May is a strange month. I always looked forward to the warm weather, celebrating Mother’s Day, my father’s birthday and our wedding anniversary. But after Mom died, Mother’s Day became a bit melancholy, though as a Mom, I try to balance out the sadness with joy. I have so many things to be thankful for in a month filled with new blooms and buds, but now it’s also the month my father was born and died.
When I got the news that my father had colon cancer, it was yet another wave of grief that settled into me. I didn’t invite that piece of news into my world. We were in his hospital room and with his physicians, and for a moment I couldn’t breathe. I was already consumed having to deal with the loss of my mother just three years earlier. But that wasn’t the reason for feeling overwhelmed. Since Mom’s death, I had become very familiar with the inside of an emergency room. A fall on ceramic tile resulted in an orbital fracture above Dad’s left eye. An unusual dizzy spell left him too weak to walk. Several other falls meant an adjustment in medication, close monitoring, and some blood transfusions. So when the phone rang, it was no longer the telemarketer I dreaded, it was another ordeal for my father.
Given Dad’s age, there was little that could be done medically except to bring him more suffering in a tired body and with a mind that would not understand. “Seven weeks at the most,” the palliative care doctor gently informed me.
I wasn’t prepared when Dad showed signs of dementia as Mom got sicker. None of us were. And I put my grief aside for Mom when she died. It doesn’t mean I didn’t grieve, but Dad needed me. Dad suffered Mom’s loss in such a profound way. He was often inconsolable, and eventually, we reduced our visits to the cemetery with him because of that.
Dementia was a cruel sentence that would take over slowly, and I naturally assumed we’d have time to adjust to whatever we encountered with Dad. He was all we had left.
But God had other plans. He usually does, despite what we chart out for ourselves. As I sat with Dad, feeling the urgency to adjust to this news so I could be the strong one, all I felt was more grief. How could we bury another parent so soon?
Now, the words of the Lord’s prayer, “Thy will be done,” makes sense. Whether I wanted to, or not, I accepted that reality. Maybe not so gracefully, but eventually. Acceptance grows out of necessity.
We packed away our father’s belongings from the residence and gave notice he was not returning. We notified family and friends. And then we tried to preserve the ordinary and mundane as we journeyed the last weeks with Dad. Any time was precious time.
In those last weeks, I knew what I needed to do: Just be there. For not only did this man run beside me while holding my bike until he knew I could ride on my own, but he lived with me so often through my sadness and joy. So it was only right that I do the same for him.
We played cards, and there were many visits from myself and others. The nurses would wave goodbye to me and say, “See you tomorrow.” We watched old movies, and I smiled when the credits rolled, and Dad remembered his favourite actress. I laughed when I brought him Happy Meals, and he reached for the fries first. These times wouldn’t last. He would start to slip away, eventually. But I had more moments, a lifetime of them, and as I write them to share or speak about, he is still with me.
Few words were spoken in the last few weeks, but I was happy to spend them with him. I held his hand, prayed, and cherished the journey I’d taken with him.
I was the first-born, and for Dad, that was significant. He’d remind me of that on each birthday I had. I’d open my card and see his familiar scrawl that read “To my first-born. I loved you first, and I’ve loved you the longest.”
I still have those cards. And as I think about those words on each birthday, I think of them today, on the day you left us, which seems like only a heartbeat away. I miss you, and I loved you the longest, too, Dad.
Praying for you, today, Dad, as I always do.