I'm watching The Family Stone, one of my favorite movies ever.
I think it's one of my favorites becuz I can relate to the story line, so so much.
This will not be a pleasant post so if you don't want to read about death, then you might want to move along. But writing about it, I found, is very cathartic for me. LIke therapy. And often when something (like today's movie) stirs up some of that meloncholy emotion that obviously has been threatening to burst forth (Dad has been on my brain A LOT lately) I need to get it. So here it is...
I remember finding out about my Dad's diagnosis right before the holidays...after a month or two of uncertainty about what was making him sick. They had wanted to wait till after the holidays were over, to tell my brother and I.
Cancer....a word that knocked the very breath from my lungs as Dad said it, right there in my apartment living room. It made no sense. He was alive and vibrant (yes, he hadn't been feeling well, but he still looked FINE). He had come over, with my MOm, to help me fix a broken bathroom faucet. Such a simple, mundane task.
I didn't cry. Not then, anyway. It wasn't until after my parents left, that uncertain tears fell.
And it wasn't long after that we found out Dad's prognosis. They believed the cancer had started in his colon, and had spread fully to his lungs. Stage 4. I remember looking it up online, not fully grasping at first that Stage 4 was IT. The end.
I was in a state of shock for a while, unable to process. My Dad was going to die? Impossible. He was the strongest, healthiest man I knew. There had to be a mistake.
The next, and last, six months of Dad's life was mostly a blur. I try to think about and there is so much I can't recall. But there is also snippets of life that I DO remember. Spending all my free time at my parents house, often sleeping over. Listening to Dad heave and gag over the toilet, as he got sicker and sicker from chemo. As his dark beautiful brown hair suddenly overnight seemed to turn gray, and started to fall out in patches. The foot rubs I gave him, and how he proudly told his Nurse's Aide "no thank you" to her offer of a foot massage becuase "my daughter gives the best foot rubs around".
The confusion that set in, not helped in the least by the morphine that pumped through him. Sitting at the kitchen table eating KFC one night (cooking was the last thing on ANY of our minds, especially since most of the time Daddy couldn't eat) and watching him try to pick at drumstick despitre the fact that he had no appetite...when suddenly Dad asked us why there was a chicken under the table, with an almost childlike question in his eyes. I wanted to cry right there. The night my mom went out for a little while, becuz she was on the verge of a nervous breakdown, and there I sat as Dad's "babysitter" (there were a couple of other family members there, but for some reason Mom and I always felt the most comfortable with one of us always being there with him) and it got so bad for Daddy with his breathing, despite his oxygen, that his tongue was sticking out of his mouth as he struggled to breathe. I called my mother in a panic, as family members told me to let her be, and I wanted to smack them all. This was MY father and god damnit, if he was about to die, I know my Mom wanted to be there. He wasn't dying that night, of course, but when my Mom got home I cried like a little child.
The nurses telling us, it was almost time, and that he might not make it hte night but then Daddy hung on another week. Like Superman. I think he was waiting for his remaining sibling, his oldest sister, who was on her way from Ohio. Our dog, an old sick dachsund named Rocky, who would wander aimlessly around the house crying and who, during the day, would lay draped across my father's ice cold feet under the blankets. Those purple spots that suddenly showed up on his skin, those death spots, signaling the end was near.
And May 5, 2002, a day that was warm and slightly humid, with the sun shining and the clouds like puffy cotton high in the blue sky. At 2:00pm the priest showed up to read Dad his last Rites, then touched my mom's hand and wished her peace before he slipped just as quietly out of the room as he came in.
Twenty five minutes later, my father's last heaving breath. Then silence. My mother lost it, this woman who had refused to cry almost throughout the whole process while she tied Dad's shoe laces, and sponge bathed him and gave him his pills. She wailed like nothing I'd ever heard before. I laid my head down on my Dad's chest briefly, that firm familiar feeling of strength across his broad chest, despite so much weight loss. His skin was so cold and his eyes stared sightlessly and I wanted to rewind time so that he could see me again. I remember my grandfather, Dad's father, crying out why couldn't God have just taken HIM and not his son and he almost fell and I grabbed onto him for support. Supporting each other.
I sat at the kitchen table with Mom and stared into that bedroom where my Dad lay, after the hospice nurse had showed up to confirm his death. His eye lids were now closed and he looked almost as if he was sleeping. Have you ever seen someone you love taken away in a body bag? I watched every second of it, I couldn't take my eyes off of him and heard as if from far away the sound of my Mom's brother, my uncle, sobbing and rushing out of the room.
This is what I remember of my Dad's final days.
But what I'd rather remember? The way Dad made THE yummiest home fries around when he cooked us delicous breakfasts on a Saturday morning. The man who patiently taught me and my brother to fly a kite, as we raced around Parker Farms Elementary's grassy lawn. Dad and Mom watching us search diligently for Easter eggs every Easter morning and then the year I decided, as a teenager, that it was time for role reversal. After that I always hid the eggs and had my parents find them. The Daddy who video recorded each and every dance recital up through eleven grade and who always told me to "Break a leg" and cheered in the audience. The Daddy I baked a birthday cake for every year the last 4-5 years of his life. The man who would sing ME Happy Birthday the morning of my special day and often with a rock twist, "They say it's your birthday....". The man who taught me how to find myself a man who would be loving and caring...I loved watching him and my mom hold hands and kiss each other. The Dad who helped teach me to drive and who glowered at any boy who came to the door to take me on a date. The man who played Christmas carols on Christmas morning as he brewed coffee and made Mom's tea and brought out a plate of MOm's homemade cookies as we opened gifts. The crazy man who belted out his favorite tunes in a deep, DEEP voice and who made me laugh when he danced The Cabbage Patch in the middle of our kitchen. The Daddy who called me his Chicky Babe from the time I was a little girl up until I was a grown woman. The man who didn't often SAY the words "I love you" but who showed me EVERY SINGLE DAY. That's what I want to remember about Daddy.