There are a few days a year that stop me in my tracks. Father’s Day is one of those.
I lost my dad two years ago
To know Chuck was to love Chuck. Anyone who met my dad would agree that he was a fiercely loyal man. He was as loyal to his family, friends, and pets as he was to his sports teams and beer choices. His devotion to his family became more evident than ever seven years ago when my mom suffered a massive brain aneurysm that changed us forever. At the time, she was 64 years old and in seemingly great health. She went from working full time to fighting for her life. From finding her unresponsive to months in the ICU to multiple nursing homes, every single day was a battle for her and for our family. (Her story was captured here.)
While many men may have become distant from their wives or families after such a catastrophic event, my dad grew more committed to caring for his wife, my sister, and me. When many of his 65-year-old retired friends were golfing and traveling, he was spending his days in the nursing home with our mom. He took this role seriously and was committed full time (seriously…he was at the nursing home from 9 am to 5 pm, every.single.day.) His positive attitude, nonstop jokes, and unwavering love continued to be a bright light in the darkest moments.
Just when we were all beginning to feel settled into our new normal, our dad was diagnosed with advanced Stage 4 Prostate Cancer.
This shook us to the core.
How had the doctors missed this? How could it be that this amazing father and husband, who had committed to spending every single day of his retirement in a nursing home caring for his sick wife, would now have to fight for HIS life? “The Golden Years” quickly took a turn for the worse, and I truly cannot begin to put into words the physical and mental toll it took on my sister and me. One sick parent was tough. Two sick parents was excruciating.
I spent the year after my dad’s diagnosis just going through the motions, trying my best to help out from twelve hundred miles away. I would call Acreedo to order my dad’s Xtandi cancer medication, check in on him to make sure he had taken said medication, login to his MyChart to review the latest test results/appointment schedule, and then hear from my sister, who was living near our parents, how difficult everything was.
Mom doesn’t remember where she is. Dad hasn’t eaten today. We need to file for Medicaid again. Mom fell out of bed. Meals on Wheels is coming, can you remind Dad to answer the door? Dad is in the ER. He can’t stop vomiting. Chemo isn’t working. Dad’s labs don’t look good. The cancer has spread. Doctors. Nurses. Scans. Vitals. Health Insurance. Bills. Medicaid. Repeat.
Now and again, I would forget my “new normal” wasn’t actually normal. Most of my friends weren’t taking care of their parents. In fact, most of my friends’ parents were watching their babies. Sometimes I would jealously wonder what that was like. Sometimes I would get so mad. Sometimes I would break down crying. Sometimes I would catch myself daydreaming about my daughter having to care for me one day.
Having two ill parents created so much anxiety in me. When my dad died, there was almost an immediate calmness in my body. That calmness was the place where anxiety and fear lived. And when I was no longer worried all day (about my phone ringing…about checking charts…about all of the “whens” and “how longs” and “what ifs”) a bit of peace showed up.
But what filled that hole, I have found, is a profound sadness. An ache that won’t go away.
The past two years without my dad have been really hard, but they have also been (at times) so magical. Do you wonder how that can be? Grief isn’t a straight line. It’s having an empty cup that slowly gets refilled, drop by drop. It’s knock you down crying one second and lift you up laughing the next. It’s all the people you love reliving their favorite memories of the person you lost with you, strangers wrapping you in their arms, and texts/calls/messages that let you know you’re not alone. It’s breaking down when you realize you’ve just been too busy to comprehend the magnitude of what really happened. It’s all of the reminiscent toasts. It’s even the cussing. It’s all of it.
So, this Father’s Day, I will try hard to push the swearing to the back of my mind (he wouldn’t want me to upset my mom) and think of the many happy memories that are not clouded by tragedy. My dad set the bar high as a loving father, devoted husband, caring friend, and sweet Poppy. He was as stubborn as he was soft. He was as serious as he was funny. He was as much of an extrovert as he was an introvert (he sure loved movies in the basement!) He was a talker and a listener. He was one of a kind, and I’m so lucky he was mine.
I love you, Dad. I miss you every single day.