I tried to blame it on the onions.
Really, why do those blasted things have to make me cry?
In truth, though, I’ve been crying for weeks. Four and a half weeks, to be exact.
At the beginning of February, we found out my dad has stage 4 pancreatic cancer, which had metastasized to his liver and possibly lungs. By the end of that week, we knew it was definitely in his lungs and also his thyroid. The next week, the oncologist told him that he’d probably only had the cancer for a month, maybe two. Within a month he should be in a lot of pain and within 6 months he would be gone.
Two days later, he was in pain. And mine had gotten that much worse.
You see, the last decade, my dad has always been there to take care of me when things went wrong. He fixed my car, he installed things and fixed things in my house, he helped me through the ending of a very bad marriage and the subsequent years of single mom-hood and the beginnings of a new marriage. He became my rock and my backbone.
The day he first saw the oncologist, he told me to make him a list of all the projects I needed help with so that he could do them while he was still capable. I never set pen to paper, though, before he was on heavy pain meds.
The following week, the new scans came in. The cancer was now in his bones and soft tissues. The oncologist had never seen such an aggressive form of pancreatic cancer before.
I wanted to be strong for my dad. I needed to be strong. But every time I got a phone call, and every night before bed, I’d curl up in my husband’s lap and cry.
This past weekend, the whole family got together. My brother had flown in and his wife and children had driven out a week previously. We wanted to get a big family picture taken. My father, however, had a high fever all day. It got worse as we were setting up to take pictures, and we had to take him to the emergency room.
But it was also a party day. We were celebrating 9 March and April family birthdays. I had made 72 cupcakes the day before (gluten-free and dairy-free). There were to be 25 of us there (including the good-as-but-not-blood) cousins. So instead of being able to help Mom take Dad to the hospital, I got left in charge of the party. I wanted to be with him, but I was supposed to put on a happy face and play?
I stood outside as my brothers helped my father shuffle, very slowly, to the car. He was in so much pain and his temperature got up to 104.4. My sister-in-law came out to check on me. I couldn’t hold back the tears. But when she started crying in earnest, it helped strengthen me. You see, I get this time, this chance to prepare myself and say goodbye. She didn’t with her father – his death was completely unexpected and happened a thousand miles away.
Though Dad spent Saturday through Monday in the hospital, I did not get to see him then, or since. With 3 kids, 1 in public school (and 2 homeschooling), teaching college (the week before spring break), and having had an ice storm up here, I haven’t had a chance yet. I am grateful, though, that I have spring break to go and help my mother and be with my father.
Last weekend was kind of a dry run for us. With a fever that high and his liver beginning to shut down (he is so yellow now), we were worried that it was the end. None of us want him to suffer, but knowing the end result is soon is also hard. The original prognosis of 6 months is no longer realistic.
Today, Dad begins chemo in earnest. He has been doing a double-blind trial medicine so far (so we don’t know if he’s getting meds or placebo). He knows it won’t change the outcome and possibly not even positively effect the time frame. He’s doing it for us, he says, so that his children and grandchildren have a chance of fighting it.
My father is one of the most generous men I know. He may be grumbly sometimes, but he gives so much.
I know he wants me to sing at his funeral, and, for him, I’d like to be able to. I feel like I should be able to. I’m the girl who kept Mom strong through those years that Grandma lived with us, then in the nursing home. I’m the one who sang for four hours, holding one of Grandma’s hands and one of Mom’s, and sang Grandma to Jesus. Yet, on my birthday, just a few days after finding out about the cancer, I could barely sing for my dad even though I still thought there was a chance he’d be around for another 6 months.
But I’m feeling stronger now. I no longer cry every time I get in the shower, when it’s so easy to let go. I no longer cry every time I get off the phone with my mother.
Maybe now I can get back to adding in those “extras” in life, like cooking, putting “something” into my lectures, or blogging about tasty foods. Maybe now I can enjoy my food again, and feel like I’m allowed to have enjoyment. I know my father would want nothing less for me than joy.
I would like to leave you with the words of my father’s favorite hymn, which I think he has been working hard to exemplify in his life and that he would like me to sing when the time comes. Perhaps, I will be strong enough. And, hopefully, I can be this person, too.
Because I have been given much, I too must give;
Because of thy great bounty, Lord, each day I live
I shall divide my gifts from thee With ev’ry brother that I see
Who has the need of help from me.
Because I have been sheltered, fed by thy good care,
I cannot see another’s lack and I not share
My glowing fire, my loaf of bread, My roof’s safe shelter overhead
That he too may be comforted.
Because I have been blessed by thy great love, dear Lord,
I’ll share thy love again, according to thy word.
I shall give love to those in need; I’ll show that love by word and deed:
Thus shall my thanks be thanks indeed.
Text by Grace Noll Crowell