I’m sitting in my favorite Italian restaurant. I can hear Sinatra crooning in the background. A bottle of red is open and I can smell the overpowering scent of mouth watering Italian food from the kitchen.
A plate of strong, sweet prosciutto is placed on the table. I can see my Dad smiling and enjoying the appetizer. He raises his glass and toasts our family.
What would today be like if cancer had not taken his ability to eat and then taken him?
I take a deep breath, open my eyes and observe a couple my parents age enjoying their dinner across the restaurant. I can feel a lump forming in the back of my throat and I’m on the verge of tears. Despite being in my favorite restaurant my heart is heavy and I miss my Dad. I spent four years unable to sit in a restaurant with my Dad. My father spent four long years surviving on a Peg Tube. That’s 1,460 days without an ounce of liquid or a morsel of food. I quietly observe the older couple drinking wine and laughing. I think to myself, “That should be my parents.”
My father’s struggle was a long, slow battle with stage four base of the tongue cancer, but his death is not what defined him; it was the life he lived that dictated who he was.
Growing up, I was never without affection from my father. There was always a kiss on my forehead or a hug “just because.” I can remember being a little girl, about five years old eagerly awaiting for my Dad to return home from work, waiting and watching from our living room window. When my Dad would open the door I would run up to him, hug him and take all his Lifesavers from his brief case. This was a nightly ritual and yet he always had a new pack of Lifesavers, every single night.
My Dad was the guy who was always laughing and smiling, regardless of what was going on. He was a happy soul. He was a good soul. He was a one of a kind Dad, and I am blessed to be Al’s daughter.
Whenever I needed him to be a father, my father, he was there in a flash. When I needed him to listen to me, not judge me, to understand that I was in pain, he was there. Just two days before he died we sat in the hospital and I cried to him, I begged him not to go, not to leave us. Even at that moment he was there for me, despite him being the patient.
He was always there for me, no matter what. And I am learning that even in death, he is still always by my side. He visits me in my dreams, he leaves me fluffy white feathers and he lives on in my precious memories.
When my Dad passed I received hundreds of phone calls, letters and emails from friends and family, even total strangers telling me how my father adored “his girls.” Emails telling me how “his girls” were all he ever spoke about. Even now, eight months after his death, I am still being contacted by people who knew my Dad and his immense love for “his girls.”
I was taught to be kind to all people, no matter where they came from or what their circumstances. He taught me how to stand up for myself and the importance of holding my head high as I stood my ground. My Dad taught me people could be cruel, but it did not mean I needed to retaliate with more cruelty. One of the greatest lessons he taught me was the art of self preservation and enjoying life. Happiness was a priority in our home.
“Life is a precious gift.” was one of my Dad’s famous quotes.
For me, food symbolizes what cancer stole from my Dad. I’m somewhat envious of families that can go out to dinner together, of daughters who can enjoy a simple cup of coffee with their fathers. It reminds me of a life that once was, of happy times.
When my Dad was healthy, it was not uncommon for him stop by my office and take me to lunch. On numerous occasions I would find him waiting in the parking lot excited to treat me to lunch. I treasure those precious father daughter moments.
My Dad made his entire life about love: his family, his children, his friends, his compassion and kindness for others.
My Dad truly loved people, all people, and the world is a better place for having him in it.
I will never stop missing my Dad. So, the best I can do is write about a man with integrity, compassion, honor, respect, kindness and love.
See you in heaven Dad.
As I continue to honor my Dad, I will always love choose love.