"To Live in Hearts We Leave Behind is Not to Die" ~ Thomas Cambell
Kidney failure, heart failure, dementia setting in, stage 4 cancer that’s metastasized, started in the colon, spread to his lungs, kidney, and brain... fluid literally is exuding from his body, eyes half-open, he’s a shell of the man I knew, this man was my father. Labor Day weekend 2019 will never be the same for me again, before ICU, before the Cancer, they were fun weekends that we’d take advantage of. Go to lunch, the beach, live life, be carefree. That Labor Day weekend was different, it changed my life forever, that phone call at 9 pm from the nursing facility saying, “We found your father unresponsive,” this call, the nurses' voice was different, I knew that this is it. They had called before saying, “we’re sending your dad to the hospital because his heart rate is low or he’s not well,” but this, my gut was screaming NO.
I had called my dad that Friday afternoon but he was visiting with his brothers and sister so I said I’d call back, but I didn’t, why didn’t I? I will forever regret not doing so, people are constantly telling me, “you didn’t know.” You know what, you’re right I didn’t know because if I did I would have been there, I would have kicked out his family and spend time with him. I would have asked him a million questions, told him I loved him one more time, so stop telling me or anyone else, “it’s okay, you didn’t know.”
I hung up on the nurse that called and phoned the hospital that he was being transferred to, this is the same hospital he was at a few weeks prior, they knew me, so when the nurse said, “we can’t disclose information,” I called my mom to watch my little one, my life was about to change, I was going to be fatherless. When a parent gets ill and you’re taking care of them, that’s when the horror and heartbreak begin for both parties. A parent is the strong one, they can do anything, they rule your world but when you see them like this...physically weak, scared, tortured ~ it’s devastating.
I flew to the hospital, they wouldn’t let me see him for three hours, when I was finally let in, blood everywhere, my dad was unconscious, not because of the medicine but his body was shutting down, he had checked out, the machines were helping him breathe, the medicine was easing his pain. I was shattered, lost and angry because he knew I was the one that was going to make this decision at this very moment. After several hours in the ER he was being transferred to the ICU, I was numb. I stepped outside the hospital and I wanted to scream but nothing would come out, as if I had lost my voice. The night was cold, the air was stale and still, it smelled like sterile death and I was right in the middle of the of the storm that my heart was brewing.
I called my family and let them know that if you want to say your goodbyes this is the moment. My brother walked into the hospital room, mind you, he’s the spitting image of my dad, all I could think of was when my brother was my sons' age, we’d run around and drive my dad crazy. When my brother and I were little I had a daybed and every night like clockwork he’d come in and pull out the trundle bed so we could talk and play, we were two peas in a pod, we kept each other safe from the (fictitious) monsters in the closet. Today’s monster, which was very real, my fathers' Cancer, it was taking him, I so wanted to make the monster go away but I couldn’t, I’m helpless.
I spoke to my fathers' doctors asking if a "miracle" would occur, would he wake up, would he recover ...my hope was crushed once again. Even if he did wake, he’s not a candidate for kidney dialysis because of his levels and he still has Stage 4 cancer which was only spreading. I was still on the fence, holding out, praying, hoping for something, anything, but it only got worse. My father's body started to literally release the water in his body, that was when they said he’s going into heart failure and that’s when I knew I had to stop my fathers' agony and that’s when mine started.
I talked to the doctors about his condition, this was it, my father saw me take my first breath and now, I’m seeing him take his last. It was quick, his blood pressure was lowering and I knew at that precise second, that this is the moment I will never forget. I saw his numbers getting close to flatline and all I could think of was, “this is it”. I was right, a second later the nurse slide my fathers' door shut and I heard someone let out an unbelievable heartbreaking sob and realized that sound was coming from me. That piercing, deafening sound was coming from me, the anguish was overwhelming.
The entire time through the process I kept saying, “NO”, I was screaming, “I love you, you’re not alone, I’m here.” I was there alone, but I needed him to know he wasn’t. I pray that he knew I was there, I did this for him, my father made it very clear he did not want to be a vegetable. Two months before he talked to me about the end of life options and I didn’t want to hear it, but in reality, I heard him, I fought him on it but I listened. It doesn’t make any of this easy, but knowing this is what he wanted and he knew that I was going to be the one making the decisions it breaks my heart. My heart is heavy, because he knew his life was coming to end, that he wouldn’t be here to watch his grandson grow, watch his kids grow older, he knew he wouldn’t be here and that drives me mad with heartbreak and pain.
To this day, my emotions are raw, I think of my father, his last image, my last conversation with him, my heartaches. I wonder if he knew I was there for his last-second on this earth, did he know I held his hand, did he know I was there? Making that decision was heartbreaking for me but right for him, did he knew that I didn’t want this, that I wanted a miracle but his body wasn’t cooperating with my hopes and wishes.
That week after my father passed was a fog but I remember my friends who rallied, who showed up, who called, I thank all of them for keeping me sane. Being fatherless is a lonely and a wicked feeling, the pain, the emptiness and permanency is frustrating. Yes, frustrating, because there isn’t a damn thing I or anyone can do about it.
I see grandfathers with their grandchildren and I know my son was cheated, I see fathers and daughters and wish I could call my dad. I wish so much, I miss him so much, they say the pain gets better with time but it’s a lie, you just learn to live with it because you don’t have a choice.
My father will live in my heart, and not a day will go by without me thinking, “He would have loved this.”