Egg Salad Sandwiches

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Dad’s Story Part 3

Recently I wrote this to a dear old friend who just lost his mom (actually he’s not old…he’s 29 like me):

“I’m so sorry about your mom. I know from experience that this time in your life is probably one of the most difficult times you will go through but also a beautiful time…sounds strange, but that’s what I believe.  This is a time of remembering and smiling at the little moments you have tucked away in your memory.  It’s a time for family and love and support.  Embrace it. “

 *****

Losing my dad was a beautiful time.  It was a time for remembering for sure.  I don’t know how many stories I heard over those two elongated weeks of hanging out in the hospitals halls & waiting rooms,  over phone calls, and meals in the cafeteria {I will forever associate egg salad sandwiches with this time of my life…and you know what? I still love egg salad sandwiches.} Family members laughed and cried as we remembered the quirky stuff dad did and continued to do in the hospital.  He had old friends come by to visit and share their memories with me. One of my favorite stories was from Dad’s long time co-worker, Joe.  He said my dad, a carpenter back in the day, should have been a rock star.  I guess he used to climb up the scaffolding on work sites and sing random songs at the top of his lungs.  Yeah, he did that at home too.  A lot.

This time was also a time for learning.  I discovered a lot those 14 days we had left with him. For one, I learned that he trusted me with every rotten-from-cancer cell in his body. And, boy, that was a lot of trust….

When he started to come off the sedation he, without a doubt, became aware of what was going on with his condition.  He had a colossal incision from the surgery and he couldn’t wait to show it to me.  As he lifted his gown to show me what would never turn into a scar, I think he was trying to purposefully freak me out.  He said that the staples holding his body together looked like the stitches on baseball.  Wow. Holy smokes. He was cut from the top of his chest to his belly button. And I think he was a bit entertained by this.

Sicko.

But, he also knew it was not good. The word cancer had not been spoken yet.  The surgeon had suggested we wait for the oncologist to come in to explain it to him. That actually took at least a day and a half from when Dad came to.  I can’t even pick a word to describe the feeling of knowing my dad is dying, he knows he’s dying, yet not being allowed to talk about it til the right time.   When that “right” time finally came, I happened to be visiting.  He had just been given the OK to have some Jello and was chowing down…well, if Jello could be chowed down that is. He was happy, but like a child happy.  It was sweet, but poignant at the same time.  Just as the oncologist was beginning to put his words together, my dad blurted out, in Randy-like fashion, something like, “Well, Doc, how bad is it? What’s wrong with my guts?”

Dad never looked stronger.

The doctor went on to explain what kind of cancer it was: Pancreatic.  At least that was where it originated.  Most likely it had been growing there, quietly like the little bastard always does, for at least 6 months.  When it started to hurt him my dad mistook it for more back pain. A pain he had learned to deal with over the years.  A pain he ignored.  The other symptoms were also there but, like I said a second ago, the little pancreatic cancer bastard hid and disguised himself as irritability and loss of appetite.  The doctor went on to explain that since it was caught so late, which is typical of this type of cancer, the cancer had spread.

That little f^@#!r tagged every organ he could get to in my dad’s body.

I hate him.

Someone needs to catch him, lock him up, and throw away the key.

“How long do I have?” Dad asked, although we, and everyone else, were thinking it.  The doctor spoke a bit about treatment, but there was no way chemo would start until Dad recovered from surgery.  So that would have to wait. Kindly, the oncologist told us about 6 months.  But honestly, I knew…I knew he would not ever go home.  I don’t know why I knew but I did.  It’s a thought I kept to myself.  After the oncologist left the room, I followed him out.  He told me some numbers having to do with the cancer and that just confirmed what I had already been forced to accept. Dad was dying.  And it would be soon.

When I returned Debbie was getting him situated out of the chair to the bed or into the chair from his bed…my brain tends to blend it all together now.  The two of them were twisted in cords connected to monitors, tubes attached to who knows what, and IV lines filling my dad with horribly wonderful pain killing drugs. It was frustrating for him. He liked things to be neat and orderly.  Everything was all a tangled around his legs and arms.  He was struggling to get out of the mess and Deb was doing her best to move things around to make him comfortable.  His face never looked so distorted from pain as it did in those few moments. But it wasn’t just a physical pain.  I could tell that his wheels were turning.  He was processing what was finally said out loud.  I only hoped my expression wasn’t reflecting what I was watching.  Once again I wanted to scream from the core of my soul.  But I just sat down in a chair as Dad got settled and let some sort of weird stillness envelop me.  As Debbie got somewhat control of all of the disarray my dad looked at me.

He looked at me right in the eyes.

Suddenly very alert.

No sign of the narcotics flowing through his veins.

  “Help her.”

That’s all he said.  It wasn’t the untangling of the catheters or IVs he was talking about.  He was telling me a more.  His eyes whispered to me that day that the trust he had in me was big enough…big enough… to put me in his role.  The job he had for so long. The job that he was no longer able to carry out anymore. Caretaker of the family.  Foreman of his crew.  Leader of the Pack. Ringmaster of his circus.

Immediately I understood. This wasn’t something that over stepped Debbie’s position within the family.  She was going to get the most responsibility, as the wife does, in all of what we were going through and what was to come.  He knew she needed a partner.  Someone was needed to help out with the business and practical side of death and the life that follows.

There was no doubt that I would not let him down.

And he knew it.

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