One month ago today, February 24, 2014 I said the hardest goodbye I may ever face, I said goodbye to my father. It has been a non-stop emotional roller-coaster since his diagnosis in around November of last year, one I was not prepared for. It had been 10 years since we had really seen each other or spent time together, not counting funerals of family members. Ten years since I lost my dad the first time. Is anyone ever prepared to say goodbye to a parent, to deal with the horribleness of Cancer, or to watch a loved one slowly and daily slip away, the answer is no. Is anyone ever prepared to become their parents care taker, to take on the role of the adult, to sit by a loved ones side and wonder with each breathe if it would be their last, the answer is still no. I guess in some ways I was prepared to take on the role of adult and caretaker because most of my 34 years alive that is what I was with him. I was the adult. No one can prepare you to say goodbye and no one can prepare you on how to grieve. I have OK days and horrible ones, I have yet to have a good one yet but I know in time those good days will come back. I do however find it healing to my soul to share, mostly because I hope that if someone else is going through this, if someone else is feeling this, than maybe they will feel a little less alone. I wanted to share what I read to my family and friends as I said goodbye to my dad, as a tribute to him and for anyone feeling the way I feel to know that they are never alone.
As a child with an alcoholic parent you suffer no matter what, no matter what your choices, no matter which road you chose, you will still suffer. It will change the way you live and look at the world. It will weight heavily on every decision that you make, whether you realize it or not, it will effect every relationship that you have as well. Some children of alcoholics become a statistic; I fought hard every day of my life to beat those odds. In some ways I have and in others I haven’t. I chose early on that drinking alcohol would not be a part of my life, but that doesn’t mean I have been free and clear of making decisions and choices like an addict would. I have learned so much in the short time that I had with him sober and in the short time since he has left this world. I know I have a long road ahead, I know I have to learn how to not put this behind me but to work through it. I know that I will learn how to live my life without him, without the fear of losing him, the fear of becoming him and finally know that he can no longer hurt me. I will become stronger and I know in the end I will be OK. My dad would want that for me, he would want me to continue to fight, to be strong, to go after my dreams and to make a difference in this world. For a long time I never wanted to share this with the world because it wasn’t just my story to tell, but if I learned anything from him in his final days, it’s that love really does conquer all, forgiveness is the most important gift you can give anyone but more importantly yourself and that in the end the choices I made no matter how hard were the right choices. I could have done nothing, I could have chosen to ignore how sick he was and not be a part of his life but in the end no matter what the past had given me I have always loved him even when I didn’t like him and I had to be there for my father. It was truly the best decision I have ever made in my life. I love you dad, I will always love you, and I truly wouldn’t have wanted any other dad in the world. You made me who I am, the bad and the good, and I will always be thankful for the times we shared even though it wasn’t nearly enough time for me. You are finally free, free from hurt, free from pain, free from your daily struggles and free from your demons, so be free dad, be free.
This is what I shared with my family as we said goodbye to my Dad:
“38 years ago today our family was together for the wedding of Uncle Rick and Auntie Pam, today we are once again together to say goodbye to a family member. My dad was the kind of man that lived life on his terms no matter what that meant. He was the kind of man that if you knew him, he didn’t always make it easy to like him but if you were lucky enough to get past the gruff man he was, could see through his rough exterior to the man he so wanted to be. As a child I never truly understood the kind of man he was. I always dreamed of being daddy’s little girl not understanding why I wasn’t, I knew I always loved him but I didn’t always like who he was. Growing up I learned so much about who he was and the demons he faced. I learned that through family we could get through almost everything.
It wasn’t always easy being my fathers daughter, growing up there was sometimes more anger than hugs, more tears than laughter but in the end I grew to see things change. My family knows loss and struggle like no other, but through it all we were family through thick and thin and it is through them that I had gained the strength to become a strong, loving and most importantly forgiving woman. Many years ago I never dreamed I would be standing here before you speaking on losing my Dad, but as time passes, wounds heal and life goes by I grew and so did he, he may have tried to fight it tooth to nail but he did grow, so very much. I never met a man like my dad who didn’t believe he was loved and didn’t think he deserved that love, but as always and as a family we proved him wrong. When he first became sick I was by his side, for every dr appt and every tear. We sat and talked about life often and what he wished would happen. He had two wishes to make it to Christmas and to start a relationship with my brother; he fought and was able to make both of those things happen. I don’t know a man who fought harder in life then he did, he fought his demons on a daily basis and once he became sick he fought to be sober and a man I could be proud of. He fought almost everything; he struggled with his life, his choices and his addictions. He fought seeing his family, and as every one of them showed up one by one he would yell at them for coming and every visit ended in tears and even some apologies, which anyone who knows him knows just how hard that was for him. His family meant the world to him even though he did not know how to show it. They say you hurt the ones you love the most, beyond all the sometimes hurtful things he said, somewhere deep down there was so much love he just didn’t know what to do with those feelings. Even as I went back home I would check in every day and he would recap his day telling me who stopped by, whether it was uncle skip making him laugh, uncle mike setting up his TV and DVD player, uncle ken bringing him donuts, or his son stopping by to say hi. He would get so excited that people came. From hospice nurses to friends and family his voice lit up telling me about every visit. Every hospice nurse, hospital nurse and Dr would tell me how wonderful he was and how he would make everyone laugh, especially when he would be at the hospital with Laura, my mother Cheryl and my step father Bob making everyone laugh telling them who they were to him. He was still cracking jokes at every cancer treatment and hospital stay.
Cancer is a horrible disease that touches so many lives and takes our loved ones away, I hate it, I hate cancer, but for me somehow cancer gave me my silver lining. It allowed me to see the heart of a man I never knew existed. It gave me my dad, for the first time in my life, if even for a short time. My brother and I decorated his Christmas tree for him and he was ecstatic saying he never dreamed this day would come. He and I took trips to Job Lot, his favorite store, and walked the isles for hours, him cracking jokes and telling me to buy the angel in the wedding dress so maybe I would some day be married. We spent days watching movies, we liked all the same ones. We spent lunches and dinners together and truly enjoyed each other’s company. We lay on the couch together with his best friend Oliver, his dog, and we held hands and watched reruns of Castle and Bones our favorite shows. I learned just how much of my stubbornness and attitude came from him, I learned how much we had in common, how much he had a part of my heart and how I was through and through my fathers daughter. He always asked me to take him to his favorite bar Duffy’s were we would sit and laugh with all his friends, friends that made him smile, accepted him for who he was and cared so deeply about what he was going through always offering myself and him their support. As his health started to decline the trips out of the house became less and less, his pride declining with his health. Our conversations grew shorter but always ended with an I love you. He made jokes until his very last day, mostly because I know he did not know how to accept all the love he was receiving from all of us. On one of his last days he wanted to go outside fearing it would be the last time he was able to, so we wheeled him out, we held hands and enjoyed the sunlight for as long as he could stand. Everyone came to show him their support and to say goodbye, which meant the world to me but more importantly to him which is why I think he was finally able to stop fighting and let go. The last thing I said to him was that I loved him, I was proud of him and it was ok to go, he took his last breath holding my hand just seconds later. In the end he became the man I was proud of, the man that I not only loved but also truly enjoyed, a man I liked, and finally understood that I was my Daddy’s little girl. In my heart I know that he was greeted with open arms, full of love by Auntie Pam, Uncle don, Uncle Rick and his mom, Nana Janice.
I couldn’t end this in anyone else’s words but his own, and anyone who knows him will understand so, in my dad’s last words “your all assholes”.