A letter to my dad in heaven
When you were first diagnosed with bone cancer I was eighteen. I was the typical teenage girl, busy worrying about myself, running the streets and chasing after my boyfriend. At that time, cancer was not as prevalent or talked about as it is today. There were only a few treatment options and they were brutal. I really didn’t understand the seriousness of your disease. I knew that at the beginning of every month, for four months, you would stay in the hospital for three or four days while they pumped you with the most powerful chemo they had… all for a tumor in your arm. It seemed so extreme for such a small lump at the time. I came to visit you a couple of times and you were always smiling and in good spirits. I remember one time I couldn’t come in the room because I had a burger with me and the smell made you feel queasy. I felt so bad, I really just wanted to share it with you!
After you were released from the hospital, I watched as you took almost one month to completely recover. You lost your hair, you were weak and slept a lot. As soon as you got enough strength to return to work, you had to turn right back around and start another round of chemo. I know these treatments sucked the life out of you. I was concerned, but you were so resilient and seemed to bounce back even stronger so it put my mind at ease.
You beat cancer!
After four months of intense treatment, you were cancer-free! Glory be to God! The doctors did recommend that you try a follow-up treatment called radiation, just to be safe. After all you had been through, I remember you and mom saying there was no way you were going to have more treatment. The cancer was gone, no need to put yourself through more torture. Radiation wasn’t used as much as it is now. We had no clue what having radiation meant. If we had only understood that radiation was not chemo; if we would have understood that in combination with chemo, it makes the treatment more effective.
Dad, I wonder if you would have done radiation… would you have lived?
Flash-forward seven years later… Cancer was rapid and it was taking lives and bringing heartache to families, daily. New treatments were advancing, people were going all over the world seeking out treatment to try and save their lives and their loved ones’ lives. It seemed like everywhere you turned, someone was dying of cancer.
I will never forget when you and mom sat on my yellow chairs in my kitchen and told me your cancer had returned. I was no longer that self-absorbed, uninformed 18-year-old. I knew exactly what cancer was, what chemo does to your body and that cancer kills.
I was worried.
The cancer had come back in your pelvis. You had been bothered for quite some time, but being the superhero that you were, you thought the pain in your pelvis was related to other things and you didn’t go to the doctor to get it checked out until you could no longer stand the pain.
Dad, I wonder if you would have gone to the doctor sooner… would you have lived?
In 2008, you walked me down the aisle to be married. I knew this time was special. Our daddy-daughter dance, it was magical. You were limping from pain in your pelvis, but the joy on your face and how nervous you were to walk me down the aisle was priceless. I’ll cherish that moment forever.
Shortly after, when you had part of your pelvis removed, you needed a cane to walk and underwent chemo for a second time. You were starting to get back to your old self. So what that you had a limp! I was confident that you had kicked cancer’s ass, once again.
Months later, when I found out your cancer was back and had spread, I instantly started to ask God, “why?” I was angry.
Dad, I would have never told you to your face… but, I didn’t have a good feeling.
Over the course of almost two years, you never complained, you never said, “why me?”
I had my second baby. You weren’t working, because you were undergoing treatment. I still don’t know how you mustered up enough strength to come over to my house day-after-day to help me with my baby. You and her had such a special bond. Do you know that to this day, she still feels a connection to you? She still cries, because you’re gone. When the cancer spread to your spine and you were receiving radiation over your stomach, it would break my heart when you would come to my house from treatment and not be able to hold any food down. But you still held your grand-baby and played with her as if nothing was wrong.
When I found out you had cancer spots in your lungs, I was devastated. Dad, it pains me to tell you this, but at this point, I knew you were going to die. I cried often and wanted this all to go away. But if you think I gave up praying for healing, for a miracle, think again. My brother left college and moved home to be with you. God’s timing is everything. My brother coming back to spend that time with you and be there for mom after you left was one of the biggest blessings.
My time with you became priceless. When you smiled, I smiled bigger. Every joke you cracked, I laughed harder. Even when you were angry, I was grateful, because you were still here. You became fragile to me. I knew your time was running out and I wanted to make you happy.
I bought you the shoes you always wanted, I put a kick-ass stereo system in your car and I took you on trips. I know this didn’t take your pain away, I know this wouldn’t cure your disease, but the joy that it gave me to see you enjoy these, meant more to me than anything.
We went to Disneyland even though you were tired and not feeling your best, but that was okay with me. I’ll take you sick, angry, happy, sad; any time that I could spend with you, and you with your grandbabies was valuable. On our last day in Disneyland when you suddenly lost vision in one eye, once again I was beside myself. Mom was in denial about the path your illness was taking, but I think you knew that I knew what was happening.
After having radiation in the back of your skull for another tumor that had formed, you needing to wear an eyepatch from vision loss, you still didn’t complain. I still prayed for a miracle, but now I prayed for God to give you as much time as possible. Every time you went in for a CAT scan to determine where the cancer would spread next, I never told you, but I wouldn’t be able to get out of bed until you called me with the results.
When I had my third baby and you came to see me in the hospital, it was special. When you held my daughter and looked at me and said, “this one is different,” dad you were right. She is downright CRAZY and looks just like you. I wish you were here to see her and meet my other two babies that I had after you passed.
When cancer had spread even further in your lungs, you called me to give me the news . I know you tried to be strong, but you had been strong for me for long enough. We cried uncontrollably together. I think this was our way of acknowledging you were going to be leaving this Earth without saying it out loud.
