Fair warning--this isn't a thoughtfully written reflection, and its not very upbeat, I suppose. And that in and of itself is one reason I haven't shared here, or on any social media platform, in a long time. I dont feel upbeat, often, and I don't feel like being disgenuine, so I just keep to myself. But I have been feeling the need to get some concrete thoughts down about the last five months. Because while they weren't happy, per se, they were special. And I don't want to forget that.
It's been over a month since my daddy passed away, (and two weeks since I started writing this) and I still struggle to voice the words. Verbalizing it is surreal, in the worst way possible. I periodically get sweet, thoughtful messages from clients and friends asking how my dad is doing, and I think those are the times I lose my composure the most. It's of no fault to the person asking--I am immensely grateful for the kindness of those who have kept us in their thoughts and prayers--it's just the idea that that question is always asked with the best intentions. Like, everyone expects him to still be here. It's so simple. When someone is sick, they receive treatment to get better. I mean, we all thought he would still be here. We all thought he had a fighting chance. We thought he had time, at least. We weren't naive enough to think he could kick this forever, but we thought we had time. And we were very wrong. So voicing the reality of his passing is intensely, extremely hard.
I met with a counselor a few weeks ago, because I just couldn't function. Couldn't get out from under the heavy fog of grief. And disbelief.
He told me to write. And I didn't want to....it made me cry. Big, heavy, emotionally-exhausting cries. Writing my thoughts about my dad and the unbearable pain of losing him hurt like hell. And it brought to the surface the emotions that every day life with two kids can blessedly stamp down. But the night before my dad's memorial service, I finally wrote a letter, and I read it through tired, teary eyes at his service. And though it was far from easy, I suppose I am glad I did it. I know there is cleansing through fire, and that is what facing his passing feels like.
It's now been almost a month now since that day; since I first wrote that letter, and I am just now writing again, if that tells you anything about how much of a struggle it is. But I've felt the push to get something down, and have now come back to this draft 7-8 times over the last few days trying to cohesively tie it all up.
And yet, I still have no rhyme or reason to my thoughts. I miss him. He had become a part of our daily life, my daily routine. The drastic change from my daddy being here in our home for months, and then just not, is hard to wrap my mind around. My kids got to see him every day. Addie got to play nurse, and dispense his vitamins, and check his blood pressure and temperature with her play doctor set that we so innocently gifted her at Christmas; that we never anticipated would see this kind of play.
There are so many things I don't want to remember, but do.
How short I would get with him sometimes, when he wouldn't get out of bed, when he wouldnt eat. I was trying to help him, but I had no idea how bad things were, and how hard these simple tasks were for him.
How nauseous I became when they told us how advanced his cancer was. I felt like my legs weren't going to hold me, but I still stood, for fear that he would see my fear.
How hard the appointments were for him; all the appointments I forced him to go to--social worker, nutritionist, etc.
How helpless I felt when he had to be taken back to the ER by ambulance, because I couldn't get him out of bed.
How impossibly broken I felt when they told my brother and I that the chemo wasn't working.
But there are so many other memories that, though brought about through terrible circumstances, are things I really do want to remember.
The full-ness of our house. We were rarely alone, and it was such a special few months with family we don't get to see very often because of distance. Just about every other week one of my fathers six brothers and sisters, or our cousins, would come to visit. They brought food, and companionship, and it was a blessing and a joy. They served our weary family by doing things like cleaning the guest bathroom, organizing the pantry, and sweeping out our garage, but more importantly they showered the kiddos with love, and all four of my dad's grandkids here were able to have a fun-filled, family-filled summer despite the circumstances we were surrounded by. There was one morning this summer that I specifically remember, where Addie woke up and immediately asked "where's the family?" As in, "who is coming to play with us today?" Similarily, Ian asked me, when my dad was moved back to the in-patient hospice unit, if that meant we wouldnt see family anymore. Break my heart even more why don't you kids. My children clearly love being surrounded by family just as much as their parents do. Additionally, once my dad was under palliative care, there was a constant stream of hospice and care workers in and out all day and all night. It was an adjustment, but I am so thankful for the attentiveness everyone showed us. And now the house seems so empty. So quiet.
