Not long after my mom passed, my dad moved in with my brother, Steve.
He wasn’t particularly ill though he had his own chronic health issues to deal with. And while he kept his weekly grandfather/granddaughter after-school lunch dates with my daughter, Sabrina, it still left a whole lot of time being by himself. My dad liked to be useful. He would be useful at Steve’s house. Steve had younger kids that needed rides to places and had high school games for him to attend. I hated to see him move away from our shared neighborhood, but I knew it was a good move for him.
We all came to help him pack and move. He gave me the wedding album of photos from my first marriage and my grandmother’s dishes he had been saving, neatly packed in boxes, for me. I didn’t think it was odd for him to do this. He was moving from his own condo into a bedroom at my brother’s house. Plus, he was never a collector of things. He didn’t like having, “a bunch of dust collectors,” to bother with; he was a minimalist long before it became fashionable.
In late-August, he casually asked me to take him to the hospital. “Ah, it’s no big deal,” he assured me. “I just need a tune up.” “A tune-up” was his code phrase meaning that he was having difficulty breathing and that he anticipated that they’d hold him over a few days to get his lungs cleared up. He had an inhaler and oxygen when he needed it, but he got better, more advanced breathing treatments when he was a patient in the hospital. He figured he’d be admitted, get his treatments, and be cut loose in a few days. He did this a couple of times a year. I picked him up on the designated day and drove him to the hospital. He was super chatty about everything; a rare mood for my dad. While driving and chatting, I was suddenly overcome with a horrible dark sense of dread. “I’m going to lose him now, too,” I thought. I tried to put the thought out of my mind but tears were welling up in my eyes. Tears I didn’t want him to see. I was just being dramatic, I told myself. I was feeling this way because it had only been a few months since I’d lost my mom. I needed to get a grip.
I dropped him off at the ER entrance so I could go park the car. When he got out of the car, I noticed that his legs looked a little thinner. His calves always looked muscular and thick and they didn’t anymore. He’d definitely lost weight though I chalked it up to the fact he was probably eating fewer pizzas living at my brother’s house. My dad loved pizza but with Steve around, a guy that enjoys cooking, his diet had to have improved. That must be why he looked thinner, I explained to myself.
I sat with him in the ER bay while he went through the check of his vitals and insurance information. I excused myself when the doctor performed the exam and chest x-ray, keeping my brothers apprised of the situation via texts. I returned to chat with him while we waited. He was worried that I’d be late for work. He didn’t want to be a bother. I had another hour or so to spend before I had to leave for work and I didn’t want to go until he’d been settled into a room. The doctor returned. I don’t remember what he said exactly, but I noticed the gentle way he touched my dad’s arm when he mentioned a possible issue with his chest x-ray. They’d perform other tests, he said. All of this flew right past my dad. I texted my brothers: “There’s something wrong with Dad’s chest x-ray. They’re going to run tests. Someone needs to be here with him when I go to work.”
And they were.
There was no diagnosis that day. The diagnosis came the following day. My dad had inoperable lung cancer. Stage 4. He was given 2-4 weeks to live. There would be no chemo, no surgery; the anesthesia alone to put him under to perform a biopsy would likely kill him. The only question was where he was going to go for hospice. The doctor had told us before he told him as he wanted us to be with him and prepared when he got the news. We gathered in our dad’s hospital room and tried to act casual while we waited for his doctor to arrive. When he was told, my father sobbed. His shoulders shook. And he said through his tears, “No! No! I can’t die now. They just lost their mother!”
We comforted him, put our arms around him, rubbed his shoulder, kissed him, and we cried, too.
I sat on the bed next to him. “Daddy,” I began, “look at me.” He did. I took his hand. “No one on this planet knows when anyone else is going to die. I’m not saying the doctors are wrong, but what I am saying is that we can sit here and feel sadness and loss but…you’re here. Right now. You’re here. And the truth is, all we ever have, all anyone ever has, is right now. You’re alive right now. Let’s make all the rest of the right nows amazing.”
He wiped tears from his eyes.
“Whatever you want,” I offered, “and whatever you want to do, let’s do it! Do you want to go to Paris? What about Brazil? I can make it happen! Whatever you want, Dad! How about a trip to Las Vegas in a limo full of hookers? Say the word! It’s yours!”
“What?!” he asked.
“Do you want to try heroin? What about cocaine? I have no idea how to get these things but if you want them, I’ll get them for you!”
He laughed loudly. “You’re something else, little girl!”
“Seriously, Dad. We can all sit here and cry for you and then an hour from now, one of us could get hit by a car in the hospital parking lot and killed instantly. Today. That’s the way shit works on this planet, Dad” I said. “No one knows what’s going to happen in the next hour, never mind two to four weeks from now, right?”
“That’s true,” he said.
“All we have, all we’ve ever had, our entire lives, is just right now. So, let make all the rest of your right nows, f—ing amazing!”
He smiled broadly and chuckled. “That sounds good to me!” he said, cheerfully. And that’s what he told his doctor. “I’ve decided I’m going to take my daughter’s advice and go enjoy the rest of my life I don’t want to go somewhere for hospice. I want to go home.”
So, that’s what we did: home hospice care. Steve bought him a 65 inch TV and a subscription to every sports channel available on planet earth. He bought him a leather recliner with a cup holder for his diet Cokes, and he set up a big screen TV on the patio outside because my dad enjoyed being outside in the evenings. And like we did with our mother, the four of us began the routine of being with our dad all the time. We made him steak dinners, and shrimp cocktails, and desserts at every meal. One day he wanted a pastrami sandwich from The Hat (done), the next he wanted American Chop Suey (done). We got him ice cream sundaes and eclairs, too. Whatever his heart desired, we were there to make it happen. He ate well. The hospice care nurse told us that we’d see his appetite begin to wane as he got closer to death but even she remarked how well-fed and happy he seemed three weeks into his 2-4 week life.
On a night in late September, we all ate dinner together and watched Monday Night Football. The Patriots were playing. And losing. My dad sat in his recliner and when it was time to take his nightly medication to help him sleep, he said that he would take it in a little while. “Not now,” he told my brother waving him off. “I’m enjoying myself.” He leaned back, closed his eyes, and listened to our banter. We watched the game, laughed, and joked with one another and him. Eventually, he was ready for his medication and bed. He got up from his chair, grabbed his walker and said, “Goodnight, you fine people. I’ll see you later,” and went to bed.
He didn’t really wake up again. We all gathered together the following day to be with him when he passed. The afternoon stretched into night. Sabrina, his most favorite person in the world, arrived in the evening and sat with him, held his hand, and talked to him quietly. She never left his side. And he gently passed away.
We all gathered around his body, hugging and kissing one another and him. I kissed him and I held his hand to my face. I had another father. The one that created me. But this man, this steadfast and kind one, he was my Dad.
Perpetually curious. I love history, genealogy, old movies, good books, all sorts of music, and adventures involving travel. In my spare time, I help admin a genetic genealogy Facebook page for CeCe Moore ("DNA Detectives") and coach people how to connect with their biological family using DNA.