He was a little more than a year older than I am right now when they told him he had cancer. And he had just bought a house and boat and seemed to have all his shit together.
It's the only time he kept in regular contact with me. He called and sent cards. Talked to me like a dad who wanted his daughter to know she was loved.
It was a GOOD four months.
I remember that he was still sarcastic as ever - made fun of himself and the situation through a radiation-burnt voice. He joked that now he was a real 'redneck'. He poked fun at the ridiculousness of his feeding tube that became necessary once the lymph nodes in his neck swole his throat shut.He said he was going to get better. He was going to be in the delivery room when his first grandchild came into the world.
I was almost 18 and my baby girl was due a couple months after my birthday.
But he couldn't wait.
My paternal grandmother called to say it was my last chance to see him.
At this point I was eight months pregnant and was showing signs of preeclampsia. My doctor didn't want me to take an eight hour road trip in my condition but since I was going anyway, she told me to lay in the back seat with my feet up and walk around for a while at least every two hours. It was a long trip.
When I got to the hospital, the nurses nearly met me at the door.
"He waited for you," they said.
Crying. Lots of crying. I had barely come to believe this stranger who was my father loved me. This was too much.
My grandfather told me, "Now, I don't want you to be alarmed. He doesn't look like what you're used to. His hair is gone and he's lost a lot of weight. He's in a lot of pain so he's on some strong painkillers."
My dad's hair. From the time I was tiny, one thing I remembered was his hair, always the same. A sandy blond mullet that feathered perfectly on the sides and matched his caterpillar mustache.
I finally curbed my tears and took a step inside his hospital room, half expecting to have to contain my horror. They made it sound so bad.
There, on a pillow, was a speckled wrinkly head, fine hairs sprouted here and there like the down of a baby chick. His skinny bronzed arms draped over the stack of pillows he was leaned over. Plastic tubing hung from his face and arm.
Could this be him?
"Go ahead. It's okay, you can touch him," they told me.
I touched his hand - looking like it belonged to an 80 year old man rather than my 38 year old father. The skin was soft and moved when I lightly rubbed it.
His head raised unsteadily, his eyes blinking hard and slow.
"Your daughter's here," they told him.
I watched his profile - his German nose now a beak since the fullness of his face had gone. His sunken cheeks wrinkled with the wide smile of a child who'd been offered ice cream.
He slowly turned his head toward me and raised his ocean blue eyes to mine.
Inside this frail old man was my dad - his eyes were the only sure identifier.
There was no horror, only beauty.
He struggled to speak through his sand-papered windpipe. He rubbed my huge belly and leaned his head against it, trying to hear or feel his granddaughter move.
Every fifteen minutes or so, a nurse would reach around me to push a button. Morphine. In a second, my dad's head would drop back down onto the pillow, like he'd been unplugged. A minute or so later, his head would bob back up like a newborn's and he'd see us again as if for the first time. An ice cream cone to a child every time.
Whatever word or sentence he had been in the middle of was forgotten and he was surprised and happy to see me all over again.
My mom always said I got my dad's feet and legs. I sat on his bed beside him to compare. Identical.
The nurses were becoming optimistic, excited that he was eating again. He asked to control his own morphine doses instead of being 'reset' every fifteen minutes. I didn't see him dose himself once.
I would've like to have had more time alone with him. The room was always full of visitors and family. But we managed to steal a few moments.
I was sitting at the foot of his bed, facing him. Our eyes met. "I love you," he said, melting the rest of the world away. "I love you too, Dad," I said. It was as if those three words were all that was needed for us to understand each other. Forgiveness. Love. Knowing we were 'good'.
I've been told there wasn't a dry eye in the room, but I wouldn't know. It was just me and my dad.
That night, it seemed everything went wrong. We sat for over an hour at a restaurant without receiving our orders. On the way back, we were stuck in traffic and an eighteen wheeler rolled back just enough to scrape the entire hood of our rental car. We had to bang on his door to get him to see what he'd done and exchange info. Finally back at the hospital, news wasn't good. His condition was declining again.
I told him goodnight without waking him and went to the waiting room. They woke me up a few hours later to tell me he was gone. Our stolen moment in time had been our goodbye.
My daughter was born exactly one month after my dad died. She just turned 18.
And they tell me it's probably not cancer. We just have to wait for the tests.
It feels like life has just begun. And I can't help but wonder what my dad felt when he got the news.
This is how I feel:
Every day, as if it's your last.
It's uncomfortable to be in the spotlight of everyone's concern again. My whole church is praying. Every time I get an email or text saying "We love you", I cry a little.
I always wanted to be a writer - to have millions of people read my words - but honestly, I'm no good at being the center of attention.
But I love you all. So. Much. There just aren't words. Thank you for loving me.
My Diagnostic bilateral mammogram and ultrasound is scheduled for Friday, June 5. Then no telling how long before results are in.
I don't know how it's gonna go. And it really doesn't matter. Either way, I believe it serves a purpose. I don't have to wait to find out how I want to live my life.
I just want to be the brightest light I can be
to as many people as I can be
for as long as I can be.
It's my entire purpose.
To love you.
To tell you stories to let you know there's more to life than what you can see with your eyes and feel with your hands. Behind that veil, we're all connected. I feel it now for every person I meet.
I love you all.
I'll keep you posted.