Another Brick in the Wall

My dad is gone.  I’ve avoided saying those exact words and typing those exact words, but those are the words that keep swirling around in my head.  My dad is gone.

I’ve been quiet about his diagnosis, his short but courageous journey, for reasons that I don’t even entirely understand myself.  For someone who shares so much of her life on social media, this was something that I needed to keep to myself – perhaps because the truth, the finality of it all, was too big for words, too big to share with the rest of the world.  I needed it to stay with me.  Perhaps it was the naive thinking that if I didn’t share it, here where I share everything, it wouldn’t be real.  I had to break the entire path down into manageable steps – taking in the enormity of it all at once was too overwhelming.  If I dealt with it day by day, minute by minute, then it wouldn’t swallow me whole.

He was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer at the end of May.  It was one of those conversations that I’ve expected for so long – he was an 87 year old man who smoked literally his entire life – so I can’t say that I was entirely shocked.  From the moment they uttered the words, “pleural effusion”, I think that I knew where this was headed and I braced myself for the impact.  I went into research mode and had an understanding of all of the answers before we even heard the questions.  On some level, I felt as though we had always been on this road – it just made sense.  My first wall went up.

From that point on, I became slightly detached to everything.  I gave into my emotions at times, but for the most part I went through the motions: we threw him a party, we spent at least one day a week doing something with him so that we could preserve some wonderful memories.  When I left for our annual trip to JAC Camp, he was doing well and surprising us all.  He rarely needed the oxygen, he was in good spirits and while my mom told me that he had some off-days, for the most part I was confident in being away because it felt as though we had more time.  The Tuesday after we got back from camp, we had big plans, memorable plans: we were packing up for a day at the beach – driving out to Coburg, spending some time in the sand and the water, enjoying the glorious sunshine that this summer had gifted us with.  We were going to have a meal at a restaurant that we used to frequent when we were younger, visiting my grandmother in Port Hope: Home Plate, with all of it’s baseball paraphernalia – we all used to love it there so much and it seemed like the perfect way to celebrate our family.

But then the words kept coming fast: pneumonia, then sepsis, and then all of the words and the days jumbled together and snowballed until there was no catching up.  I put my second wall up and took care of him.  I focused on him and his needs alone – this is what I could do for him, to make sure that his last days with us were exactly what he wanted.  It was one foot in front of the other, sometimes getting swallowed whole when there were big decisions to make, but I kept climbing back out and walking.  For a man that had taken care of me my entire life, this was what I could do for him – take care of him until the very end.  There were moments, especially in the last day when I didn’t think that I could do it, he was in so much pain and so much distress and I didn’t have the tools yet to help him.  I just stood there once or twice, remembering that he had never wanted to die in pain, he wanted to go peacefully, and I felt like a failure not being able to give that to him.  I had to put the third wall up to keep going – to remember that in order to take care of him, to let him go the way that he wanted to, I had to trade places with him and be the strong one.  It was not a title that he relinquished easily – he fought me for it until the very end and there are memories that I need to come to terms with, ones of a man who looked and sounded a lot like my father, but not the man that I love so very much.  Those are the memories that come haunting me at night, when they can’t be drowned out by the voice of Jess or Cindy or my mom, telling me that what I was doing was right.  In the daytime, surrounded by love and support, I can laugh at them and brush them aside, but at night, I live through them, hoping that somewhere he knows that….knows that I was just trying to help.

But then he was gone and the walls were still up. It was so easy in the days afterwards to focus on everything else but what was right in front of me.  Between arrangements and friends and family, there was always a distraction, and if there wasn’t a distraction, there was sleep.  But then sweet sleep started to evade me as well and the walls started to crumble in the night.  And then I knew, that I had to be the one to take down the walls – I couldn’t let them fall around me into a mess of rubble that I would have to fight my way out of – I have to be the one to dismantle them myself, to take each brick apart and feel the weight, embrace the grief and sadness that comes with it.  And for me, that starts here: in the place where I share everything.  My dad is gone and it hurts, hurts more than I ever dreamed it would.  Hurts so much that I want to do everything that I can to hold it at bay: hide away and watch hours and hours of Gilmore Girls so that I’m so completely immersed in another world.  I want to avoid people so that I don’t have to talk about it; avoid trying to sleep so that I’m not faced with the inevitable thoughts that come pouring in, uninvited.  But that must end today – today, by sharing this with you, the first brick has come down and while there are so many more to follow, they will do so by my own hands, strengthened by the incredible people who surround me, who lift me up, and help bare the load so I don’t have to alone.