On March 20, 2013 at 9:15pm my father drew his last breath. If you live long enough, you outlive your parents and that is how it should be. Though it doesn't make it any easier. Knowing ahead of time, that he had 3 to 8 months to live following his diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, didn't make it any easier either. It was almost 3 months to the day. Why couldn't the doctors have been like weathermen and been wrong?
Following the diagnosis he began to put things in order. He wanted to make sure his wife was taken care of and not left to do on her own after his passing. Sell the house. Pack the house. Find a new place close to her family. Make arrangements. He did all these things. And in the nick of time! But he also did the personal things. And he gave me some final gifts.
In December his wife called, just weeks after his diagnosis, and told my brothers and I that things had changed and that he said he felt he was dying. This news came during my workday. I was behind the chair taking care of my clients hair when she called and said he wanted to speak to me. I removed myself from the work area and found a quiet place. My dad came on the phone and in a weak voice told me he felt like he was having an out of body experience...like it was time .... like he was dying. I told him he couldn't. That I had tickets for two weeks from then to fly down and see him. But he quietly said..."I love you Deb. Tell John I love him too. Kiss the children and grandchildren for me." As soon as I hung up the phone I called my husband, told him I was canceling clients for the rest of the week and I needed to be in the car on my way to Florida as soon as possible. We drove through the night....12 hours of monotonous driving. Neither of us could sleep. We drove in fear. We drove on adrenaline. But when we arrived the next morning...there he was. "I thought you were dying, " I said. " I thought I was" he smiled. "I guess I was wrong." He was wrong and we spent the next 3 months saying goodbye.
He asked me a question when we were alone one evening. "Deb, do you know what you will be after I die." "Yes," I said, "an orphan." He laughed. "You are 55 years old. You can't be a orphan at 55. You can if you were 7, but not 55." "Then what will I be,?" I asked. "The memory keeper, Deb. They will come to you for the memories."
When I left the next morning, I knelt down in front of him and told him that I didn't know how to do this. "How daddy? How do I do this? How do I say goodbye to you?" "You're doing it sweetie. You'll do it. ". I hugged him and he told me "I love you. I'll be praying for you." And with conspiratorial wink he said, "I'll save you a seat."
Three months later his wife called and said that over the past 24 hours he had become unresponsive. She was going to call the Hospice House and have him moved there. I agreed it was the best move. But before she moved him I had a request..could I FaceTime with him? She reminded me that he was unresponsive. I assured her that I didn't care and that I just needed to see his face. So she gave me my wish and carried her iPad into his room. She put it so I could see his face...and this face bore only a resemblance to my father. Sickness and death had stolen the familiar smile and the face I had known for so long. But, it was my dad...and so I said his name. "Daddy?" And his eyes opened and he looked directly at me. Weakness had taken his ability to respond right away, but his mouth moved and I knew he was acknowledging me. "Daddy. I want you to know how much I love you. But I want you to know that I know you love me too." And then he did the unexpected. He responded. In a quiet, quivering whisper of a voice he said "I love you."
In the end, with that sentence and desire to respond to me...his only daughter, he erased all the things he wasn't to me. He gave me a dying gift. A gift in March...a month that traditionally
holds no gift bearing holidays.