November 13

I found out tonight that a good friend of mine was just diagnosed with breast cancer. Cancer. I hate the word. One dictionary entry says it means something evil or malignant that spreads destructively. I think that sums up the disease accurately because it seems to be everywhere. And it’s not just a physical thing; it’s pervasive in all aspects, mentally and emotionally as well. Show of hands on who’s been affected somehow by cancer. I have a hard time finding someone who hasn’t been. In fact, my friend just lost her father-in-law last year to cancer. She lost her mother to cancer. It sucks. I don’t know how else to say it. It’s a horrible thing. When I think of it, it makes me sad and angry at the same time. And helpless. What do you say when someone tells you this? I told her I was sorry. I told her that it sucked. I told her I loved her. And you know what she said? She was going to stay positive; she wanted no sad faces, only happiness and laughter. So there you go. This world is full of battles. We all have one, and it’s really about how you fight it. My friend has cancer. But it doesn’t have her. I’m thankful for that.

June 1

Today is my dad’s birthday. He would have turned 67. I would have called him like I always did to say happy birthday and let him know his card was in the mail, late as usual. He would laugh and say, well, that’s no surprise honey. It’s late every year isn’t it? And I probably would have said something about breaking traditions. He would have then reminded me how much he loved getting a card more than a gift.  We may have chatted a bit more before he passed the phone to Mom. And that would have been the most of Dad’s birthday celebrating. I’m sure the conversations were similar with my sisters when they called. He was simple that way–no fuss. Sincere in his love of getting nothing more than a card. I wish he were still around for many more birthdays. He deserved a lot more. But I’m thankful he is no longer suffering from his cancer. I’m thankful he died before his Alzheimer’s progressed to the point of forgetting all of us, for he would have hated that. And while I miss him, I’m thankful today that I can still hear his laughter in my mind. Happy birthday, Dad.

April 8: Dad

My dad died today. My sisters and mom and I sat by his bedside all night last night, listening to his labored breathing, holding our own breath every time he stopped too long between gasps. He never woke up. So we chatted amongst ourselves and cried intermittently and finally, around 2 am, requested pillows and blankets and tried to sleep on wooden folding chairs. There’s something exhausting and guilty-feeling about waiting for death. The constant wondering if the next moment is going to be the last one together. Just after 5 am, when it was just my mom awake by his side, my dad simply stopped breathing. My mom said she had just told him he didn’t have to hold on any longer. He could go, and so he did.

I have to admit that when I first got the call yesterday that my dad had taken a turn for the worse and maybe wouldn’t survive the day, I didn’t want to go back to the hospital. It wasn’t that I had just made the three-hour drive back home, it was that I didn’t really want to face it. I wasn’t sure I had the energy or the strength to watch my dad die. But then I knew that whatever I felt didn’t matter. What was real was that the man who spent his life taking care of me and my sisters and my mom would be gone within hours, and I had the privilege to be there by his side. No matter how much it would hurt to see, this was a gift, to say a final goodbye.

I’m thankful my dad was a Christian. He believed that he was headed to a better place and had absolutely no fear of death. I know that made his final days easier for him. And I’m sure he was looking forward to seeing the many people he had lost in his almost 67 years: his own dad who died too early in his 30’s, his mom who suffered from Alzheimer’s, his brothers, his son, his best friend. It must have comforted my mom also, allowing her the strength to tell him to go to the others she believed were waiting for him.

The world lost a wonderful man today. A man with a hearty laugh and a deep love for people and animals and the Lord. A man of strength and honor and commitment. A man who loved my mother and her children as his own. He was my stepfather, but I never thought of him that way. To me he was always my dad. I’m thankful he entered my life so long ago. And I’m thankful I was there when he left so peacefully this morning.

April 7

It’s not surprising how the end of someone’s life brings family together. In the last few days, I’ve been able to see my aunts and a cousin whom I rarely see anymore. Not because we don’t want to see each other, but because we don’t live close and it’s difficult. I’ve also gotten a chance to see my sisters who are scattered across the country. We’ve had a chance to reminisce a little and catch up. I’m thankful for the closeness we share, even across the miles that usually separate us. When someone you love is getting close to leaving this world, the important things tend to emerge. I’ve been reminded once again that life is short and death is the only certainty. What we do on our way to the end is the important thing. Live while you can. Love gently but fiercely; live passionately but with dignity; forgive and move on. In the end we only have each other.

April 5

It’s been another long day. There’s something about hanging out in a hospital that’s draining. Another one of my sisters drove in to visit. There was a point when all of us were in my dad’s room at the same time. Seven of us chatting while my dad dozed. At one point he roused with a bit of a groan. My mom quickly asked if he wanted water or something else. Peacewas his reply, with a roll of his eyes. Apparently, he didn’t like our chatter. We took his grumpiness as a good sign; he was a little more lucid today.

That also gave us the confidence to leave him to rest alone for a while. We were able to visit with my mom and help her figure out some immediate plans for after he’s released from the hospital. We met with a hospice nurse who was an absolute godsend. She was knowledgeable and extremely comforting. I think it helped my mom to know that she’s making the right choices for my dad. We are all thankful for that.

April 4

My kids and I visited my dad in the hospital today. My oldest sister and niece were already there. My dad has trouble staying awake, apparently typical of the stage he’s in with the liver cancer and the after effects of tests done today, so my mom woke him up to tell him that we were there. When his eyes focused and he was able to see us, he whispered to my mom, how lucky can one guy get? before drifting back to sleep. It makes me cry to think about. I’m thankful that he isn’t in pain and that the weeks left will most likely be more difficult for us than for him.

April 3

It’s been a difficult day. But I’m thankful for the friends who have checked in with me and offered support one way or another. Life is so unpredictable; that’s why living, truly living is so important.

My dad is back in the hospital, only this time they found that it is cancer again. It’s spread throughout his body. It’s hard to talk about or even think about right now. As with anyone in this situation, it seems so unfair. But I’m going to travel there tomorrow to be a support for my mom if nothing else. I’m grateful I live close enough to do that.