Until we Meet Again
Today marks three years since my father died of cancer. Time flows by without notice until this day rolls by and it trips into awareness. Three years. I miss him, I always will. I wrote this short story about my father to remember him and somehow keep the memories fresh. This story was going to be published but alas, there were too many of these types of stories going around apparently. I'm posting this here because I would like to share it with others, and it feels like I should. Until we Meet Again Hello, my name’s Stella, it is a pleasure to meet you. It must seem strange that I am introducing myself, but I thought it appropriate for what I am about to share with you I have never shared with anyone. I am the type of person that holds everything in and only shows the calm or control that I want everyone to see. But for once I wanted to be honest about my thoughts and feelings for the first time since these events took place. When you see someone you know or you pass someone random and they ask the familiar question, “How are you?” we automatically answer “Good” or “Fine”. If we delineate from this expected answer and actually share how we really are, we impose on the other person and are the constant “Party pooper”. Why couldn’t I just say I was fine? We all know however, that life happens to everyone, and life is far from the perfect world that we saw in our naïve years. In truth, I am not fine. I do not know if I will ever be fine. You may find this serious and poignant at times, but what I offer is only the truth. If what I have been through can help you to know that you are not alone and maybe that life is not as unfair as you thought, then this painful process was completely worth while. Please know that you are not alone, millions of people have gone through what you are going through now. I do not mean to belittle your pain, just know that there are people who understand. And of course life is unfair, but that, I have come to understand in my own way is what makes life so beautiful. It is the fact that life is so unfair to so many, it’s that which makes the good times so striking. Sometimes life will show you the most beautiful things but we are too busy, or in too much pain to notice. This Sunday morning as I lay in bed thinking about the scary prospect of writing this, putting my thoughts on paper and sharing with others, I realized I didn’t think I could do it. I thought of a song I wanted to hear that would inspire the right mood. Alas, it was a song on a CD that I did not own. As I listened to the radio in my bed on this Sunday morning, I longed to hear this song to stir me to begin this journey. As these thoughts ran through my head the next song on the radio was the one I was wishing and waiting for. I listened to it as a tear fell out of my eye. I rose out of bed and went to my laptop and began my voyage to the truth and hopefully inner healing. This is not based on a true story. It is not littered with extra events to make it more interesting or pleasing to a broader audience. It is the ugly truth, and as I write this I wonder why the truth has to be ugly. Why do we want to be coddled and sheltered from the truth, why does the truth have to hurt us so? I compare this to a good war movie. Yes, it is grizzly and gory and sometimes we turn our faces away because we think it is too much. But it is only after the movie is over do we realize…wow…how real it was. Such pain, such suffering. How much more beautiful the world is because of the ugly truth. I apologize in advance for clichés, redundancies, and very possibly boring you with the events that have transpired within the past two years of my life. I do promise one thing. That what you read is and was real, in a way that nothing had ever been in my life. For those of you whom have been through this and have healed, it is not my intention to whine. It is only that the wounds are still fresh and the pain so close, as some have told me, they always will be. This story is about my father, he was a very hard workingman. He worked hundreds of hours of overtime and after my mother got home from work she looked after my brother and I. My father never attended any parent teacher nights, school plays or volleyball games. When I was young this bothered me, I would see other kids with both of their parents, and there I was with my mom. I was happy that my mom was there I just wished my dad was too. I was a selfish child who of course wished for the one thing I couldn’t have. I understood that my father couldn’t really speak English, that either my mother or I would have to translate what was said. He would probably feel uncomfortable and out of place because he didn’t understand, but I wouldn’t have cared. I just wanted him there. I soon just began to expect it, his absence. I realized he worked hard for us to live a better life, but it still made me sad. In kindergarten for Fathers Day my school was having all the children’s Fathers come to school for the day to do crafts and make kites. I was so excited I had never made or flown a kite before. Kites were something I had only seen in illustrated story books, or seen other kids do. It was something entirely new to a first generation Canadian like me, something idealistic but normal to others. I was looking forward to Fathers Day to make my first kite. I never told my parents about it. I didn’t expect my father to miss an important day of work to make silly kites. That morning I was getting ready to walk to school as I always did, when I noticed my dad standing behind me. This was strange because usually he would have left for work already and he wasn’t even dressed for work. I remember he was wearing some beige pants and a brown and beige geometrically patterned shirt. He said he was coming with me to school that day. My mother must have read about today in one of those parent newsletters the school sent home with me every so often. I was so surprised and excited; I