Each time we say goodbye there are hand squeezes, smiles and knowing looks. Because each time we say goodbye we know it could be for the last time. We don’t talk about it and haven’t since that sad day in the hospital after he learned that his throat cancer could not be cured and would soon take his life. But there is an awareness with each other that goes beyond any eloquent words or exaggerated gestures. I know, he knows and together we know.
I know we only have whatever we have right now and for that I am thankful. It doesn’t seem like much but since it’s all I have I cherish every little opportunity so that when all that’s left is memories they will be real. I no longer take for granted his nods and sighs so that I’ll feel their warmth when all warmth is gone.
My father and I share a moment together each day as the clock ticks by and time marches on to the end of his life. The doctors don’t know if he’ll have six months or six hours. They have dashed our hopes and magnified our fears with facts that I wish I never knew. With kind and gentle words they explained that they had failed. They are not to blame, for they fought alongside of us with determination and a valiant effort to beat the odds. They are not to blame for the crippling prognosis that we now face. And face it we do, with courage we thought we had but never had to test.
My father has been a strong, independent man and I have reeled from the news that anything could stop his indomitable spirit. Although his lifestyle can probably be blamed for his suffering now, it doesn’t matter anymore. In my childish way, him dying just wasn’t something I really thought would happen. He has shaped his life like a piece of pliable clay – always making the most of whatever he had and providing for his brood to the fullest. He has always stood up to be counted when it meant something to him and still does. He never stood on the sidelines of life as I often admonish myself not to do. And he still doesn’t. Incapacitated as he is, he still exerts his opinions, leadership and direction as frequently as possible. It’s hard for those of us caring for him to slip anything past him.
In spite of the prospects, my father is a living example of how to live your life. He only buckles under when there is too much fuss made around him. He resents sympathy and sad faces that have an appearance of a death watch. For him, there is work to be done, messages to be relayed, business to put in order and endless instructions to everyone capable of carrying out a task. As children we read the lists posted on the fridge with instructions for what might otherwise have been a lazy summer afternoon. Today, unable to use his voice, he uses pen and paper to once again keep the every day operation of his life in order.
Strong as he is at times, the future is predestined and time does march on. At times I ponder how I will deal with the upcoming events which are both predictable and yet unpredictable as life always is. I contemplate losing this very special person in my life and I wonder why it has taken a serious illness to make me realize what I have. What about the other people I hold dear and whose loss would be devastating – my husband, my son, my mother, my siblings, friends etc? Perhaps a seemingly healthy and happy young person gives me the impression that life is timeless and there’s always tomorrow. Or maybe it’s the unrealistic belief that since something tragic is already in progress I may be immune to a second, or worse, a third sad event.
So now I face what, at times, seems to be the harshest test of all. Besides the loss of an important figure in my life, losing my father will be the first break in our family chain. With all of his eight children, my mother and seventeen grandchildren still living we have avoided the inevitable. It makes me stop and think how lucky I have been to have reached my forties with my immediate family still intact.
It is clear to me that what I have is what I have – and all I have. I have today and I have it to share with those I love. It may be a sobering fact to some and even to others a pessimistic attitude, but to me it’s a cause for celebration. Another day of sunshine or rain, green grass or fresh snow, babies crying or children laughing, flowers blooming or blossoms fading. Whatever it is, I have it now and this is really all any of us have. I am so grateful to have this day – one more day – with my father, my mother and everyone else I love. I am so fortunate to be able to give and receive, to share and be shared with, to love and be loved … one more day.
At my father’s last check up in February 2000 his doctors cannot find any trace of cancer. He celebrated is 78th birthday on October 6, 1999 and 50th wedding anniversary on November 25, 1999. He lives a busy and only slightly restricted life with my mother at their home in Hornby, Ontario. His eighteenth grandchild turned two years old in May 2000.