My dad died on Father’s Day
Kinda sounds like a punch line to a twisted joke, doesn’t it? It’s not, though. That’s really the day he died.
I can’t remember the exact day we found out he was dying, but I remember the day exactly. It was a school day in early January. I had called in sick because my dad was…and I had to take him to the hospital to find out how sick.
I helped him out of the car and waited until he got his bearings. I casually linked my arm through his so he didn’t have to ask for help. His pace was painfully slow. I wondered if it was because he was in pain, or because he didn’t want to find out why.
I just wanted him to hurry. I wanted to get this over with. I needed to study for my SAT the next morning. There was a party I wanted to go to later, and I needed to go to my friend’s house and grab the jeans she said I could borrow.
I wanted him to hurry so they could start the surgery…so we could find out what was wrong with him…so they could fucking fix it.
I woke up a few hours later, laying on the lobby floor with my head on my study guide. They said it would only take around two hours. It had been almost four. I opened my book back up to the algebra equations, shut it, opened it again, and flipped over to the vocabulary section.
I’d learned a good trick for memorizing vocabulary. You take the word and use it in 3 different sentences. But the sentences had to memorable, something funny or bizarre.
Aberration: a state or condition markedly different from the norm
- My dad’s yellow skin is an aberration.
- Sitting in a freezing cold hospital lobby by yourself waiting to hear if your dad is going to die is an aberration.
- A 17-year old girl without a father is an aberration.
I laughed to myself. I was using death as a study tactic…an aberration, to be sure.
He came up behind me, asking if I was William Breazeale’s daughter. My book slipped out of my hands when I jumped up, sending my notes flying in all directions. We both watched in silence as the pages drifted to the ground. I looked up at him and tried to smile. He didn’t smile back.
“The surgery went great. We didn’t have any major issues.”
“He has pancreatic cancer that’s spread to his liver.”
I slammed the door behind me, and his head shot up. He hated it when I slammed the door. “Sorry, dad!” Did I wake you? God, Sorry. How are you feeling?”
I cringed every time I asked him that. What the hell was he going to say? “I feel amazing. That last can of Ensure you shot into my veins tasted fantastic and is digesting perfectly. I’ve been tortured for the past hour because I’m too weak to make it to the bathroom. Other than that, I feel great.”
He attempted to smile. “I’m fine. How was school?”
“Fine. I have to go back, it’s only noon. I just came home to check on you”.
“It’s only noon?”
“Yeah. You hungry?”
“Well, were you able to drink some of the juice I bought you?”
“No. I haven’t felt like it.”
“Dad! You have to eat, whether you are hungry or not. You are literally wasting away! Have you looked at yourself in the mirror?”
I stormed into the kitchen and brought back a glass full of juice. He took a small sip, giving me a look that made me sit down and gulp the rest of it down myself.
Jesus, Brooke. He already feels horrible and now you’re yelling at him, telling him how terrible he looks.
“Will you make sure I’m here, that I’m with you when you go?”
He smirked slightly. Well, I’ll do my best, but I can make any promises”
“No dad, I’m being serious right now. You have to promise me you won’t leave until I can get back to you”.
“Brooke, I can’t promise that you’ll be here when I die. But I can promise I’ll never leave you.”
While the next few weeks dragged on, I acquired a slight obsession with the calendar. Every morning I scrolled across the row of days, then down the column of weeks. Which day was it going to be?
I flipped to the next page looking for…an aberration, I suppose. My eyes landed on the only words on the page.
I laughed out loud. You’ve got to be fucking kidding me. My dad is going to die on Father’s Day?
Of course, I didn’t tell anybody this. How morbid and sad was that? The worst part was that I didn’t know which I felt more- sad or relieved.
I had a date. This was going to end at some point, and it was going to be soon. So, I started planning the things I would do after Father’s Day. I would be able to leave the house again without having to find someone to watch him. I could go out with my friends without worrying about him. I wouldn’t have to give him morphine shots anymore or clean up after him when he didn’t make it to the bathroom. And I wouldn’t have to sleep outside his bedroom door anymore, hearing him moan in pain, crying myself to sleep because there was absolutely nothing I could do to stop it.
