”And when great souls die, after a period peace blooms, slowly and always irregularly. Spaces fill with a kind of soothing electric vibration. Our senses, restored, never to be the same, whisper to us. They existed. They existed. We can be. Be and be better. For they existed.” – Maya Angelou
My April 30th
For the past 20 years, April 30th has been a day of deep reflection for me. A day that always brings back memories of one of my worst nightmares. The day I would no longer hear you call me your baby girl. The day the child became the parent telling YOU it would all be okay and it was time to let go. The day I saw and heard someone I love take their last breath. The day that left me with such a big hole in my heart. The day my life changed forever. The day that I truly realized how precious life was and how there are certain parts of it that we have no control over. The day that taught me to celebrate life in every way. The day that I learned to not take anyone or anything for granted. The day that left me in awe of the life lessons that can come out of the darkest times.
I went from grief and despair to hope and gratitude all at the same time during and after watching my Dad die. It was the only way I knew how to make sense of this totally miserable situation. For the 24 hours leading up to his death I held his hand and talked to him. I only took breaks to go to the bathroom and jam something into my mouth. I could tell the end was near based on his labored breathing. I woke up my brother and his girlfriend and made the decision to sit at his feet and let them hold his hands. My bond with my father was very strong and I finally realized he was holding on for me and as much as I loved him even more for that I knew it was selfish. Within 10 minutes of making this decision he crossed over while sitting in his favorite recliner as the sun came up on April 30, 1999. He was only 49 years old and he had so much more living to do. And I had so much more to share with him. I had to make this awful situation matter somehow. I had to give it meaning while never forgetting the feeling. I had to honor his life and most importantly the life he did not get to live.
Five days earlier
We were told there was nothing more the doctors could do for him. The asbestos induced lung cancer had ravaged his body beyond repair and it would be a matter of days. I was trying to take in this unfathomable message while sitting outside next to the hospital fountain and the emotions consumed me. Just 5 days earlier my electrician father was standing on the hospital bed changing the light bulb and now he couldn’t even talk to me and I didn’t know what to do or how to help him! I was crying uncontrollably and I was not even aware of my surroundings. A sweet lady walked over and sat next to me. She said in the kindest voice, “it appears you got some bad news, how can I help?” I am not sure at this point what I said to her but she was so calming to me. She was Jean and she volunteered with hospice and gave me her card to call if I needed her. I hadn’t even considered hospice because I was still in shock. After we consulted with the doctors we brought Dad home from the hospital on April 25th.
I quickly jumped into my hardest life role as primary caregiver with the help of hospice angels (Jean was one of them) and eventually my brother and my Dad’s girlfriend. We cared for my Dad around the clock for 4 exhausting days. We barely slept or ate and just kept going. You get this adrenaline and even though you’ve never been through anything like this before you know what to do and you just act. It’s all about taking care of your loved one with respect and dignity during the little time they have left. I would talk to my Dad a lot in these 4 days. I told him stories, I recited memories we shared together and I told him everything I wanted to say even though he couldn’t say anything back. We knew the end would come and he had told me everything I needed to hear before this and he said all he could with his eyes in these last hours.
He did it his way
I really believe that although my Dad had no control over his illness, he truly controlled the moment of his death. You see April 30th was not just the end of his life but it had been the beginning of my Mom’s life and his girlfriend’s life. They both had the same birthday – April 30th. My parents had divorced when I was only 3 years old but they still had love for each other and my Mom visited him a couple days before his death. I remember her saying, “I hope he doesn’t die on my birthday. I don’t think I could handle that.” Well my Dad had his own plan and he did just that at sunrise on her birthday – he did always worship the sun especially from his boat. I remember relating to my Mom later that he gave her a birthday gift that day even if she didn’t see it at the time. He was in so much pain and suffering and it was all over now. He was at peace in God’s Kingdom and that was the greatest gift she could ever receive for her birthday.
I’ve had so many mixed emotions about 4/30. Most times I try to celebrate my Dad’s life on this day along with my Mom’s and now my Mother-in-Law’s birthdays (yet another connection to this date) but there are times when I’m not as strong. Grief is funny that way. It creeps up on you when you least expect it and can still bring you to your knees even 20 years later. I’m grateful for my tribe during my low times. Sometimes all it takes is a thought of how grateful I am to pull me through my momentary lapse into despair. Are you going through a difficult time? If so, what are you grateful for? Focus on that to help ease the pain if you can.
Honoring my Dad through travel
In early April, one year ago, I was sitting in a hospital waiting room near Houston, TX. We had been staying on Galveston Island and were set to leave the next week. My husband Craig was having some medical symptoms and after several tests they had discovered two masses in his bladder. He was having these masses biopsied and there I sat in a strange city waiting, worrying and praying by myself. I thought a lot about my Dad during that time. I really felt him there with me. I thought about how much he would have loved Craig because they had so much in common. What would I do if I lost Craig? The thought of it was too much to bare and I told my Dad that if there was ever a time to intervene on my behalf with the big Guy, now was the time!
I was also thinking about the fact that our next 2 scheduled stops to San Antonio and Santa Fe would most likely be canceled as we awaited biopsy results. This had me looking forward to our Grand Canyon trip at the end of the month. Craig had said that no matter what we were going there and would schedule any treatments after that if needed. It was something we both looked forward to and I knew there was no changing his mind. While researching “things to do in The Grand Canyon” I kept coming across helicopter rides at first thinking “they are so expensive”! Something kept nagging at me and drawing me towards this adventurous opportunity. I was hit with many “what ifs” as I worried about what results might come from the biopsies. What if we have to stop traveling when we were just getting started. This was one of the main reasons we started this journey, to live our best life while we were able and healthy! As I started getting emotional I knew I had my answer. We had to take this once in a lifetime opportunity and I had to schedule it now without consulting with my husband – something we never did. I decided it would be a surprise to celebrate the “good news” we would get. I started putting positivity over the negative vibes that were trying to take over. I scheduled the trip for April 30th! It was a way to not only celebrate our life but also the life of my Dad in a big way.
A new day
At 3:30 AM on April 30, 2018, we awoke so we could arrive at The Grand Canyon before sunrise! This would be a celebration of my Dad’s life and his passing at sunrise. It would also be a celebration of the biopsy news we received. Craig DID have bladder cancer but thankfully after 2 weeks of anxiety we found out the margins were clear. They got it all! Thank God! We had so much to be grateful for yet again.
As we walked up to this massive breathtaking marvel in the dark I was overcome with emotion. I had so much to be grateful for! So many lessons I had learned through grief and adversity. The most important lessons are to always tell people how much they mean to you and don’t put off doing what really matters to you. Tomorrow could be too late.
The helicopter ride was everything I had dreamed of. Even though I am extremely scared of heights I pushed myself outside my comfort zone to be present in the moment and really experience it. It was so exhilarating and the views were breathtaking! I thought it was a sign that the seat next to me was empty because of weight distribution. We saved you a seat Dad!
It’s very fitting that I finished writing this post at sunrise this morning, April 30th! I try to honor your memory every day Dad. Until we meet again please know that I will always be your baby girl!