My dad died four months and twenty days ago.
Next month will have been two years since we learned of the cancer. Throughout the life of the cancer, I hid. I hid away while my brain never stopped buzzing, never stopped reminding me of what would eventually come. Eventually, there’d be a day he wouldn’t be here anymore. I knew I was fading out of the lives of people who knew me. I knew my days were beginning to suffer. I knew, to an extent, what to expect. I was preparing myself. I was preparing myself for the absolute worst and, in hindsight, the ‘worst’ that I was imagining was nothing in comparison to what I’ve felt in the last four months and twenty days.
The last month of his life, well, the last 26 days actually, were bad. They were so bad I knew I wasn’t as prepared as I thought I was. All the mental preparation, all the emotional storage I’d set aside for the day that would eventually come, nothing could prepare me for the cancer spreading to his brain. The tumor that caused him to go back in time and call me, midday, asking me why I wasn’t home to help him. The tumor that led him to believe that I was just a trip down the road, and yet never coming by to say hi. The tumor that caused him to believe that every phone call was me calling to say there was an emergency. Every conversation was a panic of him believing I was hurt, I’d been in accident, I was sick or I was in trouble.
The miracle of modern medicine, as much as it accelerated his downfall, finally came in to be beneficial. Two weeks of him being confused, lost and scared was wiped away in just a couple short shots of radiation to his brain. He was back. We had him back and he was doing better than he had in months. But we only had him for two more weeks.
I was at work when I got the call that he’d collapsed and was in an ambulance on the way to the hospital. I calmed my mom enough to drive and follow him, while silently but noticeably panicking on my own. I was working late, and there were only two others in the office. They overheard my conversation and promptly gathered my belongings and ushered me out the door. My mom told me over and over he’d be fine, don’t come home. Don’t waste the plane ticket just to have to come back out later, when he does pass.
A few hours went by, it was after midnight when she called and said to come home. Even though he wanted no life saving measures, they put him on life support until I could arrive.
I’d spent the last year imagining the plane ride to Michigan. Would I be hysterical? Would strangers around me be offering me tissues, wondering what type of tragedy I was flying to or running away from?
I was silent. Still. Stone.
He had been unresponsive since he’d collapsed. He probably had a heart attack, but we never did get confirmation, just murmurs from nurses about chances this or that may have happened. His body was shutting down, it could’ve been a number of things.
He was taken off life support moments after I arrived. I think I still had my coat on. Everything felt hurried. We held him and said our goodbyes. We cried and we were quiet.
And then we sat.
We were quiet for a very long time. We watched his breaths. They were staggered. They were rare. It was sort of fascinating to see how he could live on so few inhales for as long as he did. We watches the number of inhales on the monitor slowly go down, over hours.
Eventually we knew we had to say something. I started. We told stories and shared our favorite memories. We talked for hours. We never left him alone. We lived on coffee, water and cheap snacks the nurses would bring around.
Twenty three hours or so later. He left us.
We packed up our things, we made arrangements. We took care of the necessary paperwork, we said our goodbyes to the friends and family members who had arrived throughout the day. We eventually made calls and sent texts to the people we promised we’d update. We went home.
A week later I came back to Denver. I quickly descended into the place I’d never prepared myself for. I expected to miss him, I expected to be sad that he was gone, I did not expect every single day to be harder than the day before. I did not expect to lose hope and faith in myself. I did not expect to fall into a pit of depression that I could not dig out of. I did not expect to find myself losing all my goals, because what does an achieved goal matter if he was not there to be proud?
I cried, daily. I picked up my phone to call him, only to remember he wouldn’t answer. I painfully pulled out pictures, and quickly hid them away again, only to bring them out again.
I buried myself away. I had a very small circle of people who I could cry to, scream at, push away just to pull back again. I had to get through this on my own. Going out and talking about it just wasn’t an option for me. Going out and talking about anything wasn’t an option for me. Talking, out loud, was a reminder that I had nothing to say. Through the crying and yelling and hiding, I never had actual words to say. There is truly nothing that can be said.
I knew the day would come when I’d start to feel okay again. A couple weeks ago I saw the first glimpse of my normalcy. I’d have okay days and more bad days, my ups were never more than half way. But through the haze and fog I was able to remember why I am where I am, and who I am. I’m a creation of my dad’s work, personality and pride. I am lucky and honored to not only have known him and to be his daughter, but to also have had the friendship we had. We were close. We shared secrets and stories and never went more than a couple of days without catching up. This relationship gives me more to miss, but gives me that much more to be happy I had, and the memories I’ll always have.
I haven’t written much in over a year. Again, there was nothing that could be said. It’s been four months and twenty days, and I’m starting to find myself again. The version of me I’ve discovered, is different. I’ve changed, and I can accept that. My priorities have been altered, my personality slightly shifted. But I have a grip on my life again, and I can start moving forward.
My dad was an amazing man, husband, father and friend. The tales I’ve heard since he’s passed from the people who knew him have only increased my love for him. Every story has the same moral – he was kind, genuine and caring. He went out of the way to better every situation he was in. I don’t know if I’ll ever find another person like him.
I will live my life differently. I will bring his lessons into the lives of my eventual children. I will bring the same level of care and consideration into my own relationships. I will cherish every moment and never forget the man he was, my father. My friend.