My father had been sick for years. He was diagnosed with throat cancer around 2007. The cancer isn’t what got him though. He beat cancer through chemo and radiation. The chemo and radiation took an irreversible toll on his body. He lost about 80lbs going through chemo and radiation. I was about 13 when I saw my dad go from nearly 200lbs to 120lbs. That’s a hard change to see. His weight loss was the most noticeable physical difference in him.
I vaguely remember him having to go to the hospital (about 25 minutes away) two times a day for radiation. I don’t remember it being terribly sad or worrying though. He was a strong man and he never showed any weakness around me. At first anyway.
After he beat cancer, we were terrified it would come back. The doctors informed us there was a chance it would come back and that he was not “out of the clear” until about 7 years after. Each year was a little bit of relief. Cancer turned out to be only the start of his health decline. He went on to have a heart attack, multiple strokes, seizures, he fell and broke his hip, and many other health problems. Each one got worse and worse.
I often remember my dad being in the hospital. It was never for anything minor either. That man would not go to the hospital unless his life depended on it, and it did several times. I remember the night he fell in the bathroom and broke his hip. My grandma and I were sitting in the living room when we heard the loudest thump ever. We thought a car ran into the side of the trailer. My first thought was to go look outside. When I got back inside my mom was lifting my dad and putting him back in bed. He passed out in the bathroom and he fell and hit the lip of the shower.
It took almost two whole days to convince him to go to the hospital. He couldn’t move at all. When he got to the hospital he was told he had broken his hip and that he would not survive a hip replacement surgery. I believe this was worse for him than hearing he had cancer. Being immobile was very hard for him. He did end up walking again. He would scoot around on his walker all over the place. That was until his next health scare. Which always came.
On December 21, 2013, I woke up in my barracks room to a number of missed calls. I had dreaded this day for a long time. I called my mom back and got the news I was expecting, my dad was on his deathbed and I needed to get home as soon as possible if I wanted to say my goodbyes. I was in Okinawa, Japan at this time, and the Marine Corps afforded me the great opportunity to leave for home the next morning.
I’ll never forget the feeling of packing and going to the airport. It was like I was in a daze. Things seemed to move a little slower and I couldn’t really focus on anything. On the flight, I decided what better time than to jot down my dad’s eulogy. I typed it on my phone and fully expected to give it at his funeral. Sadly, my phone was destroyed just days before he passed. I thought it was gone forever, but a few years later I found it in the cloud. I’ll post it below.
When I got home, my dad was sleeping. He had a hospital bed set up in the living room of our three bedroom trailer because that’s where he would be more comfortable and could watch television. I walked in and woke him up with a hug. The happiness I saw in his eyes is something I still take pride in. My dad told me when I got orders to Okinawa, Japan for two years that it was goodbye for us. He said he wouldn’t make it two years and that he would never see me again. That was a terrible feeling. An awful feeling. While hugging him, I told him, “you lied, I’m right here.” It was a very emotional moment in our relationship.
My dad’s health always seemed to regenerate when I was home. I don’t know how to explain it, but I don’t think he wanted to show weakness around me. When I got home from basic training, he started walking again. I remember I was in my sister’s room at the end of the trailer when he came walking back there just as happy as he could be. This time home, a similar story took place. He would sit up on his bed again. He was able to sit in his chair. He went from his chair to trying his best to use his walker. He walked a few more times, too. And oh man, he was proud.
He was always in pain. From the months after his diagnosis of cancer, until his death, he was in pain. His neck always bothered him, his hip started nagging him, and he never seemed able to beat it. Hospice gave him morphine in his last few days in order to ease some of his pain. I’ll never forget the moment I knew his time was coming to an end. He said something to the effect of, “if I had been able to reach my pills and pill crusher this morning, I would have taken all of them.” The next day he told us that he prayed to God that he wouldn’t wake up the next day. I didn’t blame him for saying that, he had fought off death for over a decade. How selfish would I have to be to be mad at him for saying he wanted to be pain-free. He knew his time was getting close and so did I.
During my time home I spent a great deal of time with him. I was the one he wanted to help him sit up, get his coffee, take him to the bathroom and anything else. He wanted to bond with me as much as he could. I thank God for allowing me that opportunity, too.
