Disclaimer: This post has taken me almost three weeks to write. It has been hard for me to find the correct words.
Happy 50th birthday dad!!
On August 15th it was my dad’s fiftieth birthday. It was also his third birthday with God! My father passed away in January of 2016, from a long difficult battle of stage four Multiple Myeloma cancer. Multiple Myeloma is a rare bone and blood cancer! Multiple Myeloma causes the cancer cells to accumulate in the bone marrow, where they crowd out healthy blood cells (Mayoclinic.org, 12/15/2017). Some of the symptoms my dad experienced were nausea, loss of appetite, fatigue, weight loss, and numbness of legs! My father was sick for months before his official diagnosis! My parents just assumed his symptoms stimmed from his diabetes.
The weekend my parents discovered that my dad had cancer, he had gotten violently sick. My mom took my father to the local emergency room. When they arrived at the emergency room, they were admitted immediately! At first the doctors had no clue that my father had cancer, they had guesses like it could have been leukemia or another form of bone/blood disease. The doctors just knew whatever my father had it was serious. When they finally had done a test, and the results came back bringing his diagnosis to a conclusive result, they informed my parents that my dad was already in the final stage of the cancer. Stage four meant that my father’s treatment options were limited. In the beginning stages of treatment, my dad was treated at the local hospital. Later, they transferred him to a leading specialist at Emory University in Atlanta! My parents spent so many days, nights, weeks and months in and out of hospitals.
Cancer really changed my dad. Growing up my father was the quintessential macho man. He was also guarded, he was not an overly emotional man, and he was rough around the edges. My dad showed he loved us by working and working HARD! My father owned his own auto repair shop. Ever since my dad was a teen in high school he worked on cars, he was so good at it he even won a scholarship to college for it. My dad woke up every morning at 5 am, made coffee sometimes he cooked breakfast for the entire family, and then off to work he went. My dad worked long hours and missed out on a lot my school events. I remember one event in elementary school where after the program this horrid little girl told me that I did not have a daddy, because he never came to school for me. I am pretty sure I either said to, or did something back to her, because I was always in trouble in school. Despite not being there all the time for plays, concerts or any other silly event, I knew my dad loved me because he worked so hard to take care of us. My father had such a work ethic that even cancer could not stop him from waking up and going to work in the elements! My father’s hands were always rough and stained from working. On his death bed his hands were calloused and stained with oil.
My father may have been guarded and worked himself to the bone, but that is not all that he did. When I was growing up my summers were filled with camping trips to West Point lake, and Lake Sinclair. I remember at first, we camped out in tents and then for a few summers we had an R.V! The R.V was so fun for us kids, because after swimming all day we could come in and watch satellite television while the adults cooked dinner. We would bring our bikes camping with us sometimes, those were always fun times because we would ride them to the campsites playground. Some summers we had the john boat (a simple boat that you use a trolling motor with), and other summers we may have a friend with us that had a big fancy boat. Man, those were the days being pulled behind those fast boats on an innertube! The one thing that was consistent every summer was my dad fishing. My dad lived for fishing.
My father loved fishing so much. Our weekends were filled with day trips to go fishing. We would fish Lake Peachtree, and then there were those private lakes my dad’s customers let us use. I remember one time it was just my dad and I fishing at this guys lake (we called him Dog Man because I swear he had fifty dogs). We were in a small John boat my dad on one end and I on the other. My pole was casted out, I could smell the cow pasture next door, it was a warm day, and my dad was getting annoyed because he was fishing on credit (where the fish steal your bait but do not get hooked). We were getting ready to come in and as my dad was trolling along, I let my line drag along side the boat. Suddenly, I got a hit! I started reeling my line in expecting it to be empty like my dad’s pole had been all day. I had caught a fish!!! I caught a small largemouth bass, and my dad was so proud of me. In my life time there have been many fishing trips, and even if I did not enjoy them all, I now appreciate them. Those trips are gifts my dad had given me, sweet precious moments that will live on forever in my heart even if my dad cannot.
When I was really little I remember my dad working on some car in the yard. I ran inside and grabbed my big bird screw driver and tools. That screw driver was bright green and made of plastic. My dad still allowed me to “help” him fix the car though. My dad was always trying to teach us new things. He was not a man with book smarts, but he was a man smart with the knowledge of life. I learned how to change oil, fix a flat tire, change spark plugs, replace a radiator, and so much more to help make me efficient enough in cars to keep one alive (I still take it to a real mechanic however, but I still have the know how if I ever need it). My dad taught me how to shoot a gun, throw a punch, and taught me that you never hit someone unless it’s in self-defense. He taught me how to clean a dove, scale (and fillet) a fish, clean a deer and rabbit. My dad taught me how to take care of myself, stand up for myself, and how to treat others properly! My dad had so many people that loved him. He was a friend to everyone. He was always willing to help someone in need. My father taught me so many valuable life lessons.
