My father was dying this time last year. I knew it. He knew it. We all did. The difference though was that he handled the news so much better than we did. Unlike us, he never complained or expressed the unfairness of the situation. He never said “too soon.” We did. Everyone who came to visit did. Even when he must have been in pain, my father never winced. I would wince. He’d tell me to stop it.
He stoically lived each remaining day and only occasionally addressed the matter. A thought would cross his mind like he was running a checklist before an upcoming trip. He would remember a chore my stepmom would soon inherit. “Remind me I need to teach her how to use the digital camera.” I nodded “okay” but broke down inside each time.
She and I handled that checklist with significantly less grace. Like when we were resetting their email password and it was his phone that rang for the restore option. Silently, but with welling emotions, we both looked at each other knowing his cell number would soon be silenced as well. What other accounts are associated with that number? There was so much to do. Too soon.
I am grateful that during the month and half that elapsed between his diagnosis and passing I was able to be at my father’s side for the milestones that marked the progress of his final days. To ride with him the last time he drove . To then become his driver. To help him eat. To help him walk.
During that time it was not lost on me that the circle of life was spinning. I was back in my home town driving my dad on the same streets where he taught me to drive. That wheel was spinning each time I grabbed him a towel like he did for me so many years ago… so many times. Once he was my humble caretaker. I was now honored and blessed to become his. To return the favor. Circle.
I was there with him when he patiently told his cancer doctor he didn’t think treatment was the best option and “we’ve” decided quality of life at this stage is better for us all. “I’m going with the four month plan you mentioned.” He was referring to the estimated time he was given. He was at peace with this decision and a stop at the hospital chapel confirmed that for me when he joked that you can’t light the candles… because of the oxygen tanks. Turning on the candle brought us peace.
Four months? He didn’t make it that long. Too soon.
I was there for his last meal and his last holiday.
On New Year’s Eve as my father was just a few days from passing he lay in his bed… as he wished and as we had planned. Family was there and the neighbors were celebrating. Sitting alone with him in his dark room as the New Year soon rang in we could hear fireworks outside. I could see the occasional burst of lights through the curtains. I think he could see them too. The sounds and the lights, though sometimes chaotic, enhanced the sense of peace I was feeling from him.
I am forever grateful I was able to be with him that last month and especially those last days. My father, through it all, put me at ease.
So now that I am in the first anniversary of those times I reflect each day on what little milestone we were passing. How we each dealt with the inevitable. How my father gave us strength even when his was fading.