My nieces and sister came over on Christmas morning to open presents in front of him. He smiled so much that day watching the happiness of his little angels. This is the last picture I have of him. The last picture I have of him was him smiling, watching his grandbabies open their presents. He was a proud grandpa.
His birthday is December 31st. That was a special day in our family. We knew it was his last one. We decorated and we all wrote cards to him and read them to him. It was basically our last emotional goodbye to him. We all knew it. It was a great party, too.
A couple of days later, he would not wake up. He hadn’t passed. Instead, he was in a coma-like state. He was almost completely unresponsive. We didn’t call 911 because he did not want to be resuscitated. This was the next health scare, and it would be the last. The hospice nurse came out and looked him over. She told us that he wouldn’t make it more than a day or two. A few family members came over and gave their last goodbyes to him.
I’ll never forget how he would always try to respond to me. Other family members would try to talk to him and he wouldn’t respond at all. Every single time I spoke to him, he tried to respond in some way. He would say a clear, “I love you” back to me. It was very special to me and still is to this day.
On the 3rd day, we no longer knew what he was holding on to. My mother went in and she poured her heart out to him. She told him that he had been the greatest husband and father anyone could wish for. She cried and cried telling him how amazing he was. She ended by telling him that he could go now, that she would be okay. My sisters followed and did the same thing. I went in last. I sat beside him and I held his hand. I told him that he had been an amazing father. I told him that I would take care of the family now. I promised him that I would take care of the loving family he was forced to leave behind so early. I ended by telling him that we did not blame him for leaving us and that we understood it was his time to go. I gave him a kiss on the forehead, a hug, and then walked over to the corner of the room and cried like a baby.
About three hours later my dad passed away. It was absolutely the worst moment of my life. I didn’t show it though. I stood strong for my family. I called the funeral home and had them come out to get his body. I held my sisters back as they wheeled him out of the house. I’ll never forget watching my mom collapse as she realized her best friend was now gone from this earth. It was awful.
Just about an hour after he passed, his brother and sister-in-law left. My mom was extremely close to his sister-in-law, and her leaving when my mom needed her the most left a large tension in the family. They said they left because of my sister’s actions immediately after my dad’s death, but come one, my mom needed them more than ever.
The next day I went to the funeral home and made the arrangements to have him cremated. I did everything except sign the final paperwork. I was hoping that I could do it all and that my mom wouldn’t need to go to the funeral home, but I was wrong. She went in knowing all she had to do was sign the paperwork. We ended up picking out an urn for him. She asked before we left where his body was and asked to see it one last time. She saw him again and gave him one last goodbye. My sisters were upset that they didn’t get to see him again, but they don’t know that she didn’t know she would be able to. If she had known, everyone could have gotten another goodbye in.
The memorial service was very nice. I asked the pastor to allow a few minutes for people to go up and talk about my dad. This was one of the best decision I ever made. I went up first and boy, it was hard. I have a lot of experience speaking in front of crowds, but this was different. I could barely get a word out. I spoke briefly about how my father was a very strong man and how he was firm in raising his children. That he did so fairly and with purpose. I got through what I wanted to say and passed it on. A few other family members went up. My cousin got up and spoke about how he took her in when she needed a place to stay and how blood did not determine family, but love did. He loved her as if she were one of his own.
In the days after his memorial service, we remodeled my mom’s bedroom. We put new carpet in and painted. I think doing this helped her in the grieving process as much as a mourning widow could be helped. Even with all of the support, as we all expected, it was hard. She hasn’t been the same woman since it happened. But hey, what can you expect from someone who has lost their soulmate? I can’t even begin to imagine the hurt she has endured.
I had to leave my family two weeks after my dad’s death. It was a terrible feeling. I knew I was leaving my family when they needed me most. My mom cried the day before I left and she said, “I just lost the most important man in my life and now the second most important man has to leave.” She did also tell me that she didn’t blame me because obviously I had to go back and life moves on. She’s the one I feel the sorriest for. I can’t even begin to imagine how it feels to lose someone like she did. It’s been hard enough for me and I only knew him for 20 years.
Have you lost anyone close to you? If so, how did it make you feel? Please share your thoughts below. Thank you for reading!
Here are some pictures of my dad. I don’t have any pictures of him when he was still healthy.