Cancer. It was a word my family was becoming all to used to hearing. This time it was terminal and nothing could be done. The first time we heard it was with my dad in the early 2000s when he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Then we heard it again with regard to his brain tumor in 2012. His surgery at that time was an amazing success. The stupid “C” word came up again the following year when my stepmom was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer, and we joked about how we should just have a family wing at the Cleveland Clinic main campus since we were there so often. Then we sadly heard the word cancer again when my dad’s brain tumor came back with a vengeance in 2014. This time it was inoperable. It was something I knew I would face one day – I was going to lose a parent. When did I reach this point in my life? Dad put up a good fight at first and then when the tumor had taken over the executive functioning of his brain impeding his ability to stand and walk, he had no fight left.
My dad and I didn’t have the fairy tale daddy-daughter relationship I had convinced myself all other little girls have (I’ve since found out very few actually have that, by the way). He didn’t really know how to be an engaged father because for most of his life he didn’t have one. I was terrified that when my dad passed I wouldn’t actually miss him; that he would die and my life would simply go on (and I felt incredibly guilty about that). I mean, who doesn’t miss a parent when they die?! Much to my surprise, my relationship with my dad and my life took a much different turn.
My home is very close to my dad’s house, so I became a driver to the hospital, an errand runner, and when we made the difficult decision to put him in care facility, the intermittent visitor for my Dad. Sadly, my stepmom encountered more health issues of her own and was unable to visit my dad for some time, so I took on the role of visiting him daily. At first I honestly resented this. Why me? He didn’t seem to even like me so why did I have to be the one to do this. Eventually I needed to start hand-feeding my dad (a very humbling task for a man who was brilliant) and clipping his fingernails like he was a child. Something began to happen. My dad started to light up when I entered the room. He would hold my hand in the quiet when words failed him. I would cry in the parking lot when it was time to leave because it was horrible to see him slip away.
My dad passed away on September 19, 2015 at the age of 72 (I can’t even believe it’s been two years). And you know something, I miss him terribly. I miss my dad! I’m not the same person I was before this experience and I’ve matured in ways I never could have imagined.
There is glory in surrender. You see, I’ve been a control freak my whole life and a true go-getter. But this was a situation I absolutely had zero control over. I couldn’t control his illness, his decline or how he died. For the first time, I had to roll with it. I needed to just be there and be present – because the present was all we had.
Life ends up giving you exactly what you need. I always wanted a relationship with my dad and that’s exactly what I got – even though it wasn’t anything like I imagined. I’m incredibly grateful.
Don’t lead a transactional life; live a life you love. My dad was a humble man who got up in the morning, went to work, came home to make dinner, spent time with the family on some weekends and woke up on Monday to do it all over again. He didn’t let himself experience much joy. I had been living the same way hoping for “someday”. Someday I’m going to have fun. Someday my life will be joyful, someday I’m going to start that business. Now, my someday is today…everyday.
My dad is with me always. I feel his presence and his guiding hand in all that I do, and I know he’s proud. The hardest times in our lives are when we grow the most.