D is for Dinner, Disney, Dreaming, Daughters, Driving, and Dad
The greatest regret of my life centers around my dad.
My dad passed away on Friday, the 13th, almost 11 years ago. He was 62. Two years prior he had been diagnosed with esophageal cancer – had surgery that he recovered from faster than anyone expected, and seemed to be doing great. There were changes – he couldn’t make saliva in great quantities anymore, so constantly carried a bottle of water around. He no longer enjoyed certain foods, such as sandwiches, because of how dry they were. And his voice got raspier. But maybe that came later.
The cancer came back. He had a second surgery to remove his esophagus and larynx. After that he could no longer speak. Before the surgery he had researched alternative communication methods, and decided upon something that was relatively new at the time (I haven’t kept up) which was to have a special valve implanted in his trach hole which he would be able to use to speak through. In the meantime, we bought dry erase boards and notebooks for him to communicate with us. While we all mourned his speech loss, we were hopeful for the future.
He came home about a week or so after the surgery, but wasn’t recovering as well as before. OK, his body had gone through a lot, and he was older. We tried to take it in stride. Then he started swelling horribly in the neck and face, and my step-mother and I took him to the Emergency Room. The ER doctor said “If this is the cancer, it doesn’t look good.” And Dad never came home again. He spent several weeks in the hospital, then was moved to a nursing home for hospice care. He learned to suction his trach which was nasty and smelly with the cancer. He wrote on his board and pads to converse with us. Conversation as awkward and took a long time. He wrote me a letter that I have only been able to read one time. It basically said that he loved me, and that he was sorry he didn’t actually SAY it very much, and was even sorrier since now he didn’t even have the ability to speak it out loud. I read it at home by myself and cried for a long time. I tucked it in a book and I’ve not looked at it again in almost 11 years.
On Thursday, June 12, my step-mother called to say I needed to come, that it looked like today was the day. When I got to the nursing home he was already in a coma. He had a morphine drip hooked up and we kept pushing the button, hoping to relieve his pain. The doctor came in and said it would be any time, and that these things were impossible to predict. I hated seeing him grimace in bed, reduced in size to half the man he had been, and not being able to help him. We treat our pets better at the end of their lives than our family members, sometimes.
It was a long, emotional day. His sisters and their husbands dropped by, and left. It was me and my step-mother all day, with her daughters coming after their work day. Late, late, late – maybe around 10 or 11 – I decided I needed to go. I was emotionally and physically drained. I wanted to be in my own bed. I needed to walk my dog, who hadn’t been out all day. Everyone cleared out of the room to give me some time alone with him. I said goodbye, and asked him to say hello to my sister when he got where he was going. And I went home. And I wish, more than anything, that I had stayed. It was only another two hours or so before he passed away. He wasn’t alone – my step-mother and sisters were there – but I wish I had been there too.