It's been a year since I stepped out of my full-time teaching position to move onto the supply list so that I could support dad through his illness. I didn't know it at the time, but we were all preparing during those last months to let him go. What looked like a last round of treatment, was really just another last straw. In our heart of hearts none of us (my sisters and I) wanted dad to get that treatment. Shannon was adamant against it and I didn't think it was a good idea either (or even necessary at the time) but I supported dad in whatever he wanted to do. He wanted to try everything to hang on, and him hanging on was what we all wanted, so in the end he had all of our blessings.
Strange to think it was one year ago already that I started going to those treatments with him. I intervened in his care at a critical time and the reality of it, was that he was going to pass eventually but it could have been a lot worse. If I had not stepped in when I did, he could have gone with much less peace and dignity. A nurse glared at me once during that time with a look in her eyes that I will never forget. It said "you are lucky he is alive right now... this is serious." I was committed to him during those last months and he knew it. As scared as I was (terrified to be exact; more than I have ever been in my life), I like to think that he was happier just knowing I was there. Dad didn't want to do anything, see anyone or eat anything during that time. He didn't want to call his mom on the phone after she left a message urging him to call her. He ranted, he raved, he refused, he complied. I helped him to feel okay enough to call her one last time. I did my best. He did his best. We all did. We thought we had more time but in the end, it just has to be enough. You just have to trust that you did enough.
Even though I made him healthy food; made him healthy smoothies he refused to drink, and teas he hated to sip (he hated ginger with a passion, said he was allergic to avoid it!) and those homemade, sugar-free, diabetic- friendly popsicles that he thought were gross (plus the natural ginger-ale that he would not replace for the old ones)- even though I tried it all... none of it mattered. None of it could save him. Because only love saves. We fumble away here on earth grasping at straws, trying to conquer it all... when all you need is love. Love is all we have.
Even still, I had an awful hard time with it. I was afraid to talk to him about dying and I was afraid to hold his hand. I could not say goodbye and I didn't know it was time. I did say farewell though, and that I loved him. My farewell was goodnight, see you soon and to me that is still true. He was in his bed, in his home, with family and grand-children under his roof. Many people don't get any sort of farewell. Some people go at it alone. So I make my peace with what I have. I make peace knowing that he was and still is, surrounded with love.
I'm under no illusions that I am completely at peace. It hasn't even been a year. But I'm getting there. I'm lucky I got myself in to see a wonderful grief councillor right away. We don't talk about death in our culture. We don't talk about grief. It is foreign and unnatural to us. It's the stuff of adults or old people. So when it happens, it is so completely alien that we don't know what to do with it.
This picture of me holding my dad's hand still devastates me. It breaks my heart. It probably always will. I was scared to hold his hand but I did it. To preserve this memory. To share it with others so that they could spread their love (to him initially, but now, for others). Next time, I won't be so scared. This is my dad's greatest gift to me: he has taught me to be fearless. It is ironic, given the fact that fear was my dad's greatest challenge. He feared everything for us. The world is bad news and he hated that. He feared the worst because he didn't want anything bad to happen to his girls. Now, from the other side, he is teaching me that only love can conquer fear. That fear does not serve us in the end. That "the only thing to fear, is fear itself" (Roosevelt). Even after his passing, my dad is still helping me and I could only hope to help others by sharing his legacy of love. I believe that our mission here on earth is to help people and that was what he did. Even on his death bed, my dad was trying to get up to help my mom. He tried protecting us until the very end. He was a good man.
So, thank-you dad.
Not all was lost. He was healed. Love did conquer fear and he did do the miraculous. He did reverse stage 4 pancreatic cancer, baffling the doctors and oncologists alike. He did it. WE did it. But cancer has a bad habit of finding it's way back to the body, and dad was tired. Our earthy bodies can only do so much and he fought hard. He fought long and he fought hard. And he still won. In my mind, he will have always won.