On Saying Goodbye to my Dad

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It’s been over a year now since my father passed away, and I wanted to share this piece of writing -

For the past two years since my Dad was diagnosed, it's been a lot of waiting. My Mom would often say that cancer is mainly "hurry up and wait," because you're waiting for answers, waiting for treatment, waiting for doctors, nurses, people to tell you what to do and how to do it. And then later on, when we knew there wasn't much else we could do, we waited to say goodbye.

I'm not sure which is worse, watching a loved one suffer through pain and agony, or losing someone suddenly. I'm still not sure.

The last time I saw my father was a day and a half before he passed away. Hank was out of town, so I had to head back home with my kids, and planned to come back down Sunday to stay the next week with my parents.

I was well aware that every time I said goodbye to my father it may be the last. This wasn't our first rodeo. Over the years my Dad had been in and out of the hospital for various things, usually heart-related, so I knew the sadness attached to leaving him while he lay ill. But this time it was different.

The boys said their goodbyes, asking about the snack bags my Dad would always make them. This time there would be no snack bags, as my Dad was bed-bound and could barely grasp a tissue. I had the kids say goodbye, I started the car, put them in, and had my Mom go out with them so I could spend an extra few minutes with my father.

At that point my Dad's voice was barely audible- his words were mumbled and came out in a whisper, and when I leaned in to give him a hug he grabbed my arm and had me look right at him. His blue, watery eyes were piercing. I never remembered them being that blue, and when I had asked him about that the week prior he told me the color was from all the tears he'd been crying- they washed away the hint of green-grey that had always been there.

His bright ocean eyes locked into mine, and his small voice got stronger for a moment.

"I'm not going to see you again."

I told him, oh sure you will Daddy, I'll be back in less than 48 hours. He shook his head like a small child would and told me again, no, no you won't.

He asked me then to give him a long hug, and if I would lay my head on his chest.

It must have been just a few minutes but it felt longer. I tried to take it all in- I imagined I was 3 again laying on my father's chest. He was big and strong and nothing could hurt him. He was invincible. I closed my eyes as the tears squeezed out of the corners but still I didn't move. I didn't wipe them away. I remembered being tiny and young and I allowed memories to quickly wash over me, my thoughts bobbing up and down in the waves, old forgotten things coming to the surface.

The beach in New Jersey. Sandy peanut butter and jellies. My Dad holding me up in the water, the sunlight in my eyes. Apple cider and donuts, pumpkin patches and scarecrows. Riding in the car on the highway, picking up Chinese food and cardboard boxes of water. Suitcases and big windows and waving goodbye. Switlik Elementary and Wawa subs and soccer practices. Bright white thoughts rolling in and out as I lay there listening to his labored breaths.

I was 3 years old and my Dad was strong. I was safe and nothing could hurt him. We had our whole lives ahead of us.

Except we didn't.

I got up and kissed my Dad's cheek, his head, his hand. I said goodbye and I really believed Sunday would come and I would be able to have another goodbye. His eyes told me differently though, and as I walked out the door and looked back, he turned his head into his pillow. I could hear him softly crying.

When my Mom called me Sunday morning and told me my Dad had passed away in his sleep there was a deep, hollow ache that began to grow. A pit in my stomach I could feel in my throat. It was hard to swallow. Now two weeks later it's still there, a part of me now. If I stay busy I forget about it, but the moment I'm alone with my thoughts I remember, and I can feel it.

I miss my Dad terribly. I know it won't ever go away, and even just two weeks later I can see all of these spaces where he should be.

So now I am waiting again. I wait for the moments I can feel him, in the cool breeze before the sun goes down, or the sound of the wind in the trees. I wait until it's late and everyone is asleep, and I can look up at the ceiling and talk to him. I wait to go on walks in the morning and long runs at night, and listen to his favorite songs and remember all of the things he loved.

I read somewhere your grief never goes away, but your life gets bigger, so your sadness doesn't feel as big.

I miss you, Dad.