I think about my father every single day. I think about the pain and suffering he endured. I think about my father every single time I enter a restaurant or roam the food court in the mall. I think about him every time my senses are overwhelmed by the robust smells of food. I think about my Dad every single time I take a bite of food.
When I enter my favorite Italian restaurant the exquisite smell of food is so powerful I am moved to tears. I am reminded of the life my father lived for 7 years. A life without a morsel of food or an ounce of liquid. Choking on what little saliva remained in his mouth. Yearning to eat again, fighting with every fiber of his being to stay alive. Putting on his brave face and trying his best to sit at the table with us while we ate and he fumbled with his feeding tube. Listening to our guests complain that their food had too much salt, too many peppers (yeah that really happened!) as he quietly inserted the syringe in his feeding tube and administered his feeding via a peg tube. Quietly wishing that his biggest complaint was not enough peppers but also quietly forgiving our village idiot, I mean our guest for his ignorance.
The majority of our social lives revolves around food. We are constantly “breaking bread” with others. Holidays, special events, everything revolves around food. My goodness just count how many television commercials have food in it! Food is everywhere we turn!
My father died unable to eat a morsel of food or drink an ounce of liquid because his cancer prevented him from enjoying something so many of us take for granted. My father died choking to death on what little saliva remained in his mouth after aggressive radiation treatments. I’m haunted by the memories of suctioning giant clumps of phlegm from my father’s mouth during the final days of his life. My hands trembling as I stuck a massive tube in my father’s mouth, tears brimming my eyes as I pleaded with God to help us. Quietly praying, begging and pleading with God to make my father comfortable during the final days of his life. My father watching me with tears in his eyes apologizing to me that he was too weak to do this himself. Both of us emotionally exhausted and heartbroken from this trauma. When I finished with this medieval contraption I kiss my father on his forehead and remind him he’s still my superhero and a little suction machine wasn’t going to change that. I’m certain the sounds of my heart breaking were deafening that night.
I proudly wear the scars from my father’s battle. I helplessly watched my father bravely fight to regain his ability to eat again. Years of endless swallowing therapy, having his esophagus stretched. All sorts of crazy things just to enjoy one last bite of food. I become enraged at the cruel, out of line jokes when you mention swallowing therapy to someone unaffected by a swallowing disorder. Therapy that in the end only gave my father unnecessary anguish and was never enough to jumpstart his muscles allowing him to eat again. I see no humor in my father’s dysphagia. I see no humor in anyone that suffers endlessly and dies longing to eat. Even a criminal on death row gets a final meal before dying.
I choose to live my life and embrace it. If I choose to indulge today and have a big greasy cheeseburger washed down by an ice cold beer I will enjoy every last bite. I will not go complain to my Facebook friends how I “cheated” on my “diet”because I know better. I will not fall victim to the latest and greatest fad diet. I will thank God that I’m able to enjoy my meals.
On the days when my life becomes overwhelming I will take a deep breath and be thankful because I know it could be so much worse.
Papa & Kayla 2015
Losing someone you love is a very painful experience. Watching someone you love valiantly battle cancer is a life changing experience. I watched my father fight Stage IV base of the tongue cancer for 7 years. There are no words to describe how helpless I felt as I watched my father slowly die before my eyes. Something outside of my control was slowly taking my father from me.
One thing that is for sure, no matter how difficult circumstances became throughout my father’s illness I always found a way to express my love for my father. I always entered my father’s room full of hope ready to embrace the day. During each telephone conversation, each visit, I was wearing my battle gear right along side my Dad. We were going to try our best to beat this together, as a family. I made sure to show my deep admiration for my father’s strength and courage with each visit. I was thankful for each moment we shared together, and the possibility of just one more day with my Dad.
My father died knowing how much I loved and adored him, and for that I’m eternally grateful.
Saying goodbye is never easy. Perhaps the fact that my father was sick for so long forced me to open my eyes and realize how precious life is. No one is guaranteed tomorrow. My father’s illness and death are now a part of me. Below are some valuable lessons I learned from my father’s journey.
- Never miss an opportunity to say “I love you” – as cliche as this sounds this should be your number one priority. Not a day went by that I didn’t speak to my Dad and tell him I loved him.
- Share photos and memories – During the last few days of my father’s life I vividly remember sitting next to him browsing old photos, sharing fond memories. We laughed, cried and laughed some more. I had a great childhood and I made sure my Dad knew how grateful I was.
- Respect the dying person’s wishes – My Dad had all his senses, HE was in charge.
- Keep the peace – Listen it’s flat out obnoxious to walk into a dying person’s room and shoot your mouth off. If the immediate family invites you in at the request of the dying person walk in, pay your respects and keep your comments to yourself. Any discord in the environment will add to the load of the dying person. Bickering causes unnecessary distress to the dying person and the immediate family.
- Your actions speak volumes – My Dad and I were the chatterboxes in our family. The night my father was dying I lost my voice. I just sat there holding his hand, praying. For me, at that moment words were not needed.
In honor of my Dad, and countless patients like him it is imperative we take full advantage of the time we have for them and never take it for granted.
