A little more than 2 months ago, I said goodbye to someone. Not “see ya later.” Not “I’ll call you when I get home.” There was no more of that. This was goodbye, this one was final.
My heart speeds up as I write this and I hadn’t realized it, but I’m holding my breath. Writing this is so necessary for my healing, yet I’m stumped. I don’t know how to put into words exactly how I feel because mentally, I’m exhausted.
Dad was diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer in September of 2014. He fought it hard with the same tenacity that he approached everything but this was different. We all knew it. The question wasn’t “could he beat it?” but “how long do we have?” Despite this, he responded well to the first round of chemo – miraculously in fact. The tumors shrunk, they were still there, but they shrunk to a size that amazed the Oncologist. So after a round of radiation, they put him on a maintenance drug. When the cancer returned with vengeance, back on the chemo Dad went. As successful as the first round went, this round was the opposite. Dad lost more weight and was smaller than I had ever seen him. Shortly after the second round of chemo began, they decided to stop it, and hold out hope that the newest drug approved for lung cancer would be available for Dad after the annual trip to the beach. Though I don’t know for sure, my guess is that by the time the beach rolled around the cancer had further spread from his bones and lungs to his other organs. He was in constant pain, exhausted, and ate less and less. After a particularly difficult day, he agreed to go to the ER, and was admitted to the hospital, treated and released. I should have known things weren’t good.
The trip back from the beach was the worst trip of his life and probably my mother’s life. The day after our return, he was admitted to the hospital at home, and wouldn’t leave there. His lungs began to fill with fluid, and that was it.
The last conversation that I had with my Dad gave me hope. We talked about the embargo being lifted from Cuba and what possibilities laid ahead in international policy. I should have known then.
I write this knowing that I stared blankly at a screen full of technicality. I didn’t speak at Dad’s memorial. I couldn’t bring myself to say what he
meant means to me.
How do I say goodbye to the man who taught me how to ride a bike? Who chased down the boy who stole my bike from our driveway in DE? Who patiently, (and probably scared shitless) taught me to drive around Northern VA drivers, then drive a stick on the hills of Pittsburgh. The man who taught me that honor is something that you have to be able to find within yourself and not in anyone else. He taught me loyalty. When I wanted to quit baseball, he (and Mom) said, you don’t quit something just because; you need to show up for your team mates. He taught me about family. You take care of your own. Despite having had surgery on his ankles, he flew up to Pittsburgh in 2013 to help his sister with their dying father. He was there with Grandad when he took his last breath and said that he would always be thankful that he could be there to talk him through that. At least I can say that I was able to talk Dad through that. I was there when he took his last breath. A few hours before that happened, he and I looked at pictures of the beach, and Izzi and everything he loved and my God, I wouldn’t change that for anything.
My Dad wasn’t always there. He dedicated his life to the Coast Guard. He spent many birthdays and holidays on a boat protecting my freedom. As a kid, that’s hard to understand. As an adult, and now parent, I get it. He loved us. He took care of us the best way that he knew how and the best part was that he loved his job. He fought hard for what he loved.
I don’t now how to say goodbye to him. I see so much of him in my daughter. I worry that she won’t remember him, and how much he loved her. I worry that I’ll forget how his voice sounded and how we could get together and just sit. Not always having to say something but enjoying the time spent. I’m heartbroken that there are milestones that we never got to hit together, and it’s too late now. I worry about my Mom. I worry about my brother. I worry about the rest of my family which seems to be in constant turmoil of late.
Saying goodbye was never supposed to happen this soon. Yet. Here we are. I’m rambling in a blog post about how I miss my Dad. That’s the most true thing about me right now, even if everything else seems so unclear right now. This grieving process is not for the faint of heart, but at least, I can use one of the lessons that he taught me: Fight for what you love.
I love you Dad. I’m fighting for your memory. I’m fighting for our family and more importantly, I’m fighting to live life everyday. No matter what kind of day it is.