Ten years ago today (March 31) was the last time I would see my dad alive. The night before, he rallied for a movie night with me. I don’t remember what we watched; I think it was some kind of thriller. What I do remember is sitting there next to him, holding his hand. We knew his battle with cancer was almost over, he had come home to be in hospice care. There was nothing more that could be done. We just had to wait for death to come and take him away. I remember the sound of his labored breathing, his lungs filled with fluid. I remember his hands, still big and strong, wrapped around mine. I remember knowing how much I was loved. I sat there with him until the movie was over and he had fallen asleep.
The next day, the day that was 10 years ago today, I left my parent’s home in Cleveland to head back to Chicago. It was the start of the new semester, I had to at least pick up my books and talk to my professors. We didn’t know how long my dad would hang on. I explained to him that I had to go back to school to pick up some stuff, but I would be back really soon.
April 1, 2003, my mom said good-bye to my dad, and left for work. She didn’t even make it to her car before the nurse called her back in. After 19 months of fighting, 19 months of radiation, chemo, surgery, speech therapy, occupational therapy, he could fight no more. The ugly, octopus like tumor had taken over his brain. He let go.
I find it interesting he waited for us to leave. Some people wait until everyone is there, some, apparently, wait until everyone is gone.
I don’t remember getting the call. I picked up my books and came back home. Not that having them meant anything. I couldn’t concentrate. I couldn’t even think. I’m amazed I made it home.
My dad’s death broke me. Weight after weight had piled up on my back and his death was the last ounce. I broke under the grief. Four friends and my father gone in a matter of 18 months. I was barely functional. I was blessed by the wonderful people who would come around and tried to pull me out of the seemingly bottomless pool of my grief, or who would come and sit in it with me for a while. The people who would go to Jimmy’s to grab a beer and a grilled cheese sandwich with me and talk about nothing important at all. I am forever thankful. I was also hurt by the dozens of people who only wanted to comfort me so that they could feel pastoral or satisfy some other personal need, the people who whispered about me, and the staff and faculty who ranged from a few caring souls to many who were oblivious to the few who were so callous they argued with me about the afterlife and tried to make me retake the classes I missed for my dad’s funeral. Pastoral care classes, mind you. I had little patience or grace for the people who said things to me like, “Rejoice that your father is in heaven on the day of the Lord’s resurrection!” Rejoice? Yeah, that’s how I felt. Like rejoicing. I don’t think I could even imagine what rejoicing felt like. Just because I love Jesus doesn’t mean I’m stoked that my dad has gone to hang out with him. I’d much rather have my dad here.
It still hurts. I miss my dad almost every day, but the tears only come sometimes. Like his birthday, holidays, the anniversary of his death, and when I think too long about how much I wish he and my husband could have met. They would have really liked each other.
My dad had a killer sense of humor. Many of my favorite memories involve dinner table performances of Monty Python sketches or recitations of scenes from Ghostbusters. We tried to convince my mom that his headstone should say, “I came, I saw, I kicked it’s ass.” She wasn’t having it. He and I used to go and chase spotlights we saw in the sky. He loved to go to this really good record store near my town to find me music I’d like. He got so excited when he would find some obscure CD I’d asked for. He loved classical music. He introduced me to Beethoven and PDQ Bach. I don’t remember listening to kids music, I remember listening to Pete Seeger and Simon and Garfunkel. Oh, and Prairie Home Companion. He had a beautiful singing voice. When he would sing a solo from the choir loft at church, everyone’s heads would turn. He also introduced me to good beer, and I really wish he was still around to know that I have gained an appreciation for whiskey. He hated messes, particularly my messy obsession with putting ketchup on nearly everything. And my room. Oh, my room. He was incredibly smart, well read and interested in the world. I loved watching the news with he and my mom. Most of all, he loved me. He would do anything for me. He never missed a concert or a play, even with his crazy work schedule. He supported me when I dropped out of college. He gave really good hugs. And I miss him like crazy. Especially today.
He managed to play the worst April Fool’s joke ever. There’s a part of me that wonder’s if he didn’t hold out for April 1. Like, he couldn’t make it until the next Friday the 13th or Halloween, so April Fool’s would have to do. That just sounds like something he would have done.
I miss you, dad. I always will. But, I am beginning to think that isn’t such a bad thing.
My mom read this and let me know 2 things. 1) she didn’t actually leave for work, as I had thought, he just thought she had because she said goodbye and went out the door. 2) On the day my dad died, my dog, Rocky, managed to escape and ran through the streets of Hyde Park. I was FREAKING OUT. A good friend of mine put out a call to help find him and one of the LSTC housing staff found him not far from my apartment, eating some Chinese food someone had thrown on the ground. Darn good thing that dog was such a scavenger.