"Happy Birthday!" would have exploded from my lips, had I called that familiar number today. Instead, the number has already been disconnected and there isn't the deep voice at the other end to answer.
Today, my dad would have celebrated his 69th birthday. But, two weeks ago, on October 22nd, he died. He died. In the hospital. Alone.
"I'm feeling really good," he said 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 did not want visitors in the hospital. Too much chaos for my anxious father, with nurses and doctors coming and going. We left it as I'd check on him as soon as he got home.
I was awoken by cell phone vibrations and rings throughout the house close to 4am. My mom and the hospital were calling. I was awoken from a deep sleep to be given this message: Your father is dying and has about fifteen minutes left.
What does one do with this informaton? 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 could cross those mountains and be by his side. At the very least to hold his hand and not let him leave this world alone. Instead, I sat in the dark, feeling completely helpless. Time passed with the images in my head of him unconsciuos and unable to breathe, alone in the sterile environment of the hospital. I sent my love to him so intensely for those last minutes as he was exiting our world.
It may sound silly to say this, but he did not want to die. He fought cancer with such courage and determination. Having lived a life dominated by anxiety which he relieved through alcoholism, he spent the last two years completely sober and cognizant. He stopped his lifetime habits of both smoking and drinking cold turkey, followed doctors orders, and stayed connected to family and friends.
My father's 6 foot frame weighed about 135 pounds. After the wear and tear on his body over the years, and the multiple rounds of chemo and radiation he underwent, it's a miracle he got the two years that he did. He was simply not strong enough to make it through this last surgery. His body was sick, tired, and old, even if his will had finally been enlivened to choose life.
My dad was not the most consistent person in my life, but he loved me entirely and showed it as best he could. In more recent years, he expressed it every time we visited or spoke. There was much goodness in him, although not so easy 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.
The photo is the most recent of my parents together, who have been separated since I was 10. People have always said that I look a lot like both of them. It's nice to see them here, together, looking quite happy.