This is a story about loss, and how someone gains strength from the experience.
|Even before the phone call I knew it had to be cancer; but it still felt strange having it confirmed, and was almost a relief. I'd known Dad was ill. He had lost a lot of weight, and was awaiting test results. Still, it felt a little surreal, as if it was happening to somebody else, or in a movie or book.|
The only other time someone close had been stricken with a terminal illness, there was time to say goodbye; but this time it was different, and not just because it was my father. The type of cancer he had meant there was very little time.
I suspect I was in shock most of the time, functioning on auto-pilot. My only sibling, a brother, was overseas. My own children had to be comforted, and, of course, my mother. I'd never lost anyone in my own family before, and really had no idea what to do, what to say to my dad.
When I visited, a few days after being told the news, my father answered the door. I could see it in his face, the dull, grey face of despair. He was trying to be strong, I knew, and so I would try too.
He needed further tests, of course, and I would visit whenever I could, giving comfort, but really, just being there was all I could offer. When the doctors gave the prognosis, I was numb, not knowing where to turn: 8-10 weeks. Not months, or years, but weeks. I was in shock, yet accepting of the process and the timetable that was to follow.
For a few weeks, everything seemed fine. He even thought he might get back to driving, but then he began deteriorating. He was confined to bed and began withdrawing from his regular life.
As the cancer progressed, we made the inevitable decision of moving him into a rest home. It was the same place where my uncle had died, and where my aunty would also go to pass. But my dad went there too soon, and my aunty was left to wonder why she remained, while her beloved husband, and now her much younger brother-in law, would go before her. It would be one of my saddest memories, that of my aunty sitting in the hallway, just around the corner from my dad's room; keeping out of the way so that his family could be with him in private, and yet close enough so that he could feel her presence. It would be some years before she would join them.
Later, as his illness got progressively worse, and the end was near, my older brother made plans to return from overseas. Somehow I knew he would not make it in time, and I would be left with my mother, facing the loss, with just my wife and children for comfort.
I remember getting a phone call from my mother. The doctors had advised I should return to the rest home as soon as possible, and warned it was likely Dad would be gone before I got there. Somehow I knew he would be waiting for me, and so I calmly organised our trip, a 2-hour drive, making sure we had enough food to last the journey and convincing my wife there was plenty of time.
When we arrived at the rest home, my mother was there to greet us, letting us know there was not much time, and I prepared myself for one final time with my father. He looked the same as he did the last time I saw him, just a few days ago; drifting in and out of consciousness, now and then opening his eyes as if to ask what has happening.
One of his oldest friends was there, James, a very religious man, and he explained my dad needed someone to tell him it was okay to go, to leave us. My mother had gone home for the night, and so it was just myself, my wife and my father's friend.
At first, I didn't know what he meant. I was just an ordinary person, with no great insights; all I had ever done was hold his hand and tell him I loved him. How could I help him? With silent encouragement from James, and a touch on my hand from my wife, I was at his side, not knowing what to do or what to say.
I just sat there silently for a time, holding his hand, but I did notice his breathing had become a little more shallow, a bit more relaxed. Could he even hear me, I wondered.
Then, I started speaking; with my own voice, but I'm sure not my own words. I explained to Dad that I was here for all our family, all of those that loved him and who would miss him terribly. I listed all their names, and didn't miss anyone.
Then, I said that there were others waiting for him, those who had passed over before him, and had been missing him. I spoke the names of my uncles, aunties and others that had cared about him and were waiting to meet him, to hold him close again; especially his own father, who had died before Dad was even born.
Holding his hand, telling him I loved him one more time, I spoke softly to him, "Dad, it's time for you to go. We're going to be okay."
I felt him stir. He gripped my hand and opened his eyes. The look in his eyes was one I shall never forget: bewilderment, awe, almost the look of a child being comforted by a loving parent; and then he was gone.
I had no tears; that would come later, when I could sit quietly with him in the darkness, alone. My main emotion was one of strength and responsibility. It felt like his energy and spirit somehow passed over to me, giving me another chance, and the opportunity to open a new chapter in my life.
Since his passing, nearly ten years ago, I have never even felt the need to see his photograph, or to visit his grave. The memories of my father are always with me, and become stronger every day.