Today is my least favourite day of the year.
My dad passed away on this day many years ago now but it’s always feels like a fresh wound.
Cancer took Dad from us.
I was working in Sydney when I got the phone call. It’s very odd because I can remember details like, I was talking to a buyer in Perth with half a cup of tea in front of me. I remember the old ring tone on my old flip phone ringing clear as day. I had asked Matt to ‘hold on a sec’ just before I took the call that destroyed my world.
My Dad was diagnosed with terminal cancer and was given three months to live.
Shock is probably what I was feeling. In my head nothing said made sense. Terminal? What does that mean? I don’t understand. I thought, ok he is going to need radiotherapy. Poor dad he is going to feel so sick or maybe they will have to operate? I don’t understand what do you mean by terminal?
“It means Claudia that I need you to come home.”
When the Doctor at the Brisbane hospital said he could go home to die I got so angry. “You mean you are not going to even try? You are just going to give up?”
He was lit up like a Christmas tree. There was nothing they could do. At the time my brain refused to accept that. I needed them to fix my dad and I knew they couldn’t do that if they sent him home.
We tried alternative medicine. Right until the end he drank some horrible green gunk that he hated, we stuffed him with herbal pills and black grapes. He did that for us, we begged him to keep fighting and although he knew that it was too late he did what we asked.
Three months is not enough time to say good bye.
It’s a horrific thing to watch someone so big and strong like dad, wither before our eyes into nothing but skin and bone.
We had quite a few conversations during those short months. I would go to my parents’ room like when we were kids and lay next to him. He would stroke my hair or hold my hand and tell me to be strong for him. He told me to look after the family and kept saying how sorry he was to leave so soon.
I think it broke me near the end when he called out to me to help him off the toilet seat, I ran in and saw that he was bleeding. My big strong dad…he was really dying.
The day before he passed away we had our last conversation. I wanted to make him laugh because that is what we did.
“Great, I guess I am going to have to remember to put water in the car, wherever that goes and change the oil now huh?” I said nudging him.
Dad slowly moved his head to look at me and raised his eyebrows.
“Que te parece?” (What do you think?) He said sarcastically and the sides of his mouth lifted.
It’s silly but I kind of love that they were our last words to each other, nothing epic or life changing but just an everyday father daughter exchange.
Not long after, he stopped responding to us. The next morning he passed away in his bed.
Everything that followed was a blur.
I know my aunt and my grandmother were here, they travelled from Argentina and arrived just in time to say good bye. I only know that because we have photos to prove it.
My brother and his very pregnant wife dealt with everything. I have been told that he asked me for assistance and that I didn’t help at all. I don’t remember any of that because clearly I checked out when dad did.
My hair hurt. Did you know your hair can hurt? I had to go see a doctor who said it was grief. I couldn’t move a strand without feeling like someone was slowly scratching a raw nerve. I nearly passed out in the shower from the pain of the water weighing down my hair.
Our friends and my co-workers filled our home with flowers…SO many flowers. Their love and support was overwhelming. We had to put the flowers outside so we could breathe.
Dad had a lot of friends; his funeral was fitting of a person who was much loved. People kept saying they were sorry but I couldn’t say anything.
We each handle grief in different ways. I lost a lot of friends because I pushed people away, they wanted to grieve with me and I wanted to be left alone.
When he died I was so hurt and angry that all my constant prayers (begging) didn’t save him. God is Almighty; he can do anything, so why didn’t he save my dad? Of course being the rational human that I am has its downsides because on top of the misplaced anger, I felt guilty and stupid because I know full well that God didn’t kill him, Cancer did.
I didn’t stay long at mums house because it seemed that every day she had more and more photos of dad up all over the house. She needed to talk about him all the time but I couldn’t go on crying.
I didn’t have a single photo of dad up for years.
My instinct was to throw myself into work. Partly I did that to keep my mind busy and partly because I needed to prove to myself that I could stand up on my own two feet. You see I was terrified because dad didn’t have my back anymore, I felt alone and exposed. My solution was to toughen up.
Grief has no expiry date. You can try to supress it for a while but it won’t be ignored.
Three or four years after he passed away I had some exciting news and without thinking I dialled home.
“Mum, put dad on quick!” I said
“Claudia, Papa no…” mum said and just like that my tears poured out again. The wound felt as fresh as the day the hearse took him away.
They say time is the perfect healer.
I think it’s more that we become stronger with every battle life throws our way. We learn to cope and become more grounded. We are forced to mature and realise that we are made of tougher metal.
Losing dad changed me, mostly for the better I hope. I am unquestionably more appreciative of life. I value and love my family to bits (even the crazy ones).
I care about my friends and actively try to show them their worth. Although I am stronger I have also developed a strange thing called empathy that perhaps wasn’t at my forefront in my younger days.
Cancer is certainly the malignance of our times. Bit by bit it seems to reach each one of us in one way or another, not always directly but sometimes through a family member, friend or neighbour.
One day I am sure we will find a way to terminate cancer’s contract here, but until then I hope all the effected keep on fighting it and giving it complete hell.
My mum kicked its ass recently, sure it took a kidney but she is still here.
I wish I had more time with my dad and no doubt every year I will feel the same way.
Sometimes I get lucky and I get to talk to him in my dreams, how fortunate we are that the mind is a weird and wonderful thing.
Can I ask, dear friends when was the last time you spoke to your dad, mum, sister or brother?
Pick up the phone or drive out to see them more often. Trust me its time well spent. No matter what kind of relationship you have with your family, you don’t want regrets when you get that phone call.
Ps: Say ‘I love you’ more, it’s not stupid. Stupid is regretting missed opportunities.
Big hug to you Dad, might go wash my car in the morning, just for you. xox