I wouldn’t have to do any of those things anymore. Because on Father’s Day, June 21st, my dad wouldn’t be dying. He would be dead.
I spent the morning with my best friend and his family. I reluctantly agreed to go to church with them, cringing at every metaphor reiterating the importance of celebrating ‘the father’.
I asked if I could stop to buy him a card before we headed to the movie. I spent longer than I should have picking it out. He obviously wasn’t going to read it, but I wanted to read it to him and it needed to be perfect.
We made it to the front of the line just before the previews started. I grabbed my ticket, turned to his dad and asked him to take me home. I needed to go home.
I closed the front door behind me, making sure not to slam it. I peeked my head in his room to see if he was still breathing and then plopped down next to him to sign his card. The pen was out of ink. Of course, it was out of ink. I went into the kitchen and started digging through the drawers, and then stopped for some reason. I had heard something, a moan or a whisper. I kept digging. It wasn’t coming from him. He’d been on a constant stream of morphine and hadn’t made a sound for days. I grabbed a pen, then dropped it and sprinted to his room.
He was dead.
“No, no, no, no. Dad, NO! You promised! Did you seriously just wait until I left the fucking room to leave me? I sat down next to him, studying his face for some sign of anything. There was nothing. He was gone.
I started yelling at him. “I came home for you. I made everyone miss the movie for you. You were supposed to wait for me to get back, that was the deal. We made a deal!”
The tears I had been stuffing down for months unleashed. I was actually grateful I was alone, but I was furious with him, with myself. He was leaving me for good and he couldn’t just give me this one thing. He couldn’t just let me say good-bye. Or god, maybe he was trying to hold on for me, maybe he was scared, trying to work up the courage to do it, and I had left him?
I grabbed his hand and kept repeating how sorry I was…
And then I felt something, a gentle squeeze. I stopped crying and looked up as one final tear made its way down his cheek.
That was 25 years ago. Yes, it was terrible, but it was so long ago. I don’t really even think about it anymore. The reality is, I haven’t had a dad longer than I had one.
Now, when I see my friends worrying about how badly they are fucking up their kids, I wonder what issues of mine are directly linked to him. My dad was an amazing father, but not always a great one. He, like all of us, had many demons that he never quite figured out how to conquer. Whether he was drunk or sober, wealthy or broke, in love or lonely, I just never felt like he ever really found happy.
I’m sure watching my dad struggle negatively impacted me in various ways. But I also think it’s what made him, and our relationship, beautiful. I saw his humanity. I saw him keep a smile on his face or conjure up a silver lining or scrounge up his last dollar…for me and my sister.
Because if he wasn’t happy, my dad always made sure everyone else was. His life could be a complete mess, but he would do whatever he could to fix everyone else’s. He could be reckless and stubborn, but he was the person you went to when there was nowhere else to go. He was patient and kind and generous. And although he was guarded with his words, no one ever questioned how much he loved them.
I guess, in the end, my dad’s life and death have taught me this: Life is so very precious…and short. For me, the most tragic part of all of this is the fear that he didn’t live the life he had always dreamed of…because of me (us). I think he sacrificed so many of his dreams for us. And that is the very last thing I would have ever wanted…and it breaks my heart.
For me, Father’s Day is just another day. I don’t really think about my dad that much, at least not consciously. But as I sat watching the constant stream of fathers and daughters waiting in line to get their coffee, I thought about him.
I thought about the past year and how desperately alone I’ve felt, and I realized something. Yes, I’ve felt lonely, to the extreme. But I’ve never felt truly alone.
I think, I know, my dad had something to do with this. I think he has never been more present in my life than he has over the past few months- the beautiful souls who have come into my life; the books that have ended up in my hands; the words that have mended what we all thought was irreparable damage. These are the things that reminded me what love feels like, what hope feels like. These are the things that saved me.
I actually think he thought he was going to lose me, so he immersed himself in my day to day to remind that he’d kept his promise: He would wait until I came back…and he would never leave me.