–Is this human? Waiting for a loved one to die? Who trains you for this? College teaches us about work, yet the hardest work is accepting death. There is no required degree to learn how to give birth or prepare to die.
We came to Spain to be with my dad because the doctors said he didn’t have much time, and that they could not give him more chemo. It was hurting him rather than helping him. With that, they also said the cancer had spread from the pancreas to the liver.
There is cancer metastasizing throughout the world. Shootings in Colorado and Dallas. Tragedies of the truck killing people in Nice and the young guy shooting adolescents in Munich bookmarked my trip to Spain, and I realize I am living through my own tragic headline: My Father is Dying.
The five of us stood around our father and told him that there would be no more chemo. Tough doesn’t even begin to describe the moment. The doctors hadn’t told him and we thought he needed to know. Needless to say, my father heard the news and he was sad, angry, scared. We tried to comfort him. We each shared memories, words of hope and admiration.
My brothers said their good-byes and went back to the States. Golden words and tears were exchanged. Pure “I Love You’s” echoing in the room.
Now, my sisters and I sit in the hospital room, next to him. Not much is said all day. But when our dad does decide to shift in bed and say something, the world moves with him and our hearts shake. He questions life and says he wants to go. Each day he is more sure of it.
“I want to sleep forever. This makes no sense. Why can’t I die? How much longer?”
The list of things he says and asks is lengthy. I’ve been keeping a journal of what’s happening day to day. Things he says, what he asks, what we tell him. How can we help him transition to the after life? The moments he seems to be more awake and at ease is when they bring him Holy Communion and the priest talks to him. This is comforting.
The emotions we’ve felt these past two weeks have surpassed anything we’ve experienced in our life time. Dad sleeps a lot, but we are with him eight to ten hours a day to help him move from side to side, adjust his oxygen, sit him up to feed him or give him water, brush his teeth or rub his lips with a wet cloth to help his dry mouth. Anything we can do to help him feel more comfortable, we will do. But there aren’t many options for us. I feel so helpless most of the time.
I’m grateful we’ve had time, though. That we have some time left. Not enough though. My kids won’t have many memories of their grandfather. They won’t hear his jokes, feel his warm, big hand, nor smell his cologne, listen to his stories and feel his love here on earth. But my memories will percolate through to them, I will carry forth his tales and analogies.
What has helped me get through this trauma, this tragedy, and trying time of realizing my father is leaving us soon is my family and my faith. Knowing he will be standing next to God soon. Flying high, smiling, with no room for bitterness nor sorrow.
The last day I spent with him, I was protecting my self from the abyss of sadness I felt. I didn’t want to allow myself to feel my emotions, afraid I would drown in my despair. This would be my last day with him here on earth. How do you do this? I thought. How can this be? I would never sit by his side, holding his hand, hearing his breathing, seeing him open one eye to check that I or my sisters were still there.
It was about 9pm. He had finished eating dinner, sitting up on the hospital bed. I was able to put my arms around him when I said goodbye. Thankful for that moment. I felt his skin and his frail body against my own. I wanted a longer hug. But his robe dangled on his shoulders, his IV and oxygen weaved around him. And he said he didn’t want to cry, so he stopped hugging me. I cried for both of us. I didn’t want to go. I didn’t want him to go. I told him to never lose hope. That I wouldn’t stop praying. To send me signs from above. To help us and continue to guide us. I thanked him for being my father.
I’m not sure what it’s like to get shot. But I’m confident it’s similar to what I felt as I walked out of the hospital room that night. My legs dragging, numb, knowing how much pain I felt. Knowing I was wounded beyond what words could describe. Knowing I would survive this moment. That it wasn’t a fatal gun shot. But that it was one that would leave a scar. One that changed me deeply, forever. I said goodbye to my father.