I remember growing up how, no matter what I did, my dad always was worried about my education. When my dad initially got diagnosed in March of 2014, I was in my last year of college for my associate degree in Early Childhood Education. I am pretty sure he was so worried about my education because he had dyslexia. My father growing up was in special education classes. I myself was placed in special education classes in the third grade with dyslexia and ADHD. I assume he was scared for my future. I would go into greater detail about growing up with a learning disability, but that is reserved for a stand-alone post. When my dad was diagnosed in 2014 things were not bad yet, so we enjoyed the rest of the year starting it of with my graduation from Georgia Military College. The remained of the year was exciting because I was starting at a new college for my bachelors! I wanted to help so bad with my expenses since my dad was sick. That year I got my second job ever at McDonalds. I worked five out of seven days, drove 30 miles to school every day, then come home to help take care of the house and my sister! I loved going to school (I always have), but I hated working at that job. I had horrible managers, and they would schedule me to work in the middle of my classes (even though they had my class roster for the semester). My dad could see I was unhappy so one day he told me if I wanted to quit working to focus on school then I could, he said my education was more important that some minimal wage job anyhow! I loved my dad so much for that! (Fun fact during that year 2014 while my dad was at Emory, he got to watch the CDC wheel in the Ebola patients into the hospital from his room window!)
2015… what a crazy year that was. My dad was flip flopping between very sick and fine that year. He had already been through a stem cell transplant, and countless rounds of chemo. We were all worn down by the melancholy of it all. So, to brighten up the remainder of 2015 my fiancée and I (who had been engaged for three years), decided it was time to get married! We planned a wedding in three months. I remember walking down the church hall way, my eyes glued to the pattern on the carpet beneath my white heels. I was so nervous I was sick to my stomach. My feet were killing me (I am not a heels kind of girl), the dress was heavy, and I was ready for the doors to open. I looked up and there was my dad. His suit was too big on him, and the arms were too long on his frame. My dad has always been this big bear man, massive, strong, and ridiculously hairy (we would call him the missing link). In that moment in time my dad was slimmer than he started his journey out at (yet there was still something there when you hugged him), and his lush wavy mane was gone! I grabbed on to my dad feeling like a little girl again as we walked through the church doors towards my future. At the reception when it was time for the daddy daughter dance, my dad was himself. He couldn’t take it seriously and he had to tickle my sides making me laugh and squirm. I remember days when he would tickle me making me laugh so hard. He had this thing where he would walk up behind you and poke your neck while saying the neck monster was getting you. I never wanted to have a ceremony, I wanted to go to the court house to get married. I didn’t want the stress and cost of a real wedding. Now I am happy I let my mom talk me into one, because I got to have my dad by myside through it all.
Eight months! Eight months is all the time I had left with my dad after my wedding. I remember that Christmas! We had no idea in a month we would soon lose a pillar of our family. That Christmas we thought things were getting better. I had gone all out for my dad that year, I had got him a back-massaging chair cover, a foot massager and we were trying to give him a grand baby. I tried so hard to give my dad a grand baby in the short years he was sick… I just knew he would have loved having a grandbaby to take fishing like he used to with us. That year (Christmas of 2015) I recorded us opening our gifts, I thought it would be nice to have to look back on. Now that video is the only thing I have that I can go back to, to hear his voice.
During the span from March 2014 to December 2015, my dad had changed so much. The cancer had softened him. He was more emotionally available, he even started to go to church (which he never did when I was growing up outside of holidays). My dad had become a more evolved version of himself. That Christmas and that video I will forever cherish.
In January my dad had gotten a cut, which is very bad for someone with a weakened immune system. He had gotten and infection from the cut. They admitted him to the local hospital and then transferred him to his specialist team at Emory. My dad at that point had failed the stem cell transplant, conventional chemotherapy was null and void, and his doctors were in the motions to start experimental treatment. Keep in mind that Multiple Myeloma is a rare cancer, they do not know what causes it, and it is rare in someone as young as my dad was when he had it. When he arrived at Emory for treatment of the infection things nosedived off the deep end of the pool. He was getting worse by the day. The infection turned into gangrene and was in his blood stream.
