Just 20 More Minutes Please….

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Dad’s Story Part 2

Everyone, if they already haven’t, will experience death in some form at some point.  Before my dad, I had lost grandparents, pets, and acquaintances. But this one was different.  The loss of my father took the core of my soul and shook it up so much I couldn’t tell if I was crying from sadness, anger, or joy.  I never knew I was capable of such raw emotion.

I also never knew I was so capable of being so strong.

No one knows exactly how they will react to the death of someone they love so very much until that time comes.   I think in our heads we think we do. Or we expect ourselves to cope in a certain way. But that’s a crock of shit.  We don’t know how to do it!  Often people are shocked by their reaction and the fact that they have no power over their emotions.  Everything is raw.  Everything is on the surface.  Everything is horrible. And we hate it. That loss of control sucks.  And as cliché as it sounds, there is comfort in knowing that we aren’t alone.  Not one person I have ever come across throughout out this journey of going through the loss of my dad has felt like they knew what they were doing or that they felt comfortable with the way they were grieving.  I see it now as I watch a couple of friends brokenhearted at the recent losses of their loved ones.   There is no right and no wrong way to grieve.   None of us know what the hell we are doing.  So I say just do it…be sad, be heartbroken, be angry, be livid, be regretful, be broken down, be exhausted, be overjoyed, be nostalgic.  It’s OK.  It’s not wrong.  It will get better…. But, unfortunately, it won’t ever go away.

*****

I had very little time to process things after my step mom told me about my dad’s illness…I was forced (not that I minded at all) to hold it together.  My grandma, Dad’s mom, was there and my oldest little brother, Mike, was on his way up.  I swallowed the lump in my throat that wanted to be let out in a horribly loud scream and wiped away my tears that had pooled in my eyes.  I couldn’t let my grandma or brothers see me this heartbroken.  Not because I was embarrassed, but because I know how hard it is to see someone you love endure horrific things.  I didn’t want them to see me suffer.  I told myself to hold it together.

This is how I began my coping….be strong, be in control. It was all very calculated.  I remember thinking to myself that I had to get things together and make sure everyone in my family was taken care of. And I knew at the time, this would benefit us all. I know this kind of goes against what I said above about just doing it…just letting it all go and let yourself grieve.  But anyone who knows me well will know that that was exactly what I was doing.  I made it through by tending to everyone. I loved doing it.  I had absolutely no bitterness about it.  I discovered that the way I mourn was to swoop in and make sure everyone else was watched over.

******

That first day of being aware of the cancer seemed to go on and on.  Debbie wanted to tell the four of us kids about Dad individually.  Next in the lineup was Mike.  Before he got there I made sure to tell Deb that when she talks to him about what was happening to be sure not to pause too long…that’s why I thought Dad had died in surgery…that long lingering pause.  I think when she ended up telling Mike it came out quick, like pulling off a band-aid. He kind of took it like me.  He and I are the most alike…and as the story goes on, it gets more and more obvious.

I’m not sure when Debbie talked to my sister, Michelle.  She lives up north, a few hours away.  I wasn’t there when the phone call was made.  I do know that she made it to town on the train I think.  It’s funny how the mind works…some things are as clear as can be, but others are just a jumble of moments.

I do remember how it went down with Joel, my youngest sibling.  He’s our baby. Fourteen years behind me has always made me feel maternal to him.  That day he was working.  He had gone in very early  but knew that Dad was going to the hospital.  Debbie kept him in the loop with only minor details.  She didn’t want to tell him anything over the phone.  She did try to get him to get off work early and come to the hospital…but the employee of the month wouldn’t do it.  He had to finish his shift.  Finally Debbie sent myself and one of my friends over to the house to get him and bring his oblivious butt to the hospital as soon as he walked in the door from work.

Meanwhile, those of us who knew about the goings on had shared it with our closest friends.  Mike shared it with a buddy who so kindly posted it to Facebook that our family needed prayer…the problem was that Joel had no idea what was going on.  We all panicked!  Finding out your dad is dying sucks.  Finding out on Facebook is horrible. Thank goodness this was a few years ago and technology, at least with Facebook, wasn’t that advanced yet.  Joel  was spared that horror.

Once the little brother was collected and strapped in safely into my friend’s car we headed for the hospital…a hospital that will never look just like any old hospital to me again.  We chit chatted about random things.  It broke my heart knowing what Joel was about to have to endure.  I felt as if we were leading a lamb to slaughter.  Joel, the one we have all done everything we ever could to protect, was about to get the rug ripped out from under him.  There was nothing I could do about it.  It was probably the hardest 20 minutes of my life riding with him that afternoon.  I wanted to tell my friend to drive us to Pismo Beach, or to Santa Cruz…drive us anywhere…just not the hospital.  Later, years later actually, Joel told me he had absolutely no idea of what was to come.  He said that that day I was an incredible actress and I made it appear as if we were just taking an afternoon drive.  I told him it was because I wanted him to keep him from sadness as long as possible……

…..even if it was just 20 minutes more.

When we delivered him to his mom, Debbie, I just sunk into a chair across the room…as far as I could get.  I will never get the sound of his breathtaking cry out of my head.  This was the worst.

******

The next few days were a blur.  Dad was heavily sedated and wouldn’t be told of his cancer until he was fully awake.  We could go in one or two at a time. I did, but really, I hated it.  Seeing him there, helpless…lifeless…was horrible.  But never once did I question “Why?” or get angry or ever not except what was happening to him.  I guess he instilled one of his mottos in me…It is what it is.  Yeah, but  its cancer.

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2 responses »

  1. I love your expression, “…a jumble of moments.” It describes exactly how I feel sometimes, and most especially when my own Daddy died unexpectedly. [It also describes “chemo brain,” btw.]

  2. I know how it feels, I watched both my parents die of cancer. I was 13 when my father passed, he told me that I was the man of the house and that I should take care of my mother and brother. I never cried. My mother died of cancer four years and three days to the date of my dads death, both died in December, I’ve hated Christmas ever since my father passed. I never could bring myself to cry and have carried a bitter feeling all these years. After all these years I still hurt at the loss of two very wonderful loving people. Reading your post brings back bad memories for me, life is not fair but it goes on and I along with it.

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