“A week?!” Had I heard correctly? It couldn’t be….could it? I felt the room starting to spin, turning into a giant maelstrom, that relentlessly pulled me down into nothingness. I tried to fight against the current, not wanting to accept what I had just heard but as I looked at the doctor’s sad and apologetic eyes, I knew. I wanted to scream or argue that there had to be more we can do, but I could not speak. I could not breathe. I felt the room and the voices around me fade away as darkness started to envelope me.
“Too aggressive….everywhere….can’t stop it…cancer.” Cancer. God, how I hated that word. That word that represented this vicious disease that would take my dad from me. I looked at my dad, my poor dad. He didn’t say anything either. What do you say when your doctor tells you, you only have a week left to live? I’d always thought of myself as someone who never gave up, who’d fight and would beat the odds and yet here I was, realizing that I couldn’t do anything.
Everything became very still at that moment. The frantic fight that had gone in inside me, was over. I had surrendered to the current, allowing it to take me wherever it wanted.
So this is what helplessness feels like, I thought. I had to admit, I didn’t much care for it.
“…tests…”, I heard the muffled voice of the doctor go on.
I looked at my mom. Her eyes reddened from lack of sleep and crying. She didn’t say anything either. She just sat there, on that gray and maroon chevron patterned chair. It was a nice chair with ample padding. It was nothing like those cheap, vomit green hospital chairs you always see in the movies. The room looked nice too. It had hardwood floors and the walls were painted with a light, muted blue color.
The doctor’s lips had stopped moving. He wasn’t talking anymore. Nobody was. The silence was palpable and crushing.
I looked at my mom again. She didn’t look at me. She didn’t look at anything. She seemed miles away. I looked at my dad, my once big, strong and powerful dad. What had that disease done to him? He was just skin and bones now, a shadow of his former self. I saw him drifting away before my very own eyes.
My fingers curled up into a fist. No! What was I doing?! I couldn’t give up! I had to be there for my family! I had to get us through this.
For the first time, since I had stepped foot into the doctor’s office that day, I felt myself breathe. The room as a whole, was coming into focus again. The voices, once muffled and distant were now clear and close. A baby was crying and someone was mowing the lawn outside. The doctor spoke again.
“We will continue the chemotherapy sessions, once a week and a nurse will call you either today or tomorrow to schedule a home visit.”
I asked, “why?”
The following days came and went by in a blur. I had found refuge in taken over all of the logistics of my dad’s care. I welcomed the distraction. Distraction was good. Distraction kept me from sinking down to the bottom again. I couldn’t sink…not now…not when my dad and mom needed me.
My resolve had hardened me. I didn’t feel anything anymore. I was numb to it all and it had to be this way, if I wanted to take care of my family and I did. I wanted to be there for my dad, who had done everything for me, sacrificed so much for me and I wanted to be there for my mom, who would now have to face a life without my dad.
I stumbled out of my room one morning, half asleep and nearly tripped over my dad kneeling on the floor, rummaging through a cabinet.
“What are you looking for dad?” I asked.
“The Tahoe photos.”
“I can look for you,” I offered. He simply nodded and slowly got back up. This took me back a bit and I felt my chest tightening again. Just a few days ago, he would have been angry with me, downright outraged for suggesting he’d needed help. Did I ever mention my dad was as stubborn as they came? Well, I guess I must have gotten it from somewhere.
The fact that he had so meekly accepted my offer confirmed what I already knew but was too afraid to actively think about. My dad was rapidly declining. I found the photo album my dad had been looking for and brought it to him.
The trip to Lake Tahoe over Christmas a few years back had been a surprise for my dad. My mom, of course was in on the conspiracy and had gone through great lengths to find and buy winter clothing for them, which had not been an easy task in the hot state of Florida. My dad was under the impression that I was coming home for Christmas so he was very confused when my mom kept on delaying and even getting angry with him for wanting to put up Christmas decorations. She didn’t want him to go through all the trouble of decorating the house and the yard if they were just going to be gone but of course, she couldn’t tell my dad that. My dad just wanted to make the house look nice for me. I still grin to this day, picturing my dad sneaking around to the backyard to put up the snowman while mom wasn’t looking. Then, finally, the departure day was there and my mom unceremoniously woke my dad up in the middle of the night to go to the airport. My very tired and drowsy dad took one look at the dark sky, one look at his watch and protested.
