I’m taking a break from my usual Friday subject today. This is always a difficult week for me, and since it’s my blog, I’m going to take the opportunity to pay tribute to someone I miss terribly. Yeah, I know, I’ve done it for Father’s Day the past couple of years, too. I don’t care.
I’ve spent the past couple of months doing the same things I’ve done in July and August, every single year, for nine years now. Marking the ‘lasts.’ The last visit, the last hug, the last look, the last time I heard his voice across the miles. And those last weeks, feeling sick to my stomach every time the phone would ring, because I was afraid it would be the call…and I didn’t want to hear the words.
But early on August thirty-first, the call came, and the words I never wanted to hear were spoken. My dad had taken his last breath, shortly before midnight. And he’d died the way he wanted, with his kids four-hundred and thirty miles away…because he didn’t want us to see it happen.
People were quick to say that we were lucky. We had time to say goodbye. But you know what? Even though I know their hearts were in the right place…no. We weren’t lucky. In some ways it might have been easier, but in others, it was horrible.
When you know it’s going to happen, you get to see this person you love…with all of your heart…terrified, knowing they don’t want to die, and that there’s nothing you can do or say that will change it, or make it easier.
You get to watch them waste away to nothing before your eyes. And you get to see them try to be strong for you, to pretend that everything is going to be okay, so you have some some good memories to take away from the whole awful, ugly situation.
But the memories are bittersweet. You know that they were faking it…and so were you. Along with everyone else who flocked to see him, trying to cram a lifetime of being with him into such a short period of time. I swear we all deserved Oscars for our acting abilities during that thirteen months…when we all held our breath, hoping some sort of miracle would happen. But it never did.
Yeah, we got to say goodbye…but it sucked.
Would I change what happened so that he died in an accident, like his brother did six weeks after his diagnosis? No, not at all. Because knowing ahead of time did give us all a chance to spend more time together, to get in that last hug.
But in return for that privilege, we got to watch him suffer and live in fear.
We got to hear about his reaction after finding out that he not only had cancer, but brain tumors as well. About how he spent time at a Hallmark store, choosing cards for the four of us…to let us all know how much we meant to him. How he broke down crying in the middle of that store…
How, when he and my step-mother went shopping for the food they would serve my siblings and I on our last trip down there, he was justifying the expense…because he’d never get to eat another meal with his kids again. Not that he had to justify anything, because she would have fed us gold if it would have made him happy.
Finally, there was that moment when we had to leave him to head back home…after one final, far too short weekend together. How do you say goodbye when you know it’s for the last time? When you know that the next time you see him, it’s going to be at his funeral. How do you walk away, get in the car, and pull out of that driveway?
My sister and I were waving out the back window until we couldn’t see him anymore, crying because our hearts had just been broken. I’m sure my brothers were watching in the mirrors, keeping him in their sight for as long as they could. It was one of the toughest things any of us had ever done, and remembering it now still makes me cry.
So if you’re ever tempted to tell someone whose loved one is dying that they’re lucky…just don’t. Please don’t say those words to them. Bite your tongue. Clap your hand over your mouth. Walk away if you have to…just don’t ever say that to anyone.
Yes, knowing does give them a chance to say goodbye…but they also have to deal with a world of ugly that no one should ever have to experience. They don’t feel lucky. They feel helpless, and scared, and like their world has been turned upside down.
It took about two years before life started to feel normal again. And over the next seven, it obviously has gotten easier. But I still miss him…every single day. I miss hearing his voice on the phone. I miss his visits. I miss just knowing he’s there. He’s the one man in my life who made me feel secure, and it’s hard to not have that anymore.
I don’t feel lucky at all…except that I got to have him in my life. Mostly what I feel is ripped off. He died way too young. Of course I’d have thought the same thing if it had happened thirty years from now.
This might seem like a strange video choice, but I found out after he died that we shared a love for Elton John music. I guess this was his favorite song. Maybe the fact that I played all of his albums when I was a teen rubbed off on him. Love you, Dad…