My brother and I purchased tickets to fly to LAX on February 8th to see my dad, who was told Jan 1st he had cancer. After a brief conversation with my step-mom on Jan 31st, I knew things were bad and we needed to get there sooner. I switched our flights, car, and hotel and we flew out Feb 1st to see him. After 16 hours of travel, we arrived in Lompoc, CA at 10:15pm. I was in shock walking into the house and seeing my dad. I hadn't seen him in just over 3 years. My step-mom, aunt, and uncle were there with him. He had just been released from the hospital that day and sent home with hospice. My aunt is an RN, so hospice wasn't there at the time we arrived. His official diagnosis had come just 1 1/2 weeks prior. So fast no one could wrap their heads around the fact that it was already time for hospice. My dad looked like himself, but different, too. At 6'3", he was still larger than life, but he was sleeping on a large hospital bed in the middle of his living room. He had an oxygen tank, a sheet on, and the fan to keep him comfortable with the fever. I won't go into much detail about the 12 hours that followed as it was a deeply personal and heartbreaking time for our family. It was touch and go all night, and emotionally a storm I could've never anticipated. His oxygen saturation was so low we knew his brain would never wake up again. He fought hard all night and really didn't want to go. We said the things to him we needed/wanted to say, we held his hand, wiped the sweat off his forehead, rubbed his shoulders, and told him it was ok for him to go, that we'd be ok. My step-mom said Psalm 23 to him and kept talking to him and telling him how much she loved him. The sun came up and he was worse by the hour. At 9:55am he took his last breath here on earth.
I'm not sure how to wrap my head around it all. It feels like he's just in Cali still and I'm back in WA and I can call him at any time. The thought of him being nowhere here on earth is really weird. I wish he'd been awake and I'd had the chance to look into his blue eyes and tell him how much I love him. I really wish I could go back about 10 years and visit him every year and talk to him more. I know I can't live in a place of regret and that things happen how they do and it's ok. But right now, I do feel regret. For him and me both.
Saturday morning after he passed, my aunt, uncle, and I started calling the people that needed to know. We started talking about a memorial and what the plan was. It was surreal and I did as I always do in those type of situations, I press in and get it done. Later that afternoon The Neptune Society came and got his body and then we faced the empty house and his husky, Shadow, searching everywhere for him. It was hard.
Having not slept or showered in a couple nights, my brother and I went to our hotel and showered and changed. We were just in a haze. We returned to my dad's house and we all forced ourselves to go get something to eat. We drove to Orcutt and ate at an amazing new Mexican place called Pasion. The food was awesome, the company was awesome, but it still broke my heart thinking that we were all together and my dad wasn't there. Afterwards we went to our hotel and I called Craig and updated him on things and what had happened the night before. It was all too familiar for us as his mother had passed in a very similar way only 8 months prior.
Sunday and Monday were filled with tears, laughter as my wonderful step-mom shared stories with us in her passionate Spanish accent, and a time of connecting with relatives we hadn't known since we were little kids or hadn't known at all. I realized how wonderful that family is. Not perfect and full of mess as any family is, but truly wonderful and loving. There was no drama or anything mean, just so much love and support and honor as my dad was remembered in the stories told and the love given to my brother and me. My step-mom's sister arrived from Mexico City and looked at me and said, "oh honey, I see Truman in you." I started to cry as I felt so honored to look like him. He was handsome, his whole life. Over the weekend I learned about traits I'd obviously inherited from my dad. I could see clearly certain things from my mom and certain things from my dad. Even down to the music we listen to. Going through his stack of CD's, I realized he loved Motown and Diana Krall and Luther Vandross. He loved soul music as I always have since I was really little. How could I have ever known he listened to that stuff? I heard numerous accounts of him singing and people telling me what a beautiful voice he had. I wish I'd had the chance to hear him. That kind of breaks my heart.
The long days and late nights with family were a salve for my soul. It was incredibly healing to hear about his life and learn so many details I hadn't previously known. He was so funny, easy going, and people loved him. The way people describe Bill Clinton and his uncanny charisma, is so very much the way my dad was. Several people described him as a people magnet. He stood up for the under dog and was a defender of those he loved. Hearing about his childhood and what he had to overcome was awe-inspiring. I wished then I could've told him how proud of him I was. In feeling that, I realized how he never failed to tell me how proud of me he was. He was my lifelong fan. Every achievement he applauded. He made a big deal about all of my successes and encouraged me when I wasn't doing so well. My step-mom told me how thrilled he was when I started calling him about 10 years ago and that the last 4 years of us talking a lot really meant the world to him. She said he was over the moon when I called to tell him I was engaged and the same when I told him I was pregnant. He was proud of me as a person and only now with him gone do I realize how much that meant to me.
His service was on Monday, at a small Lutheran church. With one day's notice 40 people showed up. We expected about 15. Had there been a week notice we would've filled the place. He was so deeply loved. My step-mom told me when I was young I had sent him a copy of me singing Hero and he would sit and listen to it with tears streaming down his face. He even went and bought Mariah Carey's CD after that. She asked if I'd sing it for his service. I felt honored to do so. I decided to play the piano and sing so I'd have music to look at and wouldn't see my family members crying. That surely would've broken me. I started off shaky, recovered after the first line and held my tears til I was done. Then hugged my step-mom and we both cried.
The next morning my brother and I left for LAX and headed home. 12 hours later I arrived at my house to my husband who listened til midnight as I shared stories. I've been home for 2 days and am working on adjusting. It's hard when tears are literally just under the surface and they appear unexpectedly. It was this way when my MIL died also. With her we had 7 months to prepare for her passing and it still felt very fast. With my dad I had less than a month, so it's hard to even comprehend. I can't think of how to explain the rest of my thoughts right now, so I'll end with his photo:
My brother and me with my dad in 1988.