finally got to show off my dad. I was so proud to have him at school with me, I don’t think you could have drop kicked the smile off my face all day. We made crafts. I made this ugly picture frame thing that sat on the formal dinning room table for years. I translated for my father and my teachers, and we made my first kite. It had red, blue and green stars that I drew on it and we attached neon orange streamers to the bottom of it. The teachers had Polaroid cameras and were taking pictures of the children with their fathers and kites. This is one of my favorite pictures of all time, my dad and I. I’m holding my masterpiece of a kite, my dad smiling into the camera with his hand on my back and his huge sideburns. Years later I found out he always kept long bushy sideburns because he thought they helped to hide his large ears. I’m still not sold on the whole huge sideburn eclipsing ear thing, but that’s what dads are for. In the picture I’m smiling but not at the camera, I’m looking up at my dad. A moment caught by a Polaroid camera. I use to think that I ruined the picture. That I should have been looking at the camera, now I would never have changed a thing. I was just so happy he was there with me, and it shows in the picture. Now this picture sits tucked away with other warm memories, and now when I look at this picture I can never help but cry. This picture doesn’t belong in a photo album, it should be framed, to be remembered always, that day my dad didn’t go to work, that day he chose me. After the pictures were taken all the kids flew there kites with their Fathers and so did I. It was so much fun, I told my mom every detail about that day and she smiled. I realize now, that day wouldn’t have happened without her. Needless to say I have always been a daddies girl. I strove to impress him and make him proud of me. He was a man of few words and once his good impression was lost there was no getting it back. Maybe that was why his opinion was so important to me. I knew that no matter what stupid mistakes I would make in my life that my mother would always love me, anything less would go against her nurturing characteristics. But my father was a different story; he could hold on to things for years and be ashamed of them still. Our personalities were so similar, and we were very comfortable in each other’s presence in a way that came effortlessly. He was the only person I’ve ever known that I could sit next to for hours and not feel obligated or uncomfortable at the silence between us. On the contrary some times the conversation was the uncomfortable part. I know that seems strange but that’s the only way I can explain it. As if in silence we understood everything about the other and conversation disturbed this connection in a way. He was a tall thin man who after a few glasses of wine would become the life of the party, and he had a good sense of humor. He also taught me the value of my word, he taught me that once I broke my promise that everything else I might say was as good as a lie. He would always hold me to that lesson. I married my high school sweet heart at twenty-four, and my father and mother both gave me away at the ceremony. My mother told me before the wedding that my dad was having a harder time than he let on about me getting married. It was hard for him to see me starting my new life, but as I said he’s not the verbal type so this surprised me. My wedding day was one of the best nights of my life, we all danced and laughed the night away, it was better than I had ever imagined it would be. My husband and I went on our honeymoon and we enjoyed ourselves for the two whole weeks. It is true that God, fate, or circumstances which ever it is you believe in, work in mysterious ways. When I got home from my honeymoon, my dad was in the hospital for some tests. He was having some problems with his intestines and colon, no big deal, he was just a little backed up nothing to worry about. I would go visit him in the hospital, but I was also busy with my new life. One day I was driving home from work when my cell phone rang, in was my Mom on the phone, she sounded upset. She explained to me that the doctor said that Dad had cancer and that it was a very advanced stage of it. She said that I should come to the hospital immediately. I told her I would be there soon. After I hung up the phone my ears would not work, I couldn’t hear the radio the noise of the traffic, nothing. The only thing I could hear was the voice in my head saying this can’t be happening, this is what happens to other people, not me, not us. I reached the hospital and my brother got there a little after me. We sat in excruciating silence; any words were lost to us. What could any of us say? What could be said? Even now the silence held our bond, I could almost feel the fear in him, fear for his own life, his family, he never had to say it, I knew. The doctor told my mother that dad probably wouldn’t make it to Christmas, eight months away. My dads left arm had lost most of its strength and one day he walked into the hospital, but could not walk back out. That day was the last he would ever see home again. He became paralyzed from the waist down and in his left arm from five large tumors growing down his spine. The cancer had spread to his liver and colon as well. We never knew where it had started, just that we had found it too late. I travelled with my father in an ambulance; he was being transferred to another hospital. One of the EMS paramedics asked of my fathers’ condition. I told him that he had cancer, his face turned grim. He tried his best to instill some hope in me with the story of his mothers’ survival story with cancer. It was kind of him, a part of my heart felt better, but I knew deep down that the ending I had just heard wouldn’t apply to my dad. I thanked him again for his patience at the hospital, for waiting for our priest to finish giving my father his last rights, it was deeply