My Dad never felt sorry for himself. He didn't believe in complaining or pity parties. He told me he'd learned that from his father. "There's no point in complaining about pain," he said. "It doesn't make it go away." So even though my Dad has been in a lot of pain for the last 15 years -- ever since a botched hernia surgery that left him with a tummy bigger than Buddha's -- he rarely talked about it.
He didn't talk about anything painful... not about his lack of mobility, not about his cancer, not about the treatments, not about his fears of death. He didn't sink into depression either. He just went about his life as best as he could, not wanting any pity or special treatment.
He almost died on the operating table to remove the tumor they'd found last Thanksgiving. Miraculously, he survived not just one long surgery, but then a second emergency surgery to correct a problem from the first surgery, despite the high-risk status. After months in the hospital, he recovered only to discover the cancer had spread to his liver. Still, he didn't give up hope. He got his chemo treatments, in between bridge games and computer work.
He had visits from all his children, grandchildren, and even his new great-grandbaby over the summer. He actually seemed to be getting better, as impossible as that may have seemed. And though he never talked about death, he called more often and seemed a bit more sentimental.
I knew my Dad was living on borrowed time, but it still was unexpected to get the call from my brother last Thursday telling me he was back in the hospital. I made it to Sacramento in time to see him again. My brother, sister, Mom and I were all with him in the hospital. They removed all the apparatus and tubes taped to his face, expecting him to die right away, but he held on for another few hours, much more at peace than the night before, from what I hear. On a light morphine drip, he drifted in and out of consciousness, sometimes alert and looking at us all. We could see the love in his eyes in those moments of lucidity. And even during those final hours, he'd give us these looks as though he were teasing us or rolling his eyes at our drama. It's hard to explain, but my Dad is known for his off-the-wall sense of humor, so it's not so surprising that he could even find a way to joke with us on his death bed and still make us laugh.
When he took that last breath, we all broke down. The finality seemed surreal. How could he possibly be here one minute and gone the next? Now would be the time for him to open his eyes again and laugh at his prank.
Four days later and it still doesn't seem real. I know this feeling well from losing my brother. The feeling that nothing else matters. Why is everyone worrying about such trivialities such as celebrity gossip or weather reports. When people innocently ask, "How are you?" I contemplate saying, "I'm terrible. My father's dead." But, I figure it's better to just stick with the more acceptable, "Fine."
I am constantly distracted or staring at pictures of Dad, trying to etch him forever in my memory. I want to call his phone answering machine, just to listen to his voice again. I want to tell the world they need to stop what they're doing because nothing will ever be the same. The man who could do anything, the man who knew all the answers, the man who loved his family with all his heart, the only man who will ever love me unconditionally -- that man is gone.
So basically, I'm feeling sorry for myself. I'm doing the very thing that my Dad never did, even on his worst days. But I will at least end it with a smile, because I know that's what he would want.
Dad, this one's for you:
“I want to die in my sleep like my grandfather... Not screaming and yelling like the passengers in his car.”