Sunday, February 22, 2009

Twelve Years

February 23...
I hate this day.
My dad died today. 12 years ago. That's a long time. And it feels like a long time too. It doesn't hurt as badly. And I feel bad about that. I feel guilty. But I have just gotten used to him being gone. I feel like I have been without him for so long. It's just the way it is.

I don't like being used to it. I wish it still hurt. Then he would feel closer to me. I know I have blogged about this before. Blogged about these feelings. I started feeling like this about 2 years ago.

I want to write something special for him. About him. I know a lot more people will read this because I import my blog into Facebook. So I feel I want to write something good. Something meaningful. But I don't know what to say.

I can write about the day it all started. The day this whole life-changing cycle began. The day I found out. About his illness. His cancer.

I was 17. I had started at a new school in Pittsburgh. A new life. Living with my "Surrogate Family". Things were good.

Back in St.Louis my dad had been having some back trouble over the summer. My mom and I kept telling him to go to see a chiropractor - that he probably just needed a good adjustment. But he didn't want to go. But the back pain continued. Fast forward to October. October 23rd to be exact. That was the day he found out.

I found out shortly after. I had been trying to call my dad and wasn't able to reach him. And he wasn't calling me back. I started to get worried and so I called my grandmother. I think I left a message and she called me back. It was awful. My grandmother doesn't know how to give bad news. She doesn't know how to break things to someone. Not that there is any good way to tell someone their father is dying of cancer. And after all, this is her son!

I finally got her on the phone and asked what was going on. Where was my dad? Why couldn't I reach him and why didn't he call me back? She said, "Natalie. I have bad news. Your dad is very sick. He's very very sick. He's in the hospital. Your dad has cancer." There was such fear in her voice.
That was it. No sugar coating. No easing me into it. WHAM! I felt like I had just gotten hit with a ton of bricks. I couldn't breathe. I felt sick to my stomach. I didn't believe I had just heard those words. I don't remember much more about the conversation. I remember being in shock, total disbelief. I was angry. I was hurting. When I hung up the phone with Grandma, I fell apart.I started crying. Hysterically. I didn't know what to do with myself. I ran outside of the house. I was crying outside. I knew I looked like a crazy person. Like someone who was out of control. I came back in. I was on the floor in my room. I didn't want to believe it. What the heck?? How could it be? It was just a stinkin backache!
The family I was living with heard the commotion and came to try and calm me down. But I didn't want to hear it. I didn't want to be calm. I didn't want my dad to have cancer.
The cancer was "Adeno Carcinoma of Unknown Origin." Whatever the heck that means. It started in his back bone and spread to his hip bone and his sternum by the time they found it.

The doctors gave him 4-6 months to live. He died 4 months to the day after he was diagnosed. Talk about Iyin Hora.

I somehow managed. Got through day to day life. I wanted to come home but my dad said I shouldn't. He didn't really want me there during the chemo. It was too horrific and made him too sick. They say the treatment is worse than the disease.
They treated it. Radiation. Chemotherapy. We even tried homeopathic treatments. Anything to save my father. But it was too aggressive. It spread to his liver. And that was it. That was when they knew we were getting to the end.

We had a scare in January. I was still in Pittsburgh, going to school, doing what I was "supposed" to be doing. It was Motzei Shabbat. Someone called (maybe my grandmother?) to tell me what happened. My dad was in the hospital with a blood infection. And I needed to come home. I didn't get any more information or realize how bad it was until I talked to my Rebbetzin from St.Louis. It was really bad, really serious. People die from blood infections. The doctors did not know if he would make it through until the morning. And my Rebbetzin told me that I had to call him and say goodbye. So I did. I called my dad in the hospital and even though I felt like I couldn't even think straight I managed to tell him that I would be there in the morning, I would see him in the morning. And I told him that I loved him so much. I would be there soon.

A couple of my friends came over and we sent out a mass e-mail. Asking everyone to daven for my dad or do a mitzvah in his merit. This e-mail went all over, to all kinds of lists. All over the world. And I believe it worked.
I made it home in the morning and he was still alive. Not only that but we had another month with him. A month which I spent by his side every day. And every time I left the room I said, "I love you." The fact that he got better from the blood infection gave me hope - I thought maybe, if we all keep praying for him.......just maybe he would get better......

2 years ago, I wrote about when my dad gave us The News.
I still don't know how a parent does that. What he must have been going through to tell his children he was going to die. And soon. My poor dad.

After that, we moved him to some kind of Extended Care Home. It was basically a nursing home. It was awful there, people always asked if he was my grandfather. I think he was there for a week until we moved him home. Hospital bed in the living room, hospice care, and us.
It was hard living like that. Seeing my dad so sick. Never knowing when or how. But knowing we were nearing the end. On the other hand, we were lucky. We were really lucky that we had that time with him. That we knew it was the end. And we could say our I love you's and appreciate what time we did have left. Sometimes I just wanted to curl up into bed with him. Sometimes I wanted to ask him for something - a letter with advice. Some "last words". Something to pass on to his grandchildren. But I didn't. That would make it too real. That would mean accepting it. I wasn't ready. And by the time I may have been ready, he wasn't able.
I wanted to take pictures. I so desperately wanted pictures of him. He was the photographer in the family and so we have very few pictures of him. But I didn't take pictures because I don't want the images of him looking old and sick stuck in my head. I already have the memories taking over my other memories - I didn't need the photographic proof.

February 23, 1997. It was a Sunday morning. A beautiful, crisp day outside. A day my dad would have loved. And the day he died.
That's all for now. That's all she wrote.

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