*note* A long time ago I used to actually write things. I even had my own nifty website with it's own domain and everything. At some point I decided to give all that up. Tonight I found some old e-mails in regards to this piece I'm about to re post here. I thought it should exist somewhere again. I think I wrote it in early 2000, and the actual events took place when I was 20/21. How different the world is now and how many more deaths I've seen.... */end note*
Four years ago my father died from bone cancer. Sadly, this is when I probably spent the most time with him. Not only during the cancer, but the whole year before that. To me the whole 'experience' started when I was on vacation with my mother. I was staying with her in southern California. We had been there about a week I'd say when we went to a small flea market with my then sister-in-law. When we returned to the house I caught what to me was the scent of vanilla pipe tobacco, which always reminded me of my father. It inspired me to make a call to him. When I called there was no one home, so I left a message, saying where I was so he could give me a call whenever was good for him. I basically forgot all about it for the night.
The next morning my mother woke me, telling me that Sandy was on the phone. This was my father's girlfriend. I remember thinking that was rather odd as I picked up the phone. Sandy proceeded to tell me that my father was in the hospital and that he was in congestive heart failure. I couldn't believe it. I rarely saw my father so I was just shocked. So thinking that my father was dying right there and then; my mother and I jumped in the car and drove the six hours to where he was in the hospital.
As we drove so many things went through my head. One of them was that if he was going to die, I almost wanted it to be before I got there. I didn't want to be there when it happened, and I had no clue how I would say goodbye. I felt that I barely knew the man I guess, and if you've read my 'letter to dad' you'll know a bit of what the relationship was like.
When we walked into the hospital room, I was astonished. There was my dad sitting up in bed talking with S, maybe he was even laughing. He didn't look the greatest, but certainly didn't look like he was dieing. All I remember was this barrage of things from Sandy. He had an infection in his heart, he was going to go home for two weeks and then have heart surgery and I HAD to come and stay with them and help take care of him. I believe I started crying. I'd like to say that it was purely out of anguish over him being sick, but truthfully it wasn't. It was for myself, I had finally just begun to stop having so many anxiety attacks, I had a job, I was doing great, and here was this woman telling me that I had to give it all up for a man who had never been there for me. I just felt this overwhelming anxiety at the thought of it. I couldn't do it.
Well, it turned out I didn't have to do it at that point, at least not exactly what S had said I HAD to do. The doctors decided somewhere along the line that they would send a nurse out to help or something. So it was decided that my dad needed to have open-heart surgery to have his mitral valve replaced. The surgery was going to be done at Stanford hospital. Stanford is only about 45 minutes from my house. S decided that there was no way that she could take of work to bring my dad to Palo Alto, so my mom (awesome woman that she is) went and picked him up. She also took him to all his pre-op appointments the day before. My dad stayed with us the night before the surgery (my stepfather is also an awesome person for not letting that bother him), and my mom and I took him up for the surgery at 4 o'clock in the morning. I was so lethargic that day I slept in the waiting room through the whole surgery. Everything went fine. Dad was doing well.
My mother went on vacation the day after the surgery I believe (it's amazing the things you think you remember until you try). While my dad was in the hospital recovering I continued working, and then I would drive up to the hospital to hang out with him. After the surgery her was very emotional he would start crying at times for no reason. This is when we started talking more and realized we finally had some things in common. Although it was a horrible circumstance for it to happen under I finally started to feel good about my relationship with my dad. Some days I drove back and forth to the hospital two or three times a day. I felt like I needed to spend as much time with him as I could. I was getting pretty exhausted but I felt it was worth it. On the day he was released from the hospital I drove him home, slept at his house for a few hours and then got up and drove back so I could go to work.
I had such great intentions after that. I really thought that I would continue to see my father on a regular basis, but as usual time kind of slipped away. I talked to him on the phone quite a bit, and I kept promising I would drive down to see him soon. Guess I turned out a bit like him, because I never did it, and after a while it got to where I realized I hadn't talked to him in a few months.
I must have had some sort of dream that inspired me to call. I felt some sort of urgency to speak to him. I called and got the answering machine. I left a message and went about life as usual. The next day I again got a call from Sandy, she told me that my dad had been having some pain in his hip and he was back in the hospital for some tests. She assured me that it was probably not a big deal and she would let me know what was going on. The next time she called she told me that my father needed to see an Oncologist and asked me if I knew what that was. I told her I did as I felt my stomach begin to tighten up. Again, she told me she would get back to me. The next phone call was the day before thanksgiving. This time she spoke to my mother first. I sat there and listened to my mom's side and waited. I can't remember if my mother told me. Or if Sandy actually got the nerve to tell me herself (she was very good at treating me like a child) but who ever it was the diagnosis was the same. My father had bone cancer, with tumors on his hip, his spine and others forming at various spots. She wouldn't give me any real details. Who knows maybe at that point she didn't know herself? It was very frustrating to me, I felt like I was being totally left in the dark.
