I come to you again, to ask for prayers for the repose of his soul.
I have dreaded writing this post because as with so many things, there is something about putting them here in this place that makes it 'real'.
Dad died on Aug. 18, 2016. I was holding his hand and Sugarbeet was standing with me. It was one of the most peaceful, hope-filled, and saddest moments of my life.
It was peaceful and hope-filled because my Dad and I had made peace, and he and R had made peace. I had prepared myself almost 2 years ago that my Dad might never speak to me again, but I promised myself that I would not be the one to close to the door. That I would not let hurt and anger allow me to shut him out if he wanted back in. And when he wanted back in, I was able to meet him where he was and make peace. He met and knew Sugarbeet. She was so good for him. He would smile and say 'she's the best medicine' when we would visit, and he and I talked and chatted and were father and daughter, with all of our brokenness and messiness, but seeking that relationship that meant so much to both of us for so long. Those months of peace, weeks in the case of Dad and R, are a gift I will treasure.
Long ago, I shared the song "Blessings" by Laura Story, and it has always been one that has spoken to me. Losing my Dad was no different. So many tears were shed these last years over our broken relationship, feeling rejected and hurt and fighting so hard to not let myself become bitter and angry. When Dad would reach out, I had to fight my instinct to throw up walls and protect myself or to insist that he do things on my terms. Instead, the lessons of so many years of infertility and seeking God and learning what it means to trust God, let me be vulnerable and open. I was able to meet my Dad where he was and have a relationship with him, so that at the end, I was by his side and nothing was left unsaid. I was able to truly cherish the moments I had with him, realizing and knowing what a gift they were and not see them as just another day.
Yes, there is so much left undone - are we ever done with this life, truly? And in the days and years ahead, Dad will be missed. There is a Dad-sized hole that will never be filled. Sugarbeet will only know of her Pap in pictures and stories, but she will know him. When she rides in the front car of a roller coaster with her hands up, she will know him. When she learns the rules to a football game, and corrects biased fans around her when the referees made the right call that went against their team, she will know him. When she dances to the Beach Boys, she will know him. And when she roots for Duquesne, she will know him.
As for me? Five years ago, before we knew the cancer had come back, I decided that I was no longer buying my Dad 'stuff' for holidays, rather I was going to give us 'time together' and I started buying him tickets to sporting events and concerts. And we had time together. And those days spent, traveling together, enjoying one another, and having fun are seared precious memories that despite all the tears of these past few weeks, only bring joy to my heart. "Time together" given, not as a reaction to a cancer diagnosis, but because I loved my Dad and wanted to spend time with him. Truly a priceless gift. I miss him.
|Beach Boys Concert|
|Duquesne Basketball Game|
When I asked you to pray 4 years ago, Dad had been in for his 6-month PET Scan (he'd had a melanoma mole removed 4 years prior, with clear margins, and was on his last 6 month scan, if it had been clear, he'd have moved to annual scans) and they found melanoma in his lungs.
That fall, he had 2 lung surgeries, the first to do a biopsy/removal of a smaller spot on his right lung to determine that it was indeed melanoma and not lung cancer (melanoma is treated by removing it, lung cancer is treated with chemotherapy) and the second, upon confirmation of the melanoma to do a 1/3 lobectomy on the left lung.
He came through both surgeries very well and much to the surprise of his doctors, remained cancer free for a year. The next fall (2013), they found more melanoma in a couple of places, but remained optimistic. He was placed on a chemotherapy drug (pill) and once again, exceeded all expectations and responded to the treatment for 21 months (the longest prior was 8 months). He had minimal side effects, with the most severe being extreme sensitivity to sun - he wore long sleeves, a hat and sunscreen and never complained.
Last summer, he quit responding to the pill chemotherapy and was switched to an infusion type of drug. At Christmas, he was not doing well with side effects and was extremely weak, he was also not responding to the new drug. Early this year, he switched drugs again, back to a pill option. The side effects lessened, but the cancer kept growing. He went through a round of radiation on his pelvis that worked well.
Then, in May, he was having pain in his back and neck. A scan showed tumors on his spine in 3 places - near his neck, middle back, and lower back. He immediately started radiation, but the cancer was growing too fast and pushed on his middle back making him unable to walk. He had surgery to remove the tumors and fuse vertebrae. He had setbacks with complications and drug interactions, but by early July there was talk of getting him strong enough to go home in a wheelchair. We were all so hopeful.
But, his neck was still hurting and they had to investigate why. The MRI showed the cancer had broken bones in his neck and he would need a second surgery to fuse the vertebrae together, with possibly having to fuse it to his skull because of the small amount of bone present. Fortunately, fusing to his spine was not necessary.
Through all this, we all knew that the cancer wasn't being treated...he was not strong enough for chemotherapy or radiation because of the risk of side effects. But he kept fighting. In late July he lost his appetite. My little brother had a chat with him and he started trying to eat, but he just wasn't hungry. He was tired a lot of the time, and mostly happy in a nursing home rehab unit but still struggling with pain. He then started to struggle with swallowing and was admitted back to the hospital on Aug. 12. Finally, they were able to get his pain under control, and inserted a feeding tube for nutrition - he was comfortable for the first time in months.
I visited him on Aug. 13 and on the evening of Aug. 14 I said to R: "I'm not ready for my dad to die, but if my Dad said he didn't want anymore treatment, I would support him. I would also support him if he wanted to keep fighting." And in my heart I started to prepare myself for him to die soon.
On Aug. 16, there was a meeting with the doctors, they had run some tests the day before and were concerned with Dad worsening, seemingly quickly. The tests showed the cancer was spreading, rapidly. Faster than any treatment could keep up with it, if he were strong enough to withstand the treatment. And we heard the words from an oncologist no family ever wants to hear: "If it were my father, I would stop treatments and keep him comfortable."
And suddenly, we were in a conference room seeing pictures of his scans, seeing the lesions and his lungs full of malignant fluid, and making arrangements to take Dad home with hospice care. The doctors said he could live 10 - 14 days, but I suspected once he was home it would be much less than that. We went back to his hospital room and asked him if he wanted to go home, with hospice care - he was pretty out of it, but we were all confident he understood what we were asking when he nodded his head 'yes.' Later that afternoon he was more awake and was able to be asked again, and again, he said 'yes.'
And so, that evening, at about 6:00, my Dad went home. He was so happy to be there, he smiled and said so. It was so good to see him so happy. When I kissed him goodnight that night, I said "welcome home. I love you" and he said "it's good to be here. I love you too" and those were the last words I heard my Dad say. The next two days were spent visiting, allowing friends and family to visit, and say goodbye. On Wednesday, I laid my head on his shoulder, as I wanted to do, just one more time, and I said all the things I needed to say. I did not want to leave anything left unsaid. While he didn't talk back, I know he heard me, as his facial expression changed and he moved and responded. The hospice nurse told us that Dad was starting to show signs of imminent death and that he would probably die within 24 - 48 hours.
The next day, on August 18, 2016 at 3:37 pm, in the hour of mercy, my Dad died. I was sitting on the floor beside his bed, holding his hand, praying the Divine Mercy Chaplet and Sugarbeet, his only grandchild, was standing with me. Just moments before he died, she reached out and held his hand. She was so still and so quiet. She knew what was happening, and watching her respond just affirmed my feelings that babies and those who are close to death share a connection to God the rest of us can but dream of.
I was not ready for my Dad to die. I am so grateful I was able to be with him.
|Sugarbeet holding my Dad's hand, just moments before he died.|