Someone that you wholeheartedly love, adore, and respect was just handed a death sentence and you were handed front row seats to watch it unfold, helplessly.
I never imagined my barely 50 year old father would die. Even when he was given his death sentence, I still truly didn’t believe it would ever happen. My dad dying “just doesn’t happen to people like me”. I was in denial until about 12 hours before he took his last breath.
Their body withers away.
My dad looked like an 80 year old man within a matter of months. We all wonder what our parents will look like as an elderly man or woman. I experienced the change so quickly that I remember sitting there thinking, “this is exactly what he would look like if he ever lived long enough to see his great-grandchildren and maybe even great-great-grandchildren be born”. This 50 year old man who all of a sudden looks like he’s 80. Eighty.
How can cancer be so cruel?
It’s not enough to just take one of the most important people away from me, but it also needs to change his physical appearance so drastically that I can barely even recognize him.
They stop eating, no matter how hard you try.
My dad stopped eating all together around a month into his diagnosis. He couldn’t even stomach the thought of it. I tried so hard to feed him his favorite meals but he would look me in the eyes and just beg me to stop offering it. Here I was giving him a chance to survive and he physically could not even try. He lived off of protein shakes, Gatorade, and eventually TPN feedings. He was so skinny by the time he died that the bones in his back protruded out of his frail skin and his biceps were as big around as my wrists. During one of our last hugs, I laid my head on his bony chest to feel his heart beat more slowly than mine did. It was a surreal moment. That body was so foreign to me. It wasn't my chubby dad's chest I had known my whole life. This one was cold and unfamiliar, but yet the love and passion within the embrace still felt the same.
They spend more time sleeping than they do awake.
I would spend hours and hours with my father. In a 24 hour period, we would only be able to visit with each other for about 3 hours total. Most of the time he would just fall asleep mid conversation. He would be saying a sentence and then just doze off. Sometimes he would wake back up 10 minutes later and ask, “I fell asleep again didn’t I?”. The time in between sleeping would be when I would try to say as much as I could. I'm thankful, now, that I was able to say everything I wanted and that I was able to have a proper goodbye with him. Not everyone gets that.
They moan, scream, and cry from the excruciating pain.
Imagine pain being so strong that breathing is unbearable. So, I had to buck up and advocate for him even when I didn’t exactly know how. I called nurses and doctors at all hours of the night asking what I could do, begging someone to come to the house so they can see for themselves. I would sing to him while he moaned, falling back on my own motherly instincts. I would rub his head as he tossed and turned from the agony and tears would silently fall off my cheeks as I gave my best it’s-going-to-be-okay phrases over and over. I had to be brave in the most terrifying time in my life and I hated every second of it.
They start losing their mind.
The nurse warned me that confusion was a tell-tale sign of a downward slope. It was one of the questions I asked her; "when will I know the end is coming?". Then one night I was in the kitchen preparing a TPN feeding when my dad had hollered for me, instructing (yelling at) me that he "was NOT going to eat the pizza with the veggies". If I served him that, he was not going to be happy. Pizza? He probably hadn't had pizza in 6 months or more. The look of anger in his eyes and seriousness in his voice stopped me in my tracks. His eyes didn't stray from being dead locked on mine. He was not joking around. He hated vegetables and was absolutely certain to make sure his pizza only had the typical 3 meats on it. I spoke slowly and precisely, knowing the best way to get through this was to play along. So I promised him that I only ordered the veggie pizza for myself and that he would get the meat one. He seemed to be okay with that explanation, but still giving me a few "I'm serious Molly, I'm not eating the one with veggies". After he calmed down, I walked into the hallway, put my back against the wall, slid down to fetal position and lost it. My heart shattered. It was the moment I knew this was it.
They're finally unable to speak.
The one who taught me to talk and helped me with my homework; This man can no longer say a single word. I could physically see this man, but he would never tell me he loves me again. His eyes are opening and closing, but he will never say my name again. I can hear his breath exhaling, but he will never respond to “dad” or “Puppa (grandpa)” again. All communication from his end is gone. I could talk and talk to him all I wanted. But he would never respond to it again.
The torture got so bad that I just begged him to let go.
It finally got so bad that I was begging him to go to Heaven. I couldn’t even watch it anymore. How could he endure anymore of this? This isn’t living. This is just pure and utter hell on Earth. I just wanted him to be better. The only way I knew that that was possible? He had to leave me. The thought of him continuing in this life like this was a thousand times more heartbreaking than the thought of living without him. I thought to myself, “I can live 50 years without him before I can watch 50 more minutes of this.”
I told him I would be okay. I told him that I gave him permission to go. I whispered in his ear that I loved him, that his grandkids all loved him.
I told him he was free from this life and that so many people were waiting for him on the other side. I spoke out loud, asking my deceased grandma, his mom, to please grab his hand and take him up. I kissed his cool forehead, knowing it was coming soon. Then I walked to the kitchen to eat some lunch.
I came back 15 minutes later with his next dose of medication. I walked into a room with a man whose chest was no longer rising and falling. I cried harder than I have ever cried before, draping my body over his.
I wasn’t ready. Not like I thought. But he couldn't stay.