At this point I had a new job that I absolutely loved, but there was no doubt in my mind at that time, job or no job I would do what ever needed to be done for my dad. I think the first time I went up he was in the hospital. They had him on morphine and he was loopy as hell. He proceeded to tell me about the little lion that lived in the painting on the wall next to his bed. There was some other thing he was telling me about the VCR in the room also, but I never quite figured out what he was talking about on that one. I think I stayed for the weekend, and he was released from the hospital before I left.
I think after that I began going down there every weekend, while working during the week. At some point he started radiation therapy. It didn't do much of anything, but make him sicker. I remember one weekend while he was still able to move around going into his room and telling him I was going to the store to buy cigarettes. It was raining outside. My dad always loved the rain. He told me that he wanted to go with me, and stop by the bank. I wasn't sure it was a good idea, but I did it anyway. I figured it would be good for him to get out. I went and got my cigarettes, and then drove him to the bank. He said he just wanted to go to the ATM, and that he would be fine on his own. I let him go, because I didn't want to totally ruin his pride. I sat in the car for a long time getting increasingly worried, until I finally decided to go make sure he was OK. I walked up to the building, and as I did I could see him just standing there staring at the machine. I went up to him and asked him if he was OK. He just kind of looked at me bewildered and told me he couldn't remember his PIN number. We stood there for a while longer while he tried to remember, but it was no use. I eventually helped him back to the car and we went back to his house.
My dad lived in this tiny single wide mobile home. He had a room that he had built onto the side that he slept in. I swear the thing was no bigger then a closet. S was a pack rat, so the rest of the place was cluttered beyond belief. The place was incredibly dark, and every time I thought of him stuck in there it made me sick. He seemed to really enjoy being out that day. I spoke to my mom about it when I got home that night. We both thought that maybe it would be good to get him out of there more often. She called S that night to talk to her about it, and to suggest that maybe she could come down there with me and take him out in a wheel chair or something. S stated that it was absolutely out of the question, that just being out for a short time that day had completely exhausted him. She never asked him what he wanted.
My mother did go down with me at one point to visit him. He was still slightly up and around at that point. At one point we were all sitting around with his computer. I can't recall exactly what it was, but there was something wrong with it. My father was amazing with machines. He could fix anything, but that day he just sat there and stared at the open tower in front of him like he didn't even know what it was.
The next visit he had seriously gone down hill. He wasn't able to get out of bed anymore, and was eating very little. I remember a day when S was at work, he told me he was a little bit hungry, so I fixed some left overs for him. I sat next to him and actually had to feed him like a child. I can't even describe how that felt here was my father, a man who I alternately loved, hated, was ashamed by, and sometimes just plain scared of, and I had to feed him. It was one of those things that just defied comprehension at the time.
I think it was shortly after that, that I decided to take a leave of absence from work. I wanted to go and stay with my father. I felt I really needed to be there, and I wanted to help. S was none too happy about it. Even though she needed the help, she really did not want me staying at the house. She had made it pretty clear during most of my visits that she resented having me there. This was the woman who never even drove up to see him in the hospital when he had his heart surgery. I began to have really mixed feelings about her. Around the time that I went down to stay, a hospital bed was brought in for my dad. He could no longer get out of bed. His bones were too fragile to support his weight. He couldn't keep any food down at all, and began to lose weight rapidly. It was arranged for someone from hospice to come in a few times a week. I can't recall the hospice people ever really doing anything.
Once he was in the hospital bed, he began to decline quickly. He no longer had control over his bladder. I spent many days at the laundry mat washing sheets. S and I would have to work together to roll him to change the sheets and place the mattress pads underneath him. A lot of times no sooner had we done this then it would need to be done again. Several times I watched S sit there and yell at him for it. She was clearly frustrated with the situation, and took it out in that manner. I don't know why I never said anything to her about it. OK, so I lied I do know why. I spent a lot of that period of time stoned. I guess it was a good way to escape. Hospice brought in those adult diapers for him. At this point he was very rarely fully coherent. Every time we would put one on him he would rip it off. They suggested a catheter, but were afraid he would also just rip that out.