appreciated. When we reached the hospital and my father was placed in his room, one of the doctors came by to check up on him, to ask a few questions. I was translating for my dad, they were the usual questions: Are you in pain? Rate your pain on a scale of one to ten. Suddenly while he was answering his face froze in mid sentence, his teeth clenched. I called out to him…no answer. The doctor tried to press down on his chin, it would not move. His heart had stopped, cardiac arrest. I was yelling now. “Papai!? Papai!?” Our word for dad, he wouldn’t respond. I was rushed out of the room when the defibulator came in. I would never forget the look on my dads face at that moment, face frozen, and his eyes wide. The doctor was able to start his heart again; it had probably been a blood clot he said. Over the next few months we tried to stay as positive as possible. We tried different forms of medicine when the medical doctors told us that there was nothing to be done. We would search for false hope in the twitch of a toe, how his feet were less swollen today, or how his appetite had improved. I would convinced my self all day long that he was going to get better, and at night I would cry myself to sleep. I would pray every waking minute, begging God to heal him, to make him well. When the nurses asked my mother if she would want my dad resuscitated if his heart stopped, she replied yes, disgusted at the idea of the question. My mother refused to have my father transferred to palliative care, she was afraid that if he was moved there that he would know he was dying and lose hope. In palliative care they also didn’t resuscitate patients, so it was like giving up on life. Months went by and he was a prisoner in his bed all day, we would always try to schedule ourselves so that there was always someone with him at every moment so that he wouldn’t be lonely. I would feed him his meals and urge him to eat as much as he could. He had lost so much weight; the cancer had also taken his appetite. He was so unbearably thin, the skin of his face was thin as wet tissue paper stretched over bones, aging him within months. I remember a new nurse asking my mom if the man in the bed was her father. It was so hard going to the hospital everyday after work and slowly watching someone you loved so dearly wither away, enduring unimaginable pain. I would help him brush his teeth, blow his nose, comb his hair, and shave him. These things were hard for him to do himself he was so weak. One day he was having difficulties breathing he was becoming weaker. The nurse took us all aside and asked us again if we would still wish him to be resuscitated if his heart stopped. She explained to us that in his weakened state that if they used the paddles on him that he may very well suffer from broken ribs. That would add to the enormous amounts of pain he was in already, and worsen still his quality of life. He was already on so much pain medication that he was unconscious most of the time. My mom didn’t know what to do she didn’t want my dad to die, but she did not want to see him in even more pain. My brother couldn’t speak, my mother turned to me. “What should we do?” Tears streaming down her face, I could never stand the sight of my mother crying, she looked so helpless and fragile it only added to my pain. I told her the only thing I could think of telling her. We had to let him go. I couldn’t keep him in pain any longer it was too selfish. I told the nurse to let my father who I loved so very much…die. It was a decision that I will remember for the rest of my life. That night on my way home from the hospital my prayers changed, I prayed for God to take my father, to end his pain. I repeated the prayer over and over a thousand times, and that night I had another dreamless night. My dreams had stopped months ago; I could not remember the last. My father was transferred to a private room he only stayed in for about a week. His condition worsened even further. He could no longer speak or move his head, he laid there propped up with pillows and gazed through us under half closed eye lids. His arms swelling with liquid from the intervenes that were keeping him alive, for he could no longer eat. He was in this state for a few days when I saw a tear fall out of his drowsy eye. I had never seen my father cry. I tried to rationalize it. His eyes were probably dry; he couldn’t blink anymore after all. No matter what I told myself to believe, it killed the little girl inside me who believed her father was indestructible. My father who always believed in me, who had entranced me with his pencil drawings as a child-who had smuggled large sheets of scrap paper from the construction sites he worked so that I could paint and draw. On Saturday July eighth I was on my way to a friends house from spending the night at the hospital. I am a hairstylist and I had promised to style her hair for her wedding that day. I was half way there when my phone rang, it was my mother, she was upset. She told me to come back to the hospital, things didn’t look good, he wouldn’t last much longer. My dad made me break one of my promises, I called my husband to tell him what was happening and for him to call my friend, I couldn’t call her, I didn’t want to upset her on her day. I made it back to the hospital and my dad’s breaths were so shallow, he was dyeing. His family who loved him surrounded his bed. My mother was holding his left hand my brother his right hand, so I stroked his forehead with my hand. I told him I loved him as my hand glided through his hair. Soon all I could do was watch his chest rise and fall with his breath. His chest lay still. So my eyes moved to his throat, I could still see his breath there. It wasn’t long before the pause between the breaths grew longer and soon they stopped altogether. I rushed out of the room to get a nurse and she called the doctor to confirm what we all knew, my dad was gone. He died at nine fifteen that morning, on the