13 years ago today I lost my father to cancer after three long years of war against the disease.
It was October 4th 2000. He had been in palliative care for a month. My brother and I visited with him most of the day on October 3rd because the nurses were preparing us that the end was near. After midnight we went home to get some sleep. Not my mom. She stayed. There was no way she was leaving his side. Fifteen minutes after we got home the phone rang. It was my mom. She said “The nurses think you should come back. Right now.”
We flew back to the hospital and back to my father’s side. He was still breathing but it was laboured. My mom stood at his left side, my brother and I on his right. We held his hand, caressed his face and my hand fell to his chest because I needed to feel his heart. We prayed and said good bye. We reassured him we would be ok and that we loved him and thanked him for the most beautiful life he could’ve possibly given us.
My father loved us passionately. And, he wasn’t afraid to show it or to let us know it. We tried to return that love to him that night by helping him pass with dignity, with love, with the knowledge that he could leave in peace.
Death isn’t as simple as the movies or television shows us. He was breathing hard and his heart was beating as if it would explode out of him. I kept my hand on his chest needing to feel him alive for as long as I could. The beating slowed, though it was still hard. My eyes remained on his face as I tried to imprint him and never forget. All too quickly, the pounding against my hand stopped with a chilling finality. His chest was still. I had felt his final heartbeat. Just as he had been present to welcome me into the world, I was there to ease his way out of it.
My brother knew he was gone. My mother kept talking and praying. “Mom,” I said, “he’s gone.”
This is the first year that I have lived through the day of the anniversary of his death without shedding a tear. I miss him, terribly. And, as the saying goes, it seems like yesterday…
My mother, brother and I have always honoured this day. We spend it together. Now we are joined by my son and husband. My son loves asking questions about “papito” and he loves knowing that I had a great dad, just like his own dad.
I am pregnant with my second child.
I like to imagine my dad watching us, seeing my children grow and enjoying them as only he would know how. I like to think that Death is not as permanent as it seems. I am grateful that he waited for my brother and I to come back and properly say good bye. I am grateful that after a lifetime of devotion and love, I felt the last beat of his heart which I know without a doubt was full of love for his family.
Even though I didn’t have my father in my life for as long as I would’ve liked, I know that he gave my mother, brother and I the best of him in the years we did have together.
Now, it is my privilege to pass that love on to my husband, son and unborn child. To let them know every day of their lives that they are loved, cherished and a part of something special. I have a beautiful family; I am surrounded by incredible friends. This is something that I will never take for granted.
I am a lucky, lucky woman.
We all have stories, events, episodes that keep us grounded. Some less traumatic than others, but vitally important nonetheless. What keeps you grounded? What reminds you of what’s important in your life?