There are things that happen in life that there is just no way to really prepare for. Watching a parent die and planning for their death is one of those things.
This is the first time I’m talking openly about this. I haven’t been able to find the words to express what I want/need to express. I’m not sure I’ve found them yet, but I’m going to try.
Back on October 1st of 2020, my mom finished her last treatment for breast cancer! She had beaten it and we were all so happy for her and our family, that weight had been lifted. On that very same day, we found out that my dad has stage 4 lung cancer; it had metastasized to some of his bones and lymph nodes in the surrounding area, they gave him 3 years. He began immunotherapy to shrink the cancer. Initially it was working. The end of March 2021, he went in for a treatment and a scan because he was having some discomfort in his chest.
On April 6th 2021, my parents had an appointment with my Dad’s Oncologist to go over the results of his scan. At that time his Oncologist said that the cancer was getting bigger not smaller and the treatment was no longer working as they had hoped it would. Chemo would’ve been the next step, however my Dad’s health and weight had gone down significantly and his Oncologist said the Chemo would kill him faster than the cancer would. At that point my Dad asked what the next option was, his Dr. responded with, “Hospice”, and was given 3-4 months to live. In an instant we went from having 3 years with my dad to only having 3-4 months. This was exactly 3 months ago today. My Dad’s 70th birthday is on July 23rd, in just a couple of weeks. He told my Mom yesterday that he doesn’t think he will make it.
Today we spent the afternoon talking with the funeral director and planning for my Dad’s funeral. I have no words to properly express the emotion that is felt when sitting in my parent’s living room, with my parents, and planning my Dad’s funeral. I’m not sure there are even words in the English language that I could string together that could begin to explain what that feels like.
It was a very difficult day, but they don’t seem to be getting any easier and I don’t anticipate that they will for a long time. However, even in his incredibly weakened state, my Dad still has his sense of humor about him. When planning for a funeral the funeral director asks a number of questions about one’s life. One of the questions is in regards to education. My Dad said he had gone to Marshall State and Mankato State (Minnesota) but that he didn’t graduate. He followed up by saying, “I took a couple quarters off to make some money, I just haven’t gotten back to it yet.”
*Side Note: He was going to college to be a Social Worker. Probably where my desire to be a therapist comes from. Mom always told us we were two peas in a pod.
Another thing that is discussed is the type of service you want to have. Both of my parent’s were raised Catholic and my family practiced Catholicism until just after my first communion. My Dad would like for a Priest to say some prayers at his service. The funeral director asked my Dad if he would like a full Mass for his service, and my Dad responded with, “I don’t have time for a full Mass!”. This is who my Dad is. He has a sense of humor unlike many others. Tomorrow a priest is going to my parent’s house to meet with them, to discuss the service, and to give my dad his last rights. My Mom told my dad that he cannot tell the priest that he doesn’t have time for a full Mass service if the priest should ask. I said, “but if you do tell the priest you don’t have time for a full Mass at your funeral, I want to be here for that.” He got a pretty good laugh out of that. Both my sister and I told mom that she should have her phone ready to record just in case Dad tells the priest he doesn’t have time for a full mass. My sister suggested he give mom a quick wink to signal her to start recording. My family clearly uses humor in emotionally difficult situations.
No body ever tells you what it’s like to lose a parent. I think it’s because there just aren’t words to explain it. My Dad is still with us, but in a matter of weeks, maybe a month or two if we are lucky, my Dad won’t be with us anymore. You live your entire life with your parents in the world with you and then one day they are just gone. They are no longer living in this world with you anymore. I have no idea what life looks like when my Dad is no longer in it. He will always live on in my heart and memories of course, but I will never get to see him again. I will never get to hear his voice again. I will never get to laugh with him again. I will never get to argue politics with him again (Mom hates when the two of us get started on politics, but Dad and I got a kick out of it). I will never get to reminisce about funny past memories. I will never get to spend another Father’s Day with him, another Birthday (his or mine), another holiday. I have never had to live in a world without him before and I can’t even begin to imagine what living in a world without him will be like.
I haven’t allowed myself to fully feel the ache of this. I have moments when I feel the hurt of it coming on, I allow myself to cry, often times the crying is out of my control. When it becomes too much to handle I find myself disconnecting from it emotionally. I know there is going to come a time when I won’t be able to disconnect from it. I know there is going to come a time when I am just going to completely fall apart. Hell, I just had a day last week when I couldn’t get myself to stop crying and had to call in to work. I was able to get my emotions under control and disconnect again, but it’s getting harder to do.
There is some peace in knowing that he isn’t in any pain yet, but it is very hard to watch him struggle with breathing. I asked him if he is scared, he said he isn’t. I’m scared, but I’m happy that he isn’t. He seems to have accepted this and is at peace with it. My Dad is one of the most laid back, it is what it is kind of person you could ever meet.
In some ways this still doesn’t feel real. It’s like it’s someone else’s life, someone else’s dad, because it can’t be mine.
It is an unbearable pain.
There just aren’t words…