April 26, 1999: It was SM's birthday. That was a very big deal, to a lot of people. Not so much because of her birthday itself, but because Dad was still alive for it.
My dad, after months of struggling with colon cancer, was in the hospital again. On April 11 he'd been there for about three weeks already. His health had been slowly declining, and he was sleeping most of the time. But on that day - April 11 - he woke up suddenly, looking around him in a bit of a frenzy.
"What day is it?" he asked.
SM told him, "It's April 11."
And then my father, always so strong, so sure, a superhuman in my eyes - he began to cry.
Through his tears, he looked at SM. "I'm not going to be here for your birthday."
We were all crying by now. SM looked at him through tears of her own and said, "Yes you will. Because that's going to be my birthday present. Having you here."
And now here it was, April 26, and he was still here.
But only barely.
I was sixteen years old, a junior in high school. It was a Monday, and I spent most of it in a pretty normal fashion: I woke up earlier than I wanted to, went to school, went to track practice. After practice, my friend Alison came over to my house to hang out for a while.
When we got home, my mom was at the house. Even though she already lived in Las Vegas by then, she was understandably spending a lot of time in SoCal helping out however she could while Dad was sick. She called me into the living room, and so Alison and I headed in to talk to her.
I can remember exactly where each of us was standing when she told me, "He's slipped into a kind of coma. They think it'll be either tonight or tomorrow."
"Okay," I said. I don't think my facial expression changed even a little bit as I acknowledged what she'd said - that my father would most likely be dying sometime in the next 24 hours.
"Can I talk to him alone?" I asked. I think I mumbled it almost incoherently under my breath. I was sixteen, and the situation was awkward for me. How do you ask numerous people who love someone to leave you alone with him, knowing his time is limited?
They left, of course. No matter how much you love someone, how do you tell his sixteen-year-old daughter she can't have a few minutes alone with her dad?
I sat at his side, and held his hand. He was unconscious, but I refused to believe he couldn't hear me. At first I just sat there in silence, stroking his hand and being with him. But eventually, I spoke.
I told him I loved him, of course. And I thanked him for being such a good dad. And I apologized for the times I didn't appreciate him. And then I told him the part I'd been saving - the most important thing. After six months of fighting this illness that was destroying him bit by bit, he needed to hear it.
"I want you to know that we'll be okay. Seeser and I. I know you worry about leaving us, but don't. It's okay to let go. We'll be okay." I squeezed his hand as I said it. I had no idea if it was actually true or not. But I wanted him to believe it, because I couldn't stand the thought that he was hanging on just for us. It was time.
I breathed a deep sigh - of regret, perhaps, or maybe just finality. And then I stroked his hair, and I sang to him:
Well the Lord is my true shepherd
No want nor fear I know
He leads me my safe path
And I will follow.
And then I gave him a kiss, and I left. Without shedding a single tear. That was the last time I ever saw him.
I went home, and slept, and when I woke up, it was April 27.
I'll be posting more about this tomorrow. I'm asking you all to save your comments until then, which is why the comments on this post are closed. Stay tuned - I have more I need to say.