Right now in 2014, I was probably just getting to work, or maybe stuck in traffic on my way there. Despite having a fancy education and some experience, I was working as a temp, moving papers from on pile to another for a real estate company. I had actually been offered the job while at the hospital with my dad a few months prior. I was still under the impression that if I did well and showed them what I could do, they would turn around and offer me a permanent job and I would be able to finally start planning for the future again. Instead, they tiptoed around the issue of a permanent job, claiming a lack of funds or whatever, but that they “really appreciated all that I was doing” and “there might be a home there for me after the new year.” But then I got the call.
Dad had been sick for a few months; it really started before we had celebrated my parents’ 50th anniversary by getting married in Vegas. My dad was feeling some stomach discomfort, chalked it up to an ulcer, and just dealt with it. The stubborn old git that he was, he didn’t want to go to the doctor, instead asking my mom to tell the doctor his symptoms when she would go for appointments. The doctor had one question for my father: what color is my shirt today? “Well, how would I know that! I wasn’t there.” Well, yeah, Dad, you weren’t there. I think that was the doctor’s point. It wasn’t that long before he finally went to his doctor.
But once he did, it was I think what we had all feared: cancer. Now, cancer itself is not terribly scary; after all, my dad was diagnosed with a mild form of prostate cancer back in 2012 that probably wasn’t going to kill him. But this cancer was different. Not only was it in his pancreas, one of the worst versions of cancer you can get, but it was fairly late stage. Weeks before I had received the call on this day two years ago, my sister had called me with the prognosis – six to nine months. Even treatment would have only added another three months or so. I cried on the way home, not the best thing to do when travelling in Utah rush hour traffic. Arrangements needed to be made. Plans needed to be changed. But we thought we had some time to brace for the end. We thought there was a chance that he would be his stubborn fool self and refuse to die. But then I got the call.
Dad was at the hospital, admitted to the ICU. Can you leave work now? Can you get up here? It looks bad but the doctors are hopeful. He was coughing up blood this morning, and collapsed as he got out of the car at the hospital. One of his last acts of stubbornness really; Mom told him to wait in the car as she went to grab someone to help, and he decided that it was fine and he could walk in himself. Nope. Stubborn old fool to the end.
We all descended on the hospital. My younger brother was living at home, and was only a few weeks removed from moving back from his adventures in Minnesota/Wisconsin. My older brother was there because his work had decided to let him come home for work as often as possible after we got the prognosis; it was his first of many planned visits. My youngest sister was making arrangements in California, leaving a job and planning on coming back to Utah, at least temporarily, to help my parents with whatever the needed over the next few months. The rest of us were just planning on helping out where we could, alternating at appointments and making sure my mom didn’t have to do everything on her own.
The doctors were optimistic but it didn’t look good. A person doesn’t usually go straight to the ICU if they are going to be leaving again, but we were hopeful. Arrangements still needed to be made. Plans still needed to be changed. We needed more time. My son needed to get there. He needed to meet his grandfather in the flesh. I needed him around to help me be a dad. To help me with life. We wanted months, not weeks. Days, not hours. We just needed more time…
But it wasn’t to be. During the time from diagnosis to the end, my dad’s only real want was to not die in the hospital. Despite their best efforts, the doctors couldn’t get him well enough to enable him to leave. The doctors were optimistic to the end, but the cancer was just too strong. We were waiting for him to get better, left the room to get something to eat, when we were told that we needed to come back to the room. In his final act of defiance/stubbornness, my dad tried to stand up on his own when they came in to change some of his bedding, instead of letting the orderlies help him up. His blood pressure spiked and could no longer be controlled by meds, and it was time.
It’s an odd feeling to be at the hospital three days before Christmas. It was a little too quiet, at least compared to how I thought how a hospital should be. No doctors running in, calling codes and trying to save someone’s life. Just a once strong man slipping away. And a new permanent pain forming on your heart, a pain that isn’t constantly there but jabs and pokes when you least expect it, like when you hold your son for the first time when you thought you might lose him or his mom when he decides to make his entry 10 weeks earlier than planned. When your now strong healthy little man looks up at you with that glint in his eye that looks so familiar. When you call the house hoping to talk to mom, but she’s out and you hear his voice on the answering machine. Even when you are having plumbing problems and you know that he’d be able to figure it out without Youtube videos or internet forums.
Or on days like today, when two years feels like twenty years and two days at the same time: distant and in the past but still really close. I miss my dad every day, some more than others, and that’s okay. I don’t ever want to not miss him, because despite the pain, there is some comfort. He lives on a little in all of us.
Thank you, Dad, for everything. I miss you and love you.