games and after-school activities. He never missed any of my basketball games. He was the team dad for all the girls whose parents could not attend. He taught me that family comes first.

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What It Means to Carry Others Through

By March 2018, my dad was in his 70s and had been living in an assisted living facility for a couple years. The man with the larger-than-life, superhero persona was shrinking into a frail shell of himself.

I would make the 45-minute drive to visit him every week, either alone or with my daughters, Cammy and Ryan. While  his body was failing, his memory was fading, and he was now nonverbal, I knew he was still in there — just like Cammy.

Cammy, 13, has Rett syndrome, which robs her of the abilities to walk and talk, but cognitively, she understands everything. She is locked in a body that doesn’t work. Toward the end of his life, my dad could relate.

A week before he passed, my two youngest siblings and I met Dad at his facility with our kids. He indicated that he wanted to go outside with them. Sitting in his wheelchair, his hand on Cammy’s hand, they stared at each other, then watched the other six grandchildren run around in the unseasonably warm weather, sunlight hitting their faces.

My brother, sister, and I couldn’t help but notice tears flowing down my dad’s face after his nonverbal conversation with Cammy. He never showed any emotion, much less happy or sad tears.

We all hugged and kissed my dad goodbye as my brother wheeled him back to his room. We didn’t know at the time that it was the last time we’d hug and kiss him and tell him we love him.

But as I reflect on that day, I think he knew. He was embracing this final memory of his three youngest children and his littlest grandchildren.

In loving memory of Papa Joe Corrado, May 1, 1943–March 26, 2018.


Note: Rett Syndrome News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Rett Syndrome News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Rett syndrome.

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