I remember the day I received the phone call that forever changed my life. It was July 4th, and I was celebrating our nation’s independence with my children and a few friends of ours. It had been two weeks since my father began feeling ill. On that day, when we should have been grilling and watching fireworks, my mother sat with my father at the hospital where my son was born, as physicians ran test after test after test.
Tumor. Blockage. Surgery.
Who knew 3 little words could be so life-altering.
Despite my mother’s best attempts to reassure me, deep, deep down I knew that it was bad. I know too much…that’s what 6 years of undergraduate and graduate nursing taught me.
Two months and ten days later, I sat with my mother and the medical team caring for my father in a “family conference.” I know all too well about family conferences, yet, with a wave of emotions flooding through me I still begged and pleaded with them desperately not to give up.
That night, I held my father’s hand…hugged and kissed him…told him how much I loved him…for the very last time…at the hospital where my son was born. That place where I experienced my greatest joy was also the place where ironically, I experienced my deepest sorrow.
It was surreal. I’ve cried and held and comforted many a parent who has lost their child, yet that night I had no idea what to say or do or think or feel.
It’s been one year since my father lost his battle with cancer. I can honestly say that there has not been a single day that goes by where I haven’t thought about him. Has it gotten easier? For the most part, yes. But some days, it feels as raw and hollow and final as that Fall September night.
I haven’t really written about my father since his passing, save the letter I wrote to him and ended up reading at his memorial service. So why now? Why today?
Today, I dropped my son off for his very first day of school. I know…what does that have to do with my father? Nothing…and everything.
Every day, I wake up, get dressed, eat breakfast, and proceed to carry on with my day. Some days are more exciting than others, but still mostly predictable.
I’m a creature of habit and thrive on routine. Every day is pretty much the same…
Until one day, it isn’t.
My son was just a baby…and now he’s a kindergartener working on becoming more and more independent in his thoughts and his actions.
Parents who have gone before me warn me about how quickly the time passes. The same could be true about most things in life, including the loss of a parent. I know in my head that eventually, my children are going to grow up and leave and have lives of their own, just as surely as I know that one day, both my husband and I will lose our parents…
Because I can’t stop time, or life…I simply do everything I can to make the most of the short time we have with each other and not allow myself to get preoccupied with things that don’t really matter.
My father loved and often quoted poetry, and Shakespeare and Edgar Allen Poe were his two favorite poets. As I think about the coming year, I’m reminded of a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow called A Psalm of Life.
Here is my favorite excerpt:
Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time;
Footprints, that perhaps another,
Sailing o’er life’s solemn main,
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
Seeing, shall take heart again.
Let us, then, be up and doing,
With a heart for any fate;
Still achieving, still pursuing
Learn to labor and to wait.