Monday, April 1, 2013

On love and family

Three years ago on Easter, I was back home in California with my parents and my children.  Dad was still here and he was fighting the cancer.  He'd grown his mad as hell and not gonna take it anymore cancer beard.

He looked so good that week.  So good.


I spent a lot of time yesterday reflecting on the past. I looked up at the sky and saw a heart shaped cloud.  Knew he was there.

He tends to do that when I need it.

Then I started to think about how giving he was at the end, how much he cared about everyone else, how much he went out of his way to help other people through his death.  It really was remarkable to watch, and I consider myself blessed to have been a part of his life.

I've written before about what he did in those last few weeks, mostly before many of my readers were here.  I'll share this piece of him with you again.

I went home for his last three weeks.  Once he was put on hospice, I left to go back.  I knew it wouldn't be long, and so did he.

He had very clear ideas of what he wanted to take care of before he was gone.  Some of it he did alone, some of it he needed help with.

Some of it will stay with the people he touched forever.

Almost eleven years before my father died, he lost his oldest brother Donnie in a freak car accident.  A girl, high and drunk, crossed the center median and hit him head on one morning while he was driving to work.  From one second to another, he was just gone.

He was laid to rest under weeping cloudy skies, the 21 gun salute piercing the morning stillness. Military funerals really are the worst.

My dad, with the white shirt in the middle.
Uncle Donnie, second from the right, next to Grandma.
I want to say this picture is from '93?
His death hit everyone in the family hard.  So sudden, completely unexpected, totally unfair.  He was young and handsome and strong, then he was just gone.  No opportunity to say goodbye to anyone.

When my dad was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer, he refused to accept the death sentence he was given.  He fought and fought and fought, until he knew it was time to let the fight end.  I had many conversations with him those last few weeks, and we talked about Donnie a lot.  He didn't want the family to go through that again.

Under false pretenses, we asked them to come to the house and visit with him.  He was running out of time and he wanted to see them all, we said.  His sisters and brothers, his nieces and nephews.  Almost all of them made it.

Some came individually, some came together.  Some came more than once.  Others moved in and camped out in the living room with us for a few nights. On one day, we gathered in the garage with almost everyone around a cooler of beer and told the same old stories over and over again.  We laughed and laughed and laughed.  It was as though it was just another reason to celebrate, another party, another holiday.  Like old times.

He talked to them all, he smiled and thanked them all for coming to see him.

There were a few tears, but not too many.  He told them jokes, he shared laughs, he told them not to be sad.  He mended fences. He buried hatchets. He said things to people that had gone unsaid before, he listened to what others told him.

He held their hands, asked them to take care of one another, look out for each other. Told them he loved them.  Reassured them all that he was okay.  That he was going to be okay.  That they were going to be okay.

He kissed them goodbye, hugged them for the last time, waved to them as they pulled away in their cars.

He didn't do it for him.  He did it for them.

He was exhausted and worn out afterwards.  It took everything out of him for a few days.  For the vast majority of them all, it was the last time they'd ever see him.  The last time they would hear his laugh and see his bright blue eyes.

He was glad to see them, of course, but he did it for them.

He did it for love.

His last, greatest gift to them all.

It was beautiful to watch.

7 comments:

  1. I'm crying. And I think they are happy tears.
    Because, what a gift.

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  2. Kelly, Nathan's mom here. Your Dad was one of the greatest gifts Nathan will ever have in his lifetime. He meant so much to Nathan.

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  3. It's amazing that those who need strength the most often give it to us. xo

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  4. This is such a beautiful tribute to your father. It made me weepy--I lost my dad almost 5 years ago to Leukemia. He was in hospice and I just laid across his chest and listened to his last breath. He was surrounded by our whole family...he knew he was loved. Even though he was older, I always figured he'd be around so much longer. We're never quite prepared for these types of loses, even though they're in Hospice, we still hold out hope. I hope one day soon I can write a tribute like this for him. Your father would be so proud of you.

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  5. Oh, I'm bawling. We're burying my cousin tomorrow, and this is all too real. Your dad sounds like an amazing man. I know he's proud of the person you are.

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