On January 16th, 2016 my mother got a phone call from Emory. The team was transferring my father from intensive care to hospice. Nothing was helping him during that time. That day we made the drive to Emory to be with him, you see, we have gotten calls like this one before and they never end happy. We called everyone we knew on our drive up there. We wanted to give everyone the chance to see my dad one last time. When we arrived, we ran down the corridors of the hospital. My father laid there in a small room, his skin yellow, his hands bound in mittens because he was delirious and would go into fits not knowing what was going on. He would be so confused he would start removing his wires. Oh, the wires they were everywhere. My dad wouldn’t open his eyes when someone entered the room, he didn’t speak a word, all we could do was sit at his side holding his arm. The waiting room three doors down from his room started to fill with loved ones. Each new person going in to sit with my dad, each one coming out crying. Oh God, there was so much crying. I am not a very emotional person, I can go a long period of time without crying, but that day it was hard to choke back the tears. I remember an earth sized lump lodged at the entrance of my throat as I tried to keep my composer. I remember that while we waited for everyone to show up, my dad had crashed twice but came back to us both times. He was waiting, he was waiting on everyone to be there for us. He didn’t want us to go through losing him alone, he waited until he knew we were surrounded by love.
I remember everyone cramming into his small room, still so full of hope. We were going to pray all together for my dad. We formed a circle around his bed. Holding hands, hugging, basically merging into one uniformed being. Doing whatever we needed to do so we would all fit. We prayed, and we prayed hard for my daddy that day. When we said amen that is when my daddy said Amen with us. The ear-piercing screech of the monitors went off, my dad had flatlined again. This time, unlike the last two, was the final tolling bell upon the church steeple. It sealed our fate. My dad had waited until everyone was together, so he could say goodbye to us all. That earth sized lump grew to a universe sized one, and then when I had to look my baby sister in the face the world pored forth from my chest. It came in abundant waves. All I remember is arms, so many of them embracing us as we held our family together and cried out in our pain. Those arms that surrounded us were holding our shattered pieces together at that moment. If they were not holding us we would have melted, disintegrated into a puddle on the carpeted flooring of that waiting room. After the doctors and nurses made the final call, they allowed us to take our time saying our goodbyes. I remember my brother hold my father’s hand…. it looked massive still compared to his, and it was still had stain in his knuckles from oil and grease… a forever reminder of the sacrifices my father made each day for us.
Grief is a fickle thing. It hits you when you least expect it. It has been two years since my dad passed, and some things still make me cry. I feel just a deep sadness for my sister, she is fourteen years old and she will never have the same experiences with our dad, that me and my brother had. Some days she comes to me sad and says she can’t remember the sound of his voice, those days I cry for her. I cry when I look at my son, because it is not fair that my father must miss out being a Paw-Paw! I look at my son who is named after his Paw-Paw and I can imagine how life could have been. I cry for my mom she lost the love of her life, she must go to bed alone every night. I cry for my brother who is trying so hard to make our dad proud of him from the grave. I cry because life is unfair, my dad who was a good, kind, hard working man had to get cancer and die. I try to understand why God took my dad. Let’s be honest… I don’t… and I never will. Yet, all I can do is keep the faith and believe there was a purpose. I believe (on a good day) that God called my dad home because he was a changed man. God gave my dad cancer, so he would soften up and become a better version of himself.
I must believe that everything happens for a reason, according to God’s plan. My dad passed in January 2016, his mama was waiting for him at the gate (she passed October 2010), and his daddy followed his son a month later (February 2016). My dad is in heaven right now with his mom, dad, and grandparents. I know that he is not alone his birthday and that brings me joy. I like to think that my dad is watching me, from heaven, and I like to believe he’s happy to be a Paw-Paw. I know he is going to be with me every step of the way as I stumble trying to teach my son all the life lessons my daddy taught me. Kids, teens, and, hell, even adults, here is a little wisdom for you right now… go forgive your parents. Swallow your pride and forgive them. My dad never did anything to make me hate him, but I have too many people in my life that mistreat their parents. It drives me crazy because I would give anything in the world for my dad to be here on Earth nagging me. I love my mom and we butt heads (frequently, we are both passionate people), but we cry us a river, build us a bridge and get over ourselves. Losing my dad has taught me to ignore things that don’t matter. The only thing that matters anymore is making memories with the ones that love me.
I love you daddy, happy 50th birthday. We miss you so much, life has not been the same without you, and we wish you were here with us today. I hope I can teach A.J half of the good stuff you taught me. He has his Grammy that tells him everyday about his Paw-Paw.