prompt: Describe the death of someone you loved and how it changed you
My father is dying. I am a 29 year old girl, not yet married, not yet a mother, living half-way around the world from my sick, dying father. It’s extremely uncomfortable to admit this out loud, but despite the fact that the doctors have given him less than a year to live, in my mind he’s already gone.
I remember getting the news that he was sick – again. His heart, again. Growing up with an “older” father, meant annual trips to the hospital. He was never what people would call “healthy.” Instead of Disney World or the beach, every couple of years I would find myself sitting with the whole family in the waiting room of St. Claire’s Hospital. This was when the family got together. I shouldn’t have been surprised when recently, after a healthy streak of almost 5 years, I got the call from my mother that he once again had two blocked arteries and needed surgery. Again. At age 77.
Full of worry and, excuse the pun, heart ache, within 24 hours I was on a plane headed for North Carolina. The whole 12-hour flight, my mind was racing: How much more of this could he withstand? Is he strong enough to survive this one? The very thought of losing him caused physical pain in my chest. It’s not fair, my siblings all had so much more time with him than I have. “Your father is a very stubborn man,” my mom consoled us, “he’s not going to go down without a fight.” I was naïve enough to believe her.
There we were at this miserable defacto family reunion, sitting once again in the waiting room at St. Claire’s hospital. My brother, my mother, my sister and myself. I was biting my nails down to the nail bed out of stress while we silently waited for the doctor to come out and give us any bit of news, when a nurse came out, and handed a file of paperwork to my mother. “Give this to the doctor when he comes out,” she said professionally, trying to mask her general boredom with her job. My mother, absentmindedly handed the file over to me, giving me something “to be responsible for” to take my mind off of what was happening. Just like it was when I was 10 and this happened for the first time. I would have never read my father’s doctor’s private file; it’s personal and to read it would be intrusive. This time, for some reason, the file didn’t seem so sacred.
I started flipping through the file, half out of curiosity, half out of the need to be mentally distracted. The first page was the doctor’s notes from his first meeting with my sick father. “Morbidly obese,” “inactive,” and “careless with his medication” were all phrases I read describing my father, my male role model, the man I compare every man to in my life. I wish I could say I was surprised by it all.
I kept reading. Then, at the end of this first page were the words that killed my father. “It is unclear if the patient cares whether he lives or dies.” Refusing to believe it, I showed it to my mother sitting next to me. “Is this true??” I asked her, pointing to the deadly line. My eyes were filled with tears and my jaw clenched tight as I choked back the pain to hear the answer. “Well, yes,” was her only response. And we just looked at each other. My mother, pragmatic, realistic, and calm; me with my entire world falling apart, tears streaming freely down my face without blinking.
There it was. Years of taking time to sit in the waiting room, of driving nine hours south from New Jersey, of flying 12 hours west, all came flooding back to me. All the tears, all the worrying. All the praying. All for nothing.
In a flash, I saw all of my plans for the future melting away. My father giving permission to my fiancé to marry me, walking me down the aisle at my wedding, holding my children after they are born, sitting at the Friday night dinner table regaling the family with his bizarre stories. All of it dissolved into smoke that dissipated into the air of the waiting room. Years of plans and hopes were gone in a heartbeat. The absence of them was evident and distinct, leaving a void that stung like an open wound in my heart where they once lived. It was in that moment that I made the hardest decision I’ve ever made. I can’t keep caring. If he doesn’t care if he lives or dies, if I and my siblings are not enough to inspire our father to keep living and continue fighting, then I am not going to waste my time caring either. It was in this moment that I was changed forever. Without my father, my super hero, I was no longer “daddy’s little girl.”