The blessing of basketball in the Spring. May dad's fatigue and inability to get around was a little bit easier to cope with knowing his beloved basketball was on all day every day. We got to have him with us though March Madness, the NBA playoffs, and then eventually the College World Series.
My little side-kick. Addie got out of school for the summer much earlier than Ian and Benjamin did, so she tagged along with me to several of my dad's appointments. She received easter suckers from the infusion staff, and a stern reprimand from his less-than-friendly doctor when my daughter was not behaving as she felt a three-year-old should have behaved after a two hour wait. I was obviously on my daughters side that day. She decorated Pepaw's room with paintings and stickers and glitter, and loved visiting him when he was in the hospital. She still accurately points out all the (numerous) doctors offices and buildings we visited with him.
The sound of the freezer opening and closing every couple of hours, where we kept bags of Sonic ice--the only thing we could count on him always eating.
The daily viewing of shows that will have always, and will always remind me of my dad. Star Trek, John Wayne, NCIS, and all the fishing shows we could find.
The dedication and love that said three-year old poured into her job as nurse. Gosh, how she loved taking care of him. Every morning she would ask "Does Pepaw feel better?" and every evening she would pray that he did. She would rub lotion on his feet and hands, and remind him to drink his shakes. She would daily run in and want to give him his pills, and his vitamins. Even when he couldn't swallow anymore, she would put them in his hand, and we would gently take them and put them back in the bottle when she left the room. She still talks about going to the beach when Pepaw feels better, and needing to go visit him in the hospital. Kids--they can break your heart with their pure innocence and love.
The ways we all tried to show our love. Towards the end, there was very little we could do for him. But one day there would be an uncle giving him a shave, and on a different day there was an aunt giving him a haircut. My husband waited patiently with me at Walmart, when on impulse I decided to buy my 64 year old father some balloons for his room for Father's Day. So many times my brother would bring over my dads favorite foods, even knowing the likelihood of him eating them was slim. One day in particular he brought a frozen coke. (Chemo does a number on your appetite, and he would only eat soft, cold foods, eventually regressing to just liquids, and then to just ice. But we would still try.) And this frozen coke, well, he wouldn't drink it, so I did. Later that evening, of course, he asked for it. So I spent the evening trying to requisition my neighbors for any sodas they had lying around, eventually finding one, blending it up with ice, and serving it to him to have him drink 3 sips. But there is something so elemental about being able to provide someone so sick with any and all requests.
While we're on the subject of food.... I did a poor, poor job of serving up home cooked meals for my family during this time. They didn't care, of course, and didn't ask, but I was well aware. We ate a lot of fast food, but more than that, our family and friends became the hands and feet of Jesus as they provided meal after meal for us. My grandmother even sent some of our favorite home cooked meals down from Kansas. There is so much love and emotion tied up to cooking and food for me, so this small gesture on behalf of so many was a huge, huge blessing.
I'm getting off track, and I realize I haven't even talked about memories of my father before he was sick. I am writing those down too. But I am not as worried about forgetting those. He was such a big part of our life for so long, that I will be working through those precious memories forever. For now, I am needing to get these past few months out of my brain and heart and down onto paper. Because they changed me. They broke me. I suppose I am fortunate in that I have never experienced loss like this before, in all of my 35 years. But now that I've walked through this, I don't think I will ever be the same. From the moment I became a mom to Ian, I knew that I was made to do it. I am, undoubtedly, a nurturer. Taking care of people is where I find my purpose, and it comes naturally--to a fault. So when this beast of a disease showed up and reversed our roles--put my dad under my care--I was ok. I was going to do whatever it took to beat this. I can do that. I can handle appointments and medicine and daily care and bills. I can take care of people. What I was not prepared for, was to lose him. So these past few months I had with him, hard and bleak as they sometimes were, are very special to me.
I have so much more I want to say. I just have a hard time saying it. I don't usually struggle with writing like this, but it takes me so, dang, long to formulate cohesive sentences, so I am going to stop now. There is a lot more that needs to be said, so I will be back soon.