Memorial Day, 2008, the worst day of my life. We all have “worst days” but nothing surpasses this. A call from my brother as I make my morning brew, a lump in my throat and too afraid to answer the phone because I had that feeling it wasn’t going to be good. But I didn’t think it was going to be devastating. “Daddy died, Daddy died!!” He screams through the phone as looking for some sort of direction or needing his big sister’s help. My mother wailing in the background. “Call 911!” I yelled. Searching for my husband as I drop the phone, hands shaking, he already knew but I uttered the words no little girl wants to utter, “My Dad died.” The ride to my childhood home, usually 10 minutea, was a lifetime. No words were spoken on the way there, a numbing silence as I was mentally preparing for what I was about to see.
My Dad, my best pal, my first love, the last true family man was gone. I only knew him for 30 years. I had at least another 30 left. When he passed, a part of me died too.
He was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer only 5 months prior. Cancer wasn’t personal to me yet. My grandfather had it, but he lived a good life and was much older when he passed. Only old people get cancer right? My father was 59 year young. Other people get cancer, it’s not going to happen to us, correct? When he and my mom sat me down, I was obviously shocked and afraid at the news, but maybe just to ease my parents’ worries, I said, “You’ll get through this. People survive cancer all the time and there’s so many treatments out there.” Like I was some cancer expert. They wanted to believe me, but I saw in my Dad’s eyes a look of fear, he knew his fate had already been decided.
He fought, he fought real hard. Anyone who is familar with the way cancer works, is that there are ups and downs, progressions and setbacks. Unfortuantly, he had more setbacks than I can count, including suffering a stroke shortly after one of his treatments. At that point, he didn’t stand a chance.
Day in and day out, I was at the hospital to keep him company when he wasn’t home. I stayed late, I brought him his favorites because he wasn’t eating. I helped him in and out of bed, I put the straw up to his lips, I think I even wiped his bottom once because he couldn’t. It’s something no one ever wants to do for their parent. But I did it, because he took care of me for 30 years. It was the least I could do for him. I sat there and watched him waste away. This strong guy who took care of everything, who protected us, and always had the right answers, now could barely lift a finger or gather a coherent thought.
Your parent is not supposed to die young. I was newly married, talking about planning a family. My dad said that when he kicked the cancer, he would retire and babysit his grandchildren. The grandchildren he never met. I often observe the relationships my friends have with their parents. I look at them with envy, not mad, just glad that their children get to have a complete set of grandparents to take them out for ice cream, to go on vacations, have sleepovers, and spoil them rotten. My in-laws are a big part of my kids’ lives, which I’m forever grateful, but I wish I was able to enjoy that experience the way my husband gets to. It’s different. I always thought I’d have kids someday and my dad would take them for a ride in the back of his little red pick up truck. Or if I needed a home project done, he’d show up with his trusty toolbox. I thought I’d buy him more of those flannel shirts he loved so much for Christmases to come. Maybe share a few espressos and talk politics.
The worst thing about not having him around for the past 12 years, is I’m starting to forget him. I forget the sound of his voice, I forget how he looks, I forget the quirky ways about him. I’m forgetting it all. My kids ask about him, but I can only tell them what I remember. It’s a horrible, emotional, exhausting feeling. This isn’t the way it was supposed to be.
My Faith gets me through though. They say you’ll see him on the other side some day. Whoever they is. I hope they’re right. It’s the only landline I have right now between him and I. It’s the only thing that keeps me going and from being angry. I hope he’s waiting for me with that espresso and some politics.
P.S. If you are one of the lucky ones, call your Mom and Dad tonight.