Mom came over one day, for a reason I don't remember anymore. She was quieter than usual, smiling in almost a sad way at 2 1/2 year-old Isabelle and 7 month-old Lorelei.
I asked her if something was wrong. And there was.
My Dad had chronic lymphocytic leukemia.
She explained it in the best way she could, but all I could hear was cancer. Cancer. Cancer.
I've never been so scared in all my life. I stumbled to Geoff's office and managed to choke out, "My Dad....has....cancer....".
Over the next few days, I learned all that I could about the disease. I was encouraged by the many instances I read about, the patients who lived with this for years, even decades.
Dad and Mom asked for a meeting with my brother and me, to discuss things my Dad wanted to talk about. Mostly the land and how he never wanted it split up and sold, estate stuff...that kind of thing.
Even as I talked with my family about the "what ifs", I refused to think that Dad might not win this fight.
October 17, 2004
A cold day found all of us (family, old friends, everyone) at a barn party. Delicious, bad-for-you casseroles, chips and dip, and the ever-present beer. Dad had begun his first round of chemo the week before. He seemed okay.
The chill and the kids forced us to leave before the party wound down. As we left, I walked up behind Dad, squeezed his arm, and said, "Bye, Dad". He half-turned, and said, "Bye, Sue".
October 18th, 2004
Mom called in the afternoon. Dad was pretty ill with a high fever and chills. He and Mom were at the hospital, and they were assured that this was probably from the chemo....that Dad had caught a cold or the flu because the chemo had wrecked his immune system. Mom was going home to sleep...nothing to worry about.
I remember chatting later with my cousin Mary Lou. About Dad. About the Northern Flicker in my backyard.
October 19th, 2004. 2:20 am.
The phone rang.
Mom's voice cracked over the line. "Dad's not doing very good. Can you come now?"
I was backing out of the driveway by 2:23.
The night was foggy, almost impossibly so. An Amber Alert was blaring over all the highway signs. The 50 minute drive took forever.
Steve, my brother, met me at the ER entrance. He didn't say anything.
We walked down dark, solemn hallways to a small room where Mom was.
I sat down and put my arm around her shoulders.
She looked at me, then at Steve. "You didn't tell her?"
Steve looked at the floor.
Mom gathered her strength from somewhere, looked into my eyes and said, "Honey, Dad died."
The world went out, like a blown light bulb.
*Dad's pre-chemo tests had shown that he had at least a few minor heart attacks sometime in the past. The doctor informed Dad that chemo would be a risk. Dad chose to proceed anyway.*
In halting words, Mom told me of the events that had transpired during my 50-minute drive. Dad had gone into cardiac arrest. The doctors and nurses had worked on him for at least 20 minutes. He died at 2:30 am, seven minutes after I had left my house.
The three of us walked deeper into the quiet hospital to see Dad. As we passed the nurses' station, I heard one of them say, "Poor thing. She didn't make it in time".
Dad was in a cold, half-lit room, with a sterile white blanket pulled up to his shoulders.
Steve went in first, and reached back to grab my hand. He hadn't held my hand since I was 5 years old.
Reality was warping around me. But I put a hand on Dad's forehead and leaned down to kiss him.
And a last whisper....."Daddy".
I wasn't going to post tonight, but Mary's post here turned the pitcher of my memory right over.
The ones we love can be here one day, gone the next. Or they can slowly disappear from us over the course of years. Either way, it leaves us an unbalanced equation. The thing that keeps us righted is removed and we stumble.