That’s how long we had with my dad after his diagnosis. 42 days to cram in every word we wanted him to hear and everything we wanted him to know.
My dad was a smoker. Actually, he was more than a smoker. He LIVED for his pack of cigarettes. A cup of coffee, cigarettes and a pocket t-shirt (for that pack of cigarettes) are the tangible things of my dad that I will always remember. Lung cancer was obviously always a possibility, but he was our dad and bad things “never happen to your parents.”
I am not sure exactly how long he was having issues. He was a pretty stubborn guy and dismissed most things. He worked in Alaska and finally flew home knowing something wasn’t right. He passed out in the ATL airport waiting for his flight home.
A few days later, after some time in the hospital, cancer was diagnosed. The problem was, it was all over his body. His neck, chest, spine, pelvis, back … all cancer. His PET scan showed 10-13 different spots in his body, so a correct diagnosis was close to impossible.
Stage IV. Stage IV lung cancer was diagnosed after a biopsy of a swollen lymph node was done. There was no plan of action. He could do a few rounds of chemo to try to keep what was already there at bay, or he could go home and be with his family. After a couple of days of going back and forth, he decided home is where he wanted to be. His quality of life was diminishing daily and his body could not be put through that. This was Monday.
Our last day together was that Thursday, July 6, 2017. My husband and I stopped by his house to check on him and see if there was any new news. Hospice was leaving and he was still asleep. By this point, he recognized very few people and wasn’t able to talk. He was on liquid morphine, and it was a chore to get him to take it as he was having issues swallowing. The plan was the next morning he would be given a sedation patch that would allow his mind and body to relax. We knew what that meant. Once his mind and body were at ease, he would pass.
I sat on his hospital bed with him and held him. We said nothing for close to an hour. I could hear him trying to tell me something but no words were coming out.
When I left, I knew that would be it. At 5:30 the next morning, my sister called. As soon as I heard my phone ring, I knew. His fight was over.
I hear his voice at the least likely times. When I am driving alone or waiting in line somewhere, I hear him say “Hey, Mist.” Even now I cannot believe that happened. My dad died. That’s the end of the story.
When you lose a parent, your life shifts. You become even more aware that bad things can happen to you. It almost feels as if your entire childhood is gone. I lost my mother in 2009 so now I feel like a floater.
We talk about him freely at home. My kids miss him and mention him often. I can go a few days without it weighing on my mind, and then it feels all new again. That is how grief works: it can catch you by surprise. You will feel like you are making headway on your emotions, but out of nowhere you fall back.
What I want to share is that losing someone close to you, like a parent, is tough and it will always be tough, but you remember everything you shared together and all of the things they taught you. There is something very comforting about remembering him. What puts my mind at ease is thinking about us, our family and how badly he was suffering.
Time doesn’t make it easier, but it does make it a little more bearable.