If I had called that number today that I know so well, this is what I would have said. Instead, that number is already disconnected and there isn't the familiar, deep voice at the other end to answer it.
Today, my dad would have celebrated his 69th birthday. Two weeks ago, on October 22nd, he died. In the hospital and alone. "I'm feeling really good," he said to me when I spoke with him before going in for what we thought was the final leg of surgery for colon cancer. He had recovered well and was ready for the iliostomy bag to be removed. In the six months between surgeries, he had developed a hernia, so the doctors thought that they may as well address both issues at the same time. I got news after his surgery on the 14th that all had gone well.
He never wanted visitors in the hospital because of how chaotic the stay and recovery is, with nurses and doctors coming in so often. We left it as I'd check on him as soon as he got home. Unfortunately, I didn't get that chance.
I was awoken by cell phone vibrations and rings throughout the house. My mom, as well as the hospital calling around 4am to tell me he was dying and he had about fifteen minutes left. My first instinct was to get into my car and head south as fast as I could in hopes he would hang on until I was there. At the very least to hold his hand and not let him leave this world alone, with no family by his side to send him off. Instead, I sat in the dark, crying as I felt so helpless in those minutes as he was exiting my world.
He did not want to die. He fought cancer with such courage and determination. Having lived a life dominated by anxiety which he relieved by alcoholism, he spent the last two years completely cognizant. He stopped smoking and drinking, followed doctors orders and reconnected with those that love him most.
My father's 6 foot frame weighed about 135 pounds and after such wear and tear on his body over the years, and then the multiple rounds of chemo and radiation he underwent, he just was not strong enough to make it through this last surgery. His body was tired and old, even if his will was finally enlivened, choosing life as much as it could.
My dad was not the most consistent person in my life, but he loved me entirely and showed it as best as he could. In more recent years, he expressed it every time we visited or spoke. There was so much goodness in him that was so hard to see and reach, but I experienced it as often as I could.
He's my one and only dad and he is now gone. I will miss him dearly but am focusing my energy around sending him off with immense love, knowing that he is free from all the fears and anxieties he dealt with in his lifetime. We will be celebrating his love of music, humor, friends and good times in his home after Thanksgiving.
Even though I don't get to tell it to him directly, I do wish him love on this tenth day of November, when he came to embrace what he could in his lifetime.