A friend of mine recently asked me if I prepared myself for my Dad’s death. Sadly, she’s facing serious illness with her mom. Time to dig deep. This month, the month of Father’s Day, it will be one year since I saw him pass from one world to the next.
We all know life has ups and downs. Sometimes we skate on through, while other times stop us in our tracks. Up until the last few years, even our bumps in the road were manageable.
Then one day that bump turned into a giant pothole.
In November of 2014, my family received the unpredictable and devastating news that my Dad had stage IV gastric cancer. It was bad. It had spread to his lungs, liver, and lymph nodes. It had metastasized – no surgery. There’s no removing that monster when it’s finding new places to burrow in the body.
So, he was sick. Very sick. My Dad. My hero. The love of my Mom’s life and the man everyone called their best friend. I feared everything to come. My entire family, especially my Mom, was shaken and scared. But, wait . . . my poor boys. We struggled with how to tell the kids that their beloved and funny Grandpa who always played with them and in every moment went out of his way to make them feel special, was frail . . . and sick. It nearly broke me inside.
When you make a conscious decision to bring your innocent children into the dark world of pain that is cancer; when you purposely make them a part of the process, that’s when your grieving begins. We all painfully processed this grim new reality.
I’ll never forget the night my Mom and Dad came to my house to give the boys the treasures my Dad collected through the years while metal detecting . . . they were in a plastic dishwasher container. Something about that visit made it all too real. The ache felt inside and the tears quietly shed.
With the help of chemotherapy, my Dad was with us for another 17 months after that. Like so many, he fought the good fight until he just couldn’t anymore.
You can imagine, those months were heart-wrenching and difficult . . . as a mother and a daughter. I had to be a Mom through all the fear of losing my Dad. We took the boys to school, soccer games, camping, had movie nights, celebrated holidays, and did all the things you do as a family . . . there’s no other choice.
While navigating home life, I was simultaneously going to chemo treatments with my parents. Constantly texting, calling, and wondering what would happen next and when. I had never experienced feeling so torn, because the love for all parties was off the charts.
Time together as a family became precious, but we knew the kids were witnessing his decline firsthand. It’s true that not much can destroy a body like the beast that is cancer. Putting them on the frontlines, was ironically to protect them. They couldn’t wake up one day and Grandpa just be gone. We let them dictate what they could handle, and backed off when necessary.
The week before he passed, from his hospital bed in my parent’s room, my brothers and I with our spouses allowed my Dad to gather all of his grandchildren and tell them he was dying. As a mother, this was rock-bottom grief. I felt shattered to the core. He told them about the wonderful Hospice nurses taking care of him and how he wasn’t afraid to die. He told each one of them how much he loved them. He told them to take care of Grandma, and has them looking forward to the big kickball game in Heaven. This was horrific, and yet a beautiful gift. Not everyone gets that chance.
On June 23rd, 2016, at home with family by his side, he went to some place much greater than this — four days after Father’s Day AND my Mom’s Birthday. I feel guilty sometimes for missing him as much as I do (yes . . . guilt even in grief), because I know there are people with harder stories than mine. My Dad was truly one of the greats and I’ll ALWAYS be thankful for him, but I’m heartbroken my kids had that cut short. I never thought a few years ago we’d all be having Father’s Day without him. Love your people fully because life happens, whether we like it or not.
The struggle continues. We’ve managed holidays and birthdays, and somehow are making memories without him. But, life will NEVER be the same. I miss him. I’m a different person from when this began . . . too much anxiety and self-doubt. Grief will do that to a person. But, I’m a work in progress and I know it’s essential to seek out the joy and cherish life — for me and my family.
To answer that friend, I prepared as best I could. My Dad had enviable faith and at every turn would declare, “God is good.” I believe he tried to prepare us.
I reflect on that time and hope and pray we made the right decisions for our kids. Should you be faced with something similar, that’s all you can do. Maybe getting our kids through these giant potholes will someday give them tools to manage the minefield that is life.
Happy Father’s Day, Dad. I love you.