They had him on a morphine drip, so I'm not sure how aware he was of what was going on. Many times he would look at me, and clearly not recognize me. For some reason every night when Sandy would go to bed he would get agitated and start trying to get up out of bed. I would have to go over and put his legs back in the bed and hold him down, and try to explain to him that his bones would not support his weight if he got up. He couldn't speak anymore at that point. One of the last things I heard him say was on a day the hospice lady came over. My dad and Sandy had this Schnauzer that had this very loud obnoxious bark, when the woman came over the dog started barking, and my father yelled quite clearly "shut that damn dog up"
During all of this Sandy would often leave for a short while, and then return. She was often on the phone a lot. At one point I started paying attention to the conversations she was having. She was speaking to people about selling my father's possessions! I couldn't believe it. The man was not even dead yet. She also started to seem even more hostile to me, so often when I was out running errands I would call my mom crying. I told her what Sandy was doing. At one point my mom made contact with Jan, one of my fathers ex-girlfriends (the one he left my mother for in fact) so that I would have someone in the area to talk to. It turned out that Sandy had threatened J that if she came anywhere near the house she would call the police. Sandy was very jealous of the fact that Jan and my father were still very good friends, and had still worked together. Well, Jan must have mentioned talking to me to another friend of my father's at work, because in no time flat S knew about it. I can't remember exactly how it went down, but I returned to the house after having spoken to my mother to have Sandy tell me that my mother was on her way down, and that's it. I sat there for the next four hours wondering what the hell was going on. When my mom got there Sandy proceeded to tell her that she needed to take me with her because she didn't want me in her house anymore. She accused us of spying on her or some crap and said that I was no help anyway all I ever did was sit around and read. This was a load of crap. She said all this while my father was lying there right next to her in the damn hospital bed. I pretty much freaked out, and all I really remember was standing outside the house yelling "you fucking cunt".
The next day my aunt and grandmother were down to visit my father, and kind of played go between with Sandy and I. Sandy claimed that the only reason that she had been selling my father's things was because she couldn't afford to pay for the funeral. Of course she had not discussed any of this with me. She said that she couldn't even afford direct burial. My mother (again being THE most wonderful person I know) told her that she would pay for the funeral if she would stop selling my fathers things. This was agreed upon with S saying that I could have all my father's things (she really thought in her tiny little head that that was what it was about things), but she still didn't want me staying in the house. Well, I was not about to go home, and there was no way she was going to keep me from seeing my father. My mom made arrangements for me to stay in a hotel, and Sandy said I could come over and visit him a certain amount of time a day. At that point my step dad went home, and my mom stayed with me in the hotel. We proceeded to make the burial arrangements. When S had inquired about direct burial she had neglected to find out any details. She had originally said there would be no service at all. Well, we found out that the cemetery automatically sets up a canopy and chairs for no charge. So we arranged for a Pastor to do a ceremony. I picked out the plot and signed all the papers two days before my father died.
At this point I'm not really sure how coherent my dad was. He would turn his head at the sound of a voice, but it looked as if he was blind when he looked at you. He was nothing but skin and bones. There was a tumor on his skull, and one on his spine that seemed to be breaking through the skin. His whole mouth and tongue were lined with deep fissures. He would often stop breathing for minutes at a time. Every time that happened I would think to myself ... is this it? I can't even really describe what he looked like, how horrifying it was. Whenever the image comes into my mind I think of those images of Jesus hanging on the cross. That is exactly what he looked like. I would just sit next to him and hold his hand. That was pretty much all I could do through the whole illness. I never knew what to say to him.
Then one day I went over to see him, and Sandy said she was going to go out for a while. I sat next to the bed as I normally did, and took his hand. When he turned his head towards me and those gorgeous eyes (my father had the most amazing blue blue eyes) looked at me unseeing all the silence within me broke. I just started talking to him. I told him that I knew that he was in there somewhere fighting and that even though he had done a great job with that fight that it was one he wouldn't win. I told him to rest, to let it all go. I told him how much I loved him, and how I had forgiven him a long time ago for everything. I just wanted him to know it was all OK, and that he could go. S came back shortly after that, I was still sitting next to him. I told him goodbye, and that I would be back a bit later on.
My mother and I went out to lunch after that. We went to Red Robin and shared some pasta. I was really exhausted and feeling awful, so we went back to the hotel (heh I didn't know I was diabetic at the time). I had planned on taking a short nap, and then going back to the house. At some point I decided that I was feeling to bad to go back, and I called Sandy to tell her. The first time I called there was no answer, so I tried again a few minutes later. She told me that she had been laying down also, and everything was fine she would see me in the morning. Round 10 that night the phone rang. My mother answered, it was the Pastor my father had died a few hours before. The funeral home had already picked him up. I don't remember if I cried. I think I did, but mostly I remember thinking he heard me, and he knew it was OK to let go.