Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Catching up II: My Dad

It’s taken me a while to be able to write a few words about my father. I guess I just didn’t want to have to actually accept that he’s gone. As the days go by it becomes more and more obvious though he’s not just back in the bedroom sleeping late again. There are moments when I come across something I’d want to share with him and I think “I need to show this to dad” or “I need to take dad here” and then it hits me I can’t. Even though these moments are hard I feel lucky to have them. As many of you know my history with my father is not entirely rosy. We spent years at odds and there were times in my life when I probably wouldn’t have wanted to share anything with him. I am in glad in the later years that we were able to form a strong bond and enjoy each other’s company. We spent many afternoons watching funny movies and enjoying take out from one of our favorite restaurants. Setting up his little aquarium together was a lot of fun and his excitement when I found Bronwyn, his feline companion, made me very happy.

My father passed away December 17th, 2008 in his home, surrounded by Matt & John, my mother, and myself. We were sad my third brother Mark could not be there.

It has been a long hard road. Dad had been sick for many years. First colon cancer, then heart surgery and for the last few years with symptoms that left every one of his many doctors at a total loss for any sort of explanation as to the cause. He even attended the Mayo Clinic without success. Regardless of the pain he felt, he just kept pushing through and I suppose I had almost come to believe he would never leave us.

It was during my weekly visits that I started to notice something new. After a while, dad didn't eat much of the food I would bring up for our hang out sessions. He said his stomach hurt too much. We both have always had stomach problems so other than quickly mentioning it to my mom, I didn't give it much thought.

On Monday, December 1st, my mom called to tell me that she had taken dad to the emergency room for a stomach ache the night before. He said it felt like his stomach was exploding. I told a few people that day that I was so used to getting that call that I didn’t really worry much about it anymore. I added that one of these days it was going to be serious and I wouldn’t take it as such until it was too late.

A few days after dad was admitted to the hospital, test results showed he had stage four pancreatic cancer. Doctors said he would have six months at most. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. How unfair that someone could completely survive the hell of one cancer only to years later be diagnosed with an entirely new one?! I tried my best to push through finals week with this on my brain. My teachers were very supportive and I wouldn’t have been able to do as well as I had if they had not been there for me.

By the time I got to the hospital to see him he could barely speak. He slept most of the time but would intermittently open his eyes and smile. Sometimes he would look at me and start talking as if everything were suddenly fine but a few words into the sentence he would form an expression as if someone had shocked him and his words would trail away. His lips would still move but there was no sound. Then he would be asleep again. Mom put him on the phone once when I was at home and he tried to speak, but I could barely understand him. The only thing that came out clear was the words “When I’m gone.” I stopped him and said “Dad please don’t say that. We’re going to have lots of time together.” Now I wish I knew what he was going to say. I was just convinced that we had more time, that this would be another one of those scary times that he’d push through. After that night he would smile when I came into the room and mumble “I love you” when I left, but we never had a real conversation again.

There were a few moments that we will always talk about fondly that I’d like to mention here. My dad wasn’t able to eat or drink on his own in the final days so we would take turns giving him water through a syringe. One such time my brother John was giving him some water but apparently too slowly and dad suddenly reached up, grabbed john’s shirt, yanked him down and yelled out “WATER.” Another time my mom was giving him water the same way and he kept mumbling something that sounded like “fear.” She asked him if he was saying fear and he mustered all the strength in his body to utter the words “Bottle of beer.” After that we alternated syringes full of water with syringes of good beer. My favorite story though was one night when mom and dad were alone and she decided, on the advice of a family member, to tell him about how much he meant to her and such. After a moment he said “Slow down.” She laughed and said “I wish I had your sense of humor.” He replied, “That would be nice.”

These combined with a lifetime of fond, and some not so fond, memories of dad will always stay with us. They are what made him who he was.