very day of my parents thirty-third wedding anniversary. July eighth a day filled with such joy and sorrow, my friend was married; my husband’s cousin had her first baby, my parent’s anniversary, the day my father died. We all cried in that small hospital room, devastated at his loss. I kissed his forehead, and as they wheeled my fathers body away covered in a burgundy cloth the tears never stopped, his body looked so small. That wasn’t him, he was no longer here, he was gone. Some like to say that I was lucky to be able to spend all that time in the hospital with him. That at least it wasn’t immediate that I got to say good-bye. But at least he wouldn’t have gone through the pain, I wouldn’t have seen him slowly deteriorate into the shell of the man he once was. Quick or slow, one way or the other you are spared from some things but suffer others. There is no possible way to make it better, no matter how much time you have to prepare you are never ready for it. To watch someone you love die right in front of your eyes, changes you in ways that others who haven’t cannot understand. As I walked out of the hospital numb, and silent, tears dried and crusted on my cheeks, I could not help but notice how painfully beautiful that day was. The sun was shining and the warmth of it made me think of how if my father were here he would be packing up his RV to go camping. That was his most beloved pass time. How fitting that the day he was released from his earthly pain that the sun saw it fit to grace this day with it’s ethereal bliss. My dad was camping, and I smiled at the thought. But the world was a very different place, I could sense it, his presence was gone. The oddest reaction I remember having was going through flits of different emotions so far from each other, it must have been some kind of shock. One second I was grieving for my father with tears, the next second I was cracking jokes and laughing with out a care; the next second I was back in tears. Laughter and tears I discovered are as close to one another as love and hate, two different sides of the same coin of emotion. It took a long time before I could find joy in anything at all, but in time I slowly could. I would visit his grave every day like I did him at the hospital, thinking he would be lonely if I didn’t. Latter I realized I did that for myself, for comfort. Everyone heals in his or her own way, but I should actually say that you don’t actually heal you learn how to deal. It was a daily struggle to get through an eight-hour shift without breaking down, but keeping busy definitely helped. In the car on the way to work or in the washroom at work I would cry. Then I’d wipe the tears away, give myself a little pep talk, put my mask of a smile back on and do my best to fool everyone into thinking I was alright. What surprised me was the anger I felt towards others and the things they would complain about. Things that I would brush off as just silly, infuriated me now. They would complain that it was too early to be at work, or that they would rather be shopping, or complain that it had been too far to drive to work and how inconvenient it was. The control it took for me to return to work, pretend that nothing had happened and focus on these people was amazing. Such small insignificant problems, but I learned another important lesson from this, you never know what is truly going on in someone else’s life, and what difficulties they are going through. Life happens to everyone. A coworker said to me that she had lost a friend to cancer, I know she meant to comfort me but instead it made me angry inside. She had no idea what I had lost, how dare she compare her sadness to mine, I realize my anger at his death now, that was a very uncharacteristic reaction for me. Every so often I still cry, I still haven’t been able to watch my wedding DVD to the end, but I live everyday with the goal of making him proud of me still. No one wants to see their loved ones in pain, my father wouldn’t have wanted that from me so I struggle every day to preserve his memory in my mind and smile at the recollections. I can talk about him now with out getting upset, I’m glad; there are too many good stories to tell. I take more pleasure in getting together with friends and family now, every moment precious to me, for every moment brings you closer to your last. The fragility of life so clear to me now, another lesson taught. What doesn’t kill you will only make you stronger, if you let it. So I’ll finish this how I finished my Dad’s eulogy, something my dad would be proud of me being strong enough to do. I love you daddy and I always will. Thank you for reading Stella
Thanks for the hug.
This is a stunning piece of writing – courageous, bold and true. I am sorry for your loss, Stella. You made a very human connection with me, with this writing...and that's what writers are supposed to do.
It was nice to meet you and Sarah at the Artery.
It was nice meeting you as well. The Artery was lots of fun.
Stop obsessing about syntax. To hell with syntax. I know you know the rules. And I know you can recognize good writing when you see it. And I know you recognize flawless writing when you run across it. Flawless is not the goal. This is good BECAUSE it’s imperfect. BECAUSE of its flaws. Perfect writing is also dead writing. Shit, I’m lecturing!!! You didn’t ask for my advice. I’m sorry. But I like your writing. Anyway, it’s not my advice. I got this from a discussion with Barry Callaghan at a WordFest panel in Calgary in 2009. The imperfections are profoundly interesting and they are what give life to our writing. Our scars, our injuries, our minor imperfections are what I find interesting.
Keep you pen moving, Stella.
As for grammar and such, I think that is why there are editors. that's their jobs. The story is the important thing. Like making crafts and flying kites, they don't have to be perfect, it's that they were done, with someone you love and appreciate.