Saturday, December 13, 2014

Six months and some days...

"I have cancer. There is a football-sized tumor in my abdomen and it's inoperable." 
I have replayed those words in my head every single day since my Dad spoke them to me over the phone back in early May. I was in the kitchen making the boys lunch when he called. We were dancing around being silly. It felt like I'd just had the wind knocked out of me and there was this loud roaring in my ears. I sat there for a minute in stunned silence. Was this some kind of sick joke? My step-dad had just been diagnosed with breast cancer a week before. I hadn't even told my Dad yet. Had he found out somehow and thought this would be funny? "Are you serious?" was all I could squeeze out. "Yes, honey, I'm at the doctor now and things don't look so good." I couldn't breathe. This wasn't happening. They couldn't BOTH be diagnosed with cancer at the same time. "They're going to run more tests and do a biopsy before they decide on a course of action," he continued, "but the doctor did say this isn't a death sentence, so don't freak out yet. I'll call you later once I know more."

That was one of the last three times I spoke to my dad. He died exactly 20 days later from this cancer that had spread so much the doctors couldn't even tell where it had begun. I didn't get to see him before he passed because he lived across the country and asked me not to come. We said our goodbyes over the phone, him on speakerphone because he was too weak to hold the phone to his ear and wasn't able to talk well. I couldn't hear much of what he said and I didn't say enough. There was no funeral, but instead a celebration of life party, a month later, which unfortunately did not bring the closure I hoped for. Maybe this is why I have to remind myself daily that he's still really gone. Or maybe that's normal when you lose a parent.

These reminders are especially depressing on important days like his recent birthday that passed without me making my yearly phone call explaining once again that his card would be arriving late. Or today, my 34th birthday, and the first one that my Dad didn't call to wish me happy birthday and ask if I'd received whatever funny card he'd picked out. He had an uncanny ability to find the most random and hilarious cards, which he would call and laugh about sometimes before he'd even mailed them out. He had a funny sense of humor and was always sending me these funny stories he'd write about my step-mom or about funny things that happened to him. He was a good writer and they were entertaining to read! I loved getting them.

My dad left when I was pretty little and moved across the country to Washington state. We saw him a couple times a year and talked on the phone fairly regularly. I wasn't as close with him as I wanted to be, but I think we were as close as he was comfortable with. My step-dad (who I rarely refer to as "step", aside from when I talk about both Dads together for clarity) was more of a father figure to me. It probably sounds mean or disrespectful to say that, but I mean it honestly. He wasn't there to teach me to ride a bike, or to drive, or to go to those random things schools had where you were supposed to have your father escort you, or to interrogate my boyfriends. I always wondered if it bothered my Dad to hear me refer to my step-dad as Dad. It always felt awkward to say in front of him. I don't know if it mattered.

He seemed to be excited about being a grandpa and talked about planning trips to see us and the boys. He seemed like he wanted to know them and for them to know him. We'd try to Skype often so he and my step-mom could see the kids and the kids could see them. He was a good grandpa and more present than I had expected. It meant a lot to me that he made so much effort to know my kids and to play with them and be silly with them. I had hoped that since we were seeing more of him since the kids were born, maybe I'd finally get a chance to get to know him better. Unfortunately, it just wasn't in the cards. One of the last times I spoke to him, when I was upset about not getting to see him, he said, "Sometimes it's just the way things are supposed to be."

I'd wondered a million times in my life what would happen when he passed someday. How would it happen? Would it be a car accident? A heart attack? Old age? Would my step-mom still be there to take care of him if he got really old? What if she died first? Would someone call me? How would the funeral be handled? I never ever expected it to be cancer, which I suppose is silly since his mother, my grandmother, also died of cancer in her 50s. Although the two cancers - hers was breast cancer and whatever he had - were not related, it's not necessarily crazy to think he could get sick. It just never entered my mind.

I think there is always some kind of void when a parent is absent from a good portion of your life, whether people want to admit it or not. You want to know who your parents are, have a relationship with them. It's natural, they are part of you. There is a feeling of being "left-behind" that doesn't ever really go away when a parent leaves - even if they are still present in some way. It's almost as if his passing, so quickly and without a proper goodbye, has ripped that "left behind" feeling wide open all over again and it sucks. I haven't spoken much about his death in the past 6 months since it happened, because I feel like I'm still piecing together my thoughts and I'm definitely not normally one to open myself up about things like this, which are quite personal. But sometimes writing can be healing and can bring closure. Maybe that's what I'm looking for.

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