I remember throwing you your last birthday party, a surprise 60th. I was so nervous you weren’t going to come because they had just drained your lungs and you were having trouble breathing. But you came and everyone who had ever loved you was there to bring in your 60th year. My heart was overloaded with joy and sadness because I knew this birthday would be your last. We celebrated and like the song said we, “lived like we were dying.”
I watched you get weaker and weaker. BUT, you still were mentally as strong as ever. Dad, I know you were scared. We were all scared. One of the last times I dropped you off for treatment because you were too weak to drive yourself. I remember you being pale and tired, but you weren’t ready to let go and neither was I.
After you were hospitalized off-and-on for various reasons, mom and I picked out the most comfortable hospital bed. Hospice came out to set up in your house. I knew your time was coming to an end. You could no longer swallow, you had lost your voice, you could no longer walk unassisted. You were dying. I became obsessed with the process of dying. I engulfed myself in articles about what happens as the body shuts down. I wanted to be prepared. I wanted to know everything you were going to go through. I wanted to go through it with you. I came to visit you every day, sometimes twice a day. No matter what was going on in my life, I never would go a day without seeing you. I knew I needed to be there for you. To be strong, to make you laugh and be a comfort to mom, who was still very much in denial but had taken a leave of absence from work to take care of you at home.
I remember when the pain became so great in your body, that mom could no longer hug you. Even holding your hand caused tremendous pain. I would bring my youngest over often because I knew you got a kick out of tracking her with your eyes. You’d smile as she crawled around and tore the house up.
Once you were being tube-fed and hospice had to assist you in taking showers, it became surreal for me. I couldn’t believe this was happening to my dad.
Why, Lord. Why can’t you have more time? Why are you leaving us?! Where is the miracle?! PLEASE, LORD. PLEASE!!
I would help suction out your mouth when you needed, and sometimes when you were asleep I’d lay in your bed with you. You were so precious to me, dad. I hope you know that.
On Halloween, when I brought my kids over to trick-or-treat, I remember you being in so much pain that you could barely open your eyes…
I prayed for peace for you. That God would end your suffering. I had enough of watching you in pain. I was ready to let you go. I had to let you go.
That was last time your eyes were open, Dad.
You fell into a coma. I don’t know if you remember any of the seven days that you were in a coma, but there were times when one eye would open just a crack and your mouth would move. I would go running to get mom and say, “Dad is here!” Mom would come running and crying and say, “Here I am, baby!” and we would talk to you and rub your face.
The day you died, I came over that afternoon. You had been running a fever all day and your breathing was very shallow. From what I had read, I knew it was almost time. I prayed for you, kissed your lips, your face, your hands, arms, pretty much every body part that was exposed. As I rubbed on your chest and arms, I felt nothing but tumors all over your body. They were literally everywhere. I was actually shocked, you weren’t dying from the tumors in your lungs, you weren’t dying from the tumor in your hip, you were dying because cancer had taken over your entire body. I stayed for quite some time and watched your breathing patterns.
I’m not sure what time it was, but later that evening I got a call from my mom. She was calm but distressed. She said, “Sissy, he’s not breathing.”
Okay. Here it goes.
She stayed on the phone as you took another breath and then a minute later, another. Then you took one final breath and let out a sigh. It was peaceful.
You were gone, Dad.
I left my house, frantic. I was numb. I knew it was going to happen, but I could not believe it was over. I no longer had you, Dad. I no longer had the strongest man I know.
When I came into the house, Uncle was there, my brother and mom.
I went over, hugged and kissed you. I touched your hands and I touched your feet. I just stared at you, Dad. You really were gone.
When the funeral home arrived to take you away, mom was upstairs. They were so delicate with you. They put on the pajamas that we wanted and right before they started the next step, mom came running down the stairs. She hugged you, cried and kissed you. She went upstairs and never came back down.
My brother and I stood in the living room, silent, as they ever-so-delicately wrapped you in your sheet, then in a black plastic body bag. They gently put you on a gurney and we watched as they took you away. It was almost an out-of-body experience for me. I didn’t cry, I didn’t move. I just stood there.
Your funeral was beautiful. I sang for you and everyone shared such wonderful and loving stories about you. Some stories were hilarious! It was evident that you were truly loved by many.
It has been five years since you were taken. At first, it was so very hard for me. I’d lose my breath every time I thought about you. I’d get sick to my stomach when I relived all you went through, what we all we went through. Five years later, I still have those moments, but not as often as I used to. I’m writing you to tell you what I went through and how I felt while you were sick. I want you to know that I was strong, because of you. I want you to know that I was dying inside right with you, but I never wanted to let you see. I want you to know that I never stopped praying for you. I want you to know that when I was 18, if I would have known what I know now, I would have spent more time with you after the first round of cancer. I want you to know that you walking me down the aisle and witnessing three of my kids being born, is nothing but God’s mercy and grace being shown. I want you to know that my kids still cry for you and say they miss their Papa, even when I know they don’t really remember you. My oldest is the only one that does and she still shares stuff that you would tell her. I can’t believe it stayed with her all the years. I want you to know I still have your Tupac playlist on my phone. I want you to know there are so many things that remind me of you. I want you to know that I take care of mom and Alex. I want you to know all your kids are okay. I want you to know you were the best dad. I want you to know that I’ll never stop missing you.
Lastly, I want you know that when I prayed for more time with you…
God had already given me more time.
After you had cancer the first time and lived almost ten years cancer-free… that was my time; that was my blessing. Everything that happened in between was nothing short of a miracle.
I love you, Dad. I’ll see you soon.
Love, your baby girl.