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. Â 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. Â By the end of that week, we knew it was definitely in his lungs and also his thyroid. Â The next week, the oncologist told him that he’d probably only had the cancer for a month, maybe two. Â 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. Â 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. Â 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. Â 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. Â I never set pen to paper, though, before he was on heavy pain meds.
The following week, the new scans came in. Â The cancer was now in his bones and soft tissues. Â The oncologist had never seen such an aggressive form of pancreatic cancer before.
I wanted to be strong for my dad. Â I needed to be strong. Â 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. Â My brother had flown in and his wife and children had driven out a week previously. Â We wanted to get a big family picture taken. Â My father, however, had a high fever all day. Â 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. Â We were celebrating 9Â March and AprilÂ family birthdays. Â I had made 72 cupcakes the day before (gluten-free and dairy-free). Â There were to be 25 of us there (including the good-as-but-not-blood) cousins. Â So instead of being able to help Mom take Dad to the hospital, I got left in charge of the party. Â 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. Â He was in so much pain and his temperature got up to 104.4. Â My sister-in-law came out to check on me. Â I couldn’t hold back the tears. Â But when she started crying in earnest, it helped strengthen me. Â You see, I get this time, this chance to prepare myself and say goodbye. Â 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. Â 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. Â 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. Â 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. Â None of us want him to suffer, but knowing the end result is soon is also hard. Â The original prognosis of 6 months is no longer realistic.
Today, Dad begins chemo in earnest. Â He has been doing a double-blind trial medicine so far (so we don’t know if he’s getting meds or placebo). Â He knows it won’t change the outcome and possibly not even positively effect the time frame. Â 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. Â 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. Â I feel like I should be able to. Â I’m the girl who kept Mom strong through those years that Grandma lived with us, then in the nursing home. Â 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. Â 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. Â I no longer cry every time I get in the shower, when it’s so easy to let go. Â 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. Â Maybe now I can enjoy my food again, and feel like I’m allowed to have enjoyment. Â 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. Â Perhaps, I will be strong enough. Â 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