I can't help it, but each year during this time of revitalization I think back to the Spring of 2002. My dad, at that time, had been in and out of the hospital for several months. He was battling end stage liver disease, and on top of that, cancer. I visited him each day, whether at home or in the hospital, often more than once a day as the hospital and my parents home was right where I worked. I brought a cup of coffee each morning, but I dont think he ever drank it. It was part of the morning routine, so I kept bringing it.
I watched him during this time. Although he was in obvious pain, he refused pain medication. His spirits were great and he did all he could to protect us. When his doctor told him that he had cancer, Dad's response was that he didn't want "his children" to know. His youngest child was thirty-two at the time, but that was him, looking out for us. I sensed a change in him in early May. He continued his fight, but he seemed more at ease with what life had given him. As for me, my prayers became more fervent for his survival and recovery. I wasn't ready to let go.
I stopped in St. Elizabeth's to visit one Sunday before work. We spoke back and forth, about nothing, and about everything. When I was leaving, for the first time in my life I asked my dad if I could have a hug. I expected his famous "look," and a wise-ass answer, his way of affection. What I got was an embrace. We hugged long and hard. I was a little kid again, safe in Dad's arms. I didn't want to let go.
It struck me then. I had to let go. Dad had run his race and it was time for him to leave the arena. As I left the hospital I felt the sadness lift. I was at peace with the fact that he would die. My prayers changed. I prayed for a graceful and dignified end for him.
I wasn't at all surprised a few days later when Dad told the doctors he didn't want anymore treatment. He wanted to go home. He came home on a Thursday afternoon. Too weak to walk up the stairs, the transporting EMT's had to carry him up. He sat regally in a chair, surrounded by his family. My niece Casey was there. Dad and Casey spent a lot of time together and they were extremely close. It was heartbreaking to watch as they hugged and Dad told her not to be sad.
It took some work but we were able to get him out to the back porch where he smoked a cigarette, his last. After his cigarette he got into bed and finally agreed to take some pain medication. It was a difficult night for my mom and my sisters as they cared for him. I promised to spend Friday night at the house to help out. She called me about 7:00 PM and told me to hurry, but I was too late. She told me that she, my sisters, and my aunt were in the next room and as they looked in, he drew his last. It was so like him, right up until the end. For months he denied any pain, protecting his family, and then, while no one was watching, he left us.
The moments following his death were chaotic. Phone calls to relatives, funeral arrangements and all that goes with a death. Over the weekend family members arrived in town. It was comforting to have so many loved ones with us during this time.
Many of Dad's friends attended his wake and funeral. He deserved a fine farewell and he got it. I delivered a tearful eulogy, the final duties of a son to his father.
We survived Dad's death. Each spring since then, the flowers continued to bloom and the seasons changed. Spring will come again next year and once more my thoughts will go back to those sad, wonderful, awful and happy days.