This is a deeply personal post. Bear with me.
I once heard Lady Gaga's piano performance of The Edge of Glory on Howard Stern and it touched me. I understood at that moment what it meant for her and found so much love and understanding in it. The title is an apt description of being on the edge of life and death, being at that moment when you leave this world and go to the next...
I went about my life as any 20-something girl did, worrying about career, about love, about being 20-something. I was never a frivolous person. I was and still am deeply inquisitive and introspective - I think. I was loving my job and my career, I was living in one of the world's best cities, and I was in love with a man who was (and is still) everything I hoped for in a life partner.
I loved my family and my family loved me. I am a family person. I am also "daddy's little girl". I had career aspirations and dreams of marrying the man I loved with my family by my side.
When my dad was diagnosed with Cancer (big C), I was devastated, to say the least. Like any little girl, I put my dad up on a pedestal. He probably has something to do with why I took my time to wait for the man that I would share my life with. When your family loves you the way mine does, you wait to find a love that honours that.
I was heartbroken at the thought of what my dad had to go through and the possibility that our time with him could be severely limited. Here was the kindest man I'd ever known, the most loving husband, father and friend who would do anything for the people he loved. It's always the good ones, I thought.
My sister and I quickly flew home to be with our mom and dad to help him through all the doctor visits, treatments, decisions and uncertainty. After a few doctor visits, we both knew what we needed to do. We moved home. Just in time for my dad's chemo treatments. It seemed the first rounds of radiation didn't help. There was no doubt that we would go through this journey with him. And our family, true to form, gathered together for every treatment, every doctor visit, every moment. One of the nurses told us how nice it was that we were there as a family for everything, that it was rare. I thought, there was no question that we would be here. Where else would we be?
Looking back I doubt if my dad really wanted to undergo chemo, but we wanted it. My mom, my sister and I. It wasn't that we wanted chemo for him. We just wanted to fight. We wanted to fight to keep him. It's not till later that I realized it wasn't so much us who were getting beat up, it was him. I'll hopefully never know what chemo felt like to him. But I'm sure it was no less the hardest thing he's had to do - no the second hardest thing. The hardest thing for him, and I have no doubt, was having to go and leave us on this earth.
I won't go through all the details of that year with my dad as he fought cancer - and he fought it the only way I knew he would, bravely. But it remains one of the hardest, darkest yet the most loving and fulfilling year of our family's life. Both my sister and I got married that year, within 2 weeks of each other. And two weeks after I got married, my parents celebrated their 33rd wedding anniversary. My sister and I had found the men we wanted to marry by that point and there was no doubt in our minds that BOTH my mom and my dad had to be there. We had beautiful weddings, surrounded by the most important people who love us and my mom AND dad walked us down the aisle. That's what daddy's girls dream of. I'm so happy we have that.
Watching someone you love pass on changes you. In ways that I don't even fully know, but I know I've changed. My dad's wishes when we were about to embark on this journey with him included 1. He didn't want to lose his hair, and 2. If he had to go, he wanted to go at home surrounded by his family - no one else. I'm glad he got those two wishes. He never lost his hair, he looked handsome til the end. And when it was time to go, his girls (my mom, my sister and me) were with him.
I watched my dad take his last breath. I'd never known courage until that very moment. I could see in his eyes moments before that he didn't want to go but the moment had come. It took everything in my mom, my sister and me to tell him in loving words that we would be okay. That he could go. We wanted him to go in peace knowing we'd be okay. They say people at that point need to know that those they leave behind will be okay. I think he struggled with leaving us on earth. I think that even though he was at the edge, he couldn't step off until he knew his girls would be okay. We made that promise to him. We told him he could go, that we would take care of each other and he could watch over us. My husband told him that he would take care of his girls, and I think that helped a lot.
When we got to the edge with him, even though we didn't want to let him go, we knew he had to go and we wanted him to. It was time for him to be free of his body that suffered for him. It was time for him to be in peace and to find that glory that he so richly deserved. His life was full of so much integrity and love and kindness. He gave everything to his family and thought of himself last. He was our best friend and now he's our angel.
My dad was the ultimate family man. He always worried about his girls. He lived his life to take care of his family. He always watched out for us. It seems somehow fitting that he's the first to go (scoping the scene for us) and watching over us now.
Like I said, watching someone you love pass on changes you. I have a deep empathy for those diagnosed with cancer and their families. And I have a deep empathy for people who've lost a parent. It's not just cancer and death of a parent that I feel for obviously, but this is what I have experience with so the feeling is much more acute.
There's a big hole in my heart that will never be filled. It's been over 3 years now since my dad passed. My mom cried the other day listening to one of their songs that they shared together. She started to speak about how sad she was but stopped herself and resigned with a sigh. I told her, "I know mom, I don't think that feeling will ever go away". She looked at me with love and said, "Yeah, I don't think so either".
My heart longs for my dad every moment of every day, but I don't let my mind think about him too much. When I do, I cry and I break. It gets easier with time but not that much easier. It helps me to know that he loves us and we love him. And I believe that he's still with me.
I used to feel sorry for myself. Most of my friends don't know what it feels like, I say to myself. But I stopped that. Everyone has hardships in life and I don't know what other people go through either. I'm also fortunate that I had my dad for 28 years full of love and kindness. I had a loving dad who was everything a father should be. A parent is supposed to go before their child. This was natural and I'm certainly not the first 28 year old who lost a parent. Many people don't have them for that long or at all.
So I know I am blessed. I am part of a loving family who takes care of each other and is there all the way to the edge.
* Note - I feel the need to send this word of thanks out into the world: Thank you to all the nurses who do their work with kindness. To all the palliative care specialists: I can't imagine how hard it would be to work in your field but thank you for what you do, because it makes a world of difference to your patients and their families.