Life is a precious gift. Never miss an opportunity to embrace it and express your love.
After watching my father suffer endlessly, I thought I was prepared for his death. I loved my father so much that I bravely told him he could go, we would take care of mom and carry him in our hearts. Well I mumbled this between enough tears to fill the ocean, but I did my best to comfort the man who comforted me my entire life. Cancer robbed my Dad of eating, playing golf, enjoying his golden years and now he was unable to get out of bed, use the bathroom and shower himself. Cancer was now taking his dignity and it was terrifying. The little every day tasks that we all take for granted were now just a faded memory for my father. I watched my real life super hero fight with everything he had and I knew he was tired. I tried to prepare myself mentally for my Dad’s passing. I thought I was ready.
As I watched my father take his last breath I could feel my heart breaking in a million pieces. As I watched my sister run her fingers over my father’s eyes and close them I could feel a piece of my heart leaving with my father. As I watched my sister remove his IV and other gadgets the nurses put on him I began to realize my not so baby sister was brave beyond her years. I watched my sister the RN turn into Florence Nightingale as both of my feet were firmly cemented in the ground. I could not move or speak, I just watched completely frozen.
Throughout the past few years I made so many bargains with God. Bargains like, God if you let my Dad have one more meal I will do X. Or hello God if you let my Dad have one more drink I will do Y. I became so desperate that I was willing to shave time off from my life or auction off my organs just to watch my father enjoy a lousy glass of water. Did God forget? Was he listening? My Dad died unable to eat or drink. It was a cruel death and now food became the symbol of my father’s struggle.
The first few days after my Dad passed everything was a complete blur. Everyone wants to feed you, which is nice but I was unable to even look at food. I was losing weight faster than any of those crazy trendy diets that hijack your news feed on Facebook, the pounds were falling off. Clothes that were snug were now falling off. Food that I once loved tasted like battery acid. I ordered my all time favorite dish at my father’s repass luncheon at our all time favorite restaurant and each bite tasted like I was eating hot garbage. My wine tasted like a big glass of vomit. I tried talking to our guests and everyone sounded like the Charlie Brown teacher, the room became hot and I was positive I was going to pass out. At one point I remember looking for my mother and feeling very panicked. WHERE was she? I scanned the room 3 times and my mom was nowhere to be found. I started running, yes running to the ladies room. What if she fell and hit her head on the toilet? She was upset and had some nerve going to the ladies room alone. I ripped the door to the ladies room wide opened and exclaimed, “Oh good I found you!” Realizing I was acting completely crazy I fake peed and left the restroom with my mom. My new little friend anxiety was slowly making her appearance. Since my father’s passing I find myself creating the craziest scenarios regarding my mom. I’m constantly worried that I will lose her or something will happen to her. I’ve tried telling her she needs a life alert bracelet just in case or maybe I could I could microchip her, but she explained to me she’s too young for that sort of stuff. I haven’t told her microchips are just for family pets so there’s still hope on that one.
Anxiety has become a frequent visitor. I’ve learned that tears are never-ending. You can cry so much that your eyes are literally on fire and your brain feels like it’s going to pop. And those little suckers can come at the darndest times. You can be doing something totally normal like grocery shopping , a song will come on and bam you’re crying. Your heart aches so much you can feel it in your bones.
Grieving sucks the life out of you. Surround yourself with love and support. My memories have become my life line often rescuing me from slipping into a black hole of grief. And sometimes, if I’m really lucky a beautiful fluffy white feather will be thrown into my path and I smile because I know it’s a gift from heaven.
Grief is the price we pay for love. Where there is great love there is great grief.
No one wanted to live more than my Dad. He fought like a true warrior. He wanted to sit on the floor and play with his grandbabies, go on vacations with my mom, and watch us experience all our wonderful milestones in life. Like so many others, he was ripped off. Cancer stole precious moments from us, cancer slowly ripped my father apart and forced us to watch a gruesome battle. Cancer stole my mother’s soul mate, robbed her and my father of their golden years, cancer stole my hero, my father, my biggest fan in life. Cancer robbed my nieces of the greatest papa ever. But cancer isn’t all bad. Cancer also made sure I told my father how much I loved him every single day. Cancer made sure I left notes behind in my parents home after a visit, cancer made sure I sent flowers and texted my father with a simple, “I love you Daddy.” Not a day went by that I did not call him, not a week passed that I did not visit. Sometimes I would call so much he would laugh and say “what do you want now, you just called!” Cancer made sure I thanked my mother for being my father’s caregiver, and keeping him alive. Cancer made me realize my mother was not just my mother but an angel on earth breathing life into my father each day. Cancer forced me to take hundreds of “hospital selfies” with my Dad to make sure we could document his brave battle. Cancer forced me to keep a journal of his 7 year journey, and now write this blog. Cancer taught me to take nothing for granted and never, ever go to bed angry. Cancer has opened my eyes to how precious life is. Cancer reinforced our relationship with God. So Cancer, you may have won the battle but we won the war because our love is infinite.