One year ago today, the person who was definitely in the top 1% of important people in my life died. After an altogether too brief battle with brain cancer, my father passed away at the age of 62. Three weeks before my son was born. Three weeks before his grandson was born.
I didn’t get to see him between his diagnosis and his death. I was in my third trimester of pregnancy, and was having some complications. Complications that were compounded by stress. I could’ve gone, had I gone right away, but we were all so hopeful. The average life expectancy with this type of cancer is 14 months. Surely there would be plenty of time to make the trip after the baby was born.
Of course, with averages, that means that some people don’t live to that length of time, and some live for much, much longer. Unfortunately we ended up with the short end of the stick.
As this date has approached, and honestly, since the anniversary of the diagnosis date, I’ve been reliving everything. All the decisions I now second guess. The surgery. The rehab. The treatments. The cessation of treatment. The final hospital stay. That last conversation that I had with him, when I told him that we’d decided to switch Alvie Bean’s middle name to James. He said back, “That is so very special.” And I replied, “you and he are the most special things in my life.”
The last time I saw him, already in hospice and not responsive. I told him then that it was okay to let go if he needed to. That I would miss him, and that I loved him, but he didn’t have to wait. He didn’t have to hold on.
That night, the architect and I drove out to Sauvie Island. I was enormously pregnant; due in just two weeks, and I needed to get out of the house. We drove through sunset and dusk. And when I got home, I felt a little better.
Monday morning, March 19, 2012, I was sleeping on the sofa. I was so uncomfortable in the last weeks of my pregnancy, that I often found myself on the sofa. My phone rang. I fought my way out of a haze, and didn’t answer it before it stopped. Then the architect’s phone started ringing. Again, I couldn’t find it before it stopped. But I saw who it was. And I saw what time it was. And I knew.
I called my mother back, and she told me. And we cried. I cried so much in the next months. I was so sad and angry and regretful.
And I know I’ll cry from time to time in the future. My father and I were very close. He was my hero.
But now – now, I am trying to remember the good things. The things that are just so amazing.
He was so funny. His wit was dry, and sly, and if you weren’t paying attention, you might even miss it. He cared so deeply. For his family, his friends, and for everyone.
I remember so many wonderful things.
- Playing tennis with him in Bismarck. He wore his ubiquitous cowboy boots. He still beat me. It wasn’t even close.
- The time he rode the bus from Bismarck to Brookings so he could help me drive my car back to Bismarck at the end of my Freshman year of college
- Bringing me a tiny kitten when I was home, so sick, in first grade. J.W. (stands for John Wesley) was with us for so long!
- Getting a letter and crossword puzzle in the mail almost every week in college and for years in LA (until I could no longer handle the crossword puzzles, due to my weird allergy to newsprint)
- The letters. I didn’t save all of them, but I have a few. The letter he sent after the architect and I told my parents we were having a baby will be one of my most treasured.
- Our mutual love for genealogy. I started an ancestry.com account this year, so that I could fill in all the information he’d gathered and go even further.
- The bow ties. Man loved his bow ties. I bought him SEVERAL. I am a bow tie enabler. At his memorial service, lots and lots of people were in bow ties. The minister wore one that I’d gifted to my dad. It was amazing. I took a couple home with me, and they will be the Bean’s.
- His love for Buffy, and all the great discussions about plot points.
- Because I’ve always been the kind of girl who likes unicorns and pegasii, he once made me a sweatshirt that he cross-stitched a pegasus on. The sweatshirt was a hideous color, and a wee bit small, but I kept it – and that is now a square on a different quilt.
- Once, on a road-trip vacation, likely to the Black Hills, we saw a car with personalized plates reading “PANACHE”. My father said, “oooh! puh-NATCH-ee!” And I laughed at him. (I was maybe 12 or 13?) I told him, the word was pronounced “puh-nash.” He asked if I could back that up. Turns out, yes I could, as I had a dictionary with me. (Every vacation, my side of the back seat was crammed full of books, including a dictionary. Thanks be to anything holy for smart phones, right?)
- His unwavering support. He often lived in the metaphorical dark. My father suffered from major depressive disorder, and it could be pretty bad. But even in the darkest of times, he was always there for me in my dark times. When I was in the midst of a very, very dark time in my life, he sent me a letter. In that letter were two things. The first was a key to his old car that he no longer had. I don’t know the year, make or model, although I think it was a Plymouth. He said that I would always have the key to figure things out. The second was a poem that I know I’ve referenced more than once on this site. By AA Milne: And sometimes when the fights begin/I think I’ll let the dragons win/And then I think perhaps I won’t/Because they’re dragons/And I don’t. On my wedding quilt, he made a square that he embroidered that poem and a Welsh dragon on. (If you know my real last name, you might suspect from the extraneous “l” that it might have Welsh roots. There were extra “y’s” in the original spelling, too!)
There are so many things – so many memories. Long discussions about right and wrong. Endless games of cribbage. Camping trips. Hiking. Biking. All the emails that start out with “greetings, eldest daughter.” So much love. Not enough time. I miss him so very much, and it kills me that he never met the Bean. I know that time heals all, and that this will get less raw every year. That the edges will fade. The good will be easier to remember, and the regrets will fade to the background.
I’m glad I flew in to surprise him for his 60th birthday party.
I’m so pleased I got to see him the August before he died.
I’m glad he knew the Bean was coming, even if they never met.
It’s awesome that he was able to attend my wedding to the architect.
I’m happy that I told him I loved him often.
I’m so grateful that I had him for 35 years and that there is so little bad to tarnish the good.
In his honor, I will never let those dragons win.
He leaves some unique and wonderful shoes to fill, and I just hope that some day I can make as big a difference in someone’s life as the difference my father made in hundreds of people’s lives.