“Our daughter’s flight is not supposed to arrive until the afternoon,” he said. This is when my mom finally gave in and told him that I wasn’t coming. Instead they had a flight to catch and we would all meet up at Lake Tahoe. Still half asleep, my mom rushed my dad to lock up the house, grab the suitcases and off they went to the airport. It wasn’t until they were at the check-in counter that my dad realized that they were about to go on a plane.
His response was to upgrade them to business class and order a drink or two on the flight. None of us knew back then that this trip to Lake Tahoe would become one of our favorite family memories. We went snowmobiling, grabbed beer at the local pub and got snowed in by a blizzard. Thankfully a very nice waitress at the pub offered to take us to a gas station to buy some snow chains for our car. I had never put on snow chains on a car before so my dad taught me. We’d play Wii Sports in the evening and my mom absolutely demolished my dad and I. It was a very special trip.
My dad and I laughed out loud, looking at all the different pictures from that trip and remembering how good that apple maple syrup bacon tasted. My dad had loved the bacon so much that even the blizzard, that hit us while we were there, could not keep him from going to the restaurant and picking up a box of bacon for all of us. That was my dad, an unstoppable force in pursuit of bacon!
It was then that it hit me. I would never get to make new memories with my dad. There would never be another photo album with all of us together. He would never see me graduate or get married. We would never go on another trip again. I felt the blood drain from me as the cruel realization washed over me. I reached for my dad, wanting to hold onto him forever and as I did, something inside me broke. Tears started to stream down my face and I could not stop them. I tried to hide them at first but they simply kept on coming. The emotions I had bottled up for so long were finally coming out. My dad held me close, stroke my hair and told me, it was going to be ok.
Three days later, six days after the doctor’s office visit and two days before my birthday, my dad passed away peacefully. We scattered his ashes at sea, at an old ship wreck site. He would have loved that.
I awoke to the sound of the coffee machine. I quietly made my way into the kitchen where I saw my mom and aunt, quietly whispering and giggling.
“Oh! I hope we didn’t wake you?” my aunt said when she saw me. I shook my head and hugged my mom.
“Can I get one too?” I asked, looking longingly at that steaming, dark brown liquid of deliciousness we call coffee. My aunt smiled.
I took a sip. It was good coffee!
“Should we start to get breakfast ready?” My aunt, clearly on her second coffee, was ready for action.
“Sure, why not. It’s time to get up anyways. The wedding planner will pick us up at eleven”, I said. My aunt put the buns in the oven. My mom grabbed the plates and I got the butter from the fridge.
“Should we cook up some of the bacon as well?”
Bacon…dad…. he wasn’t here. I felt my eyes welling up with tears and tried to quickly blink them away. Today was supposed to be the happiest day of my life…and yet…it wasn’t. It wasn’t because my dad didn’t come through the door, dancing or more like bouncing around to German Oldies, looking to tickle and tease my mom. He would never do so again. I took a deep breath and grabbed the cheese.
The weather forecast was not encouraging. Rain, rain and more rain. It was Iceland after all and yet, I had still hoped for a bit of sunshine but it didn’t look like it was meant to be. As I walked through the mossy lava field towards the man I loved and was about to marry, the sadness I had felt that morning came rushing back. My dad was not here to give me away. I could not share this special moment with him. This moment, that would end up in a photo album. A photo album, that would feel incomplete.
That instance, the dark and heavy laden rain clouds parted and gave way to the sun, despite all odds and weather forecasts. I turned to face the sun. It felt warm, comfortable and familiar. It felt like the time we looked at those Tahoe pictures, when my dad held me close and told me everything was going to be ok. That is when I knew.
I had been wrong. My dad was here with me. He had always been and would always be with me, even if I didn’t see him. He was a part of me and everyone that knew him. I closed my eyes and smiled.