This past week, a friend informed me that one of his closest friends was diagnosed with breast cancer and only has a few weeks to live. She transitioned just two days later. He was completely sad and heartbroken because he has lost two friends in the past two years to cancer. Reading his text messages made me think of my father’s battle with lung cancer and how quickly he transitioned.
I received the call from my father (not sure of the month) in 2008 that he was diagnosed with lung cancer. He did not many details but that they wanted him to start chemotherapy as soon as possible. The first step was to attend a class that discussed the different types of chemo and the associated side effects. I was living in DC, so I told him I would meet him at this apartment in Baltimore to go with him. After the class, I decided that I would go to every chemo session that I could depending on my work schedule. For the ones I could not attend, my Aunt Ethel would go with him.
I had never witnessed a chemo session so I had no idea what to expect. They sat him in a chair, prepped him and started the chemo session. I tried to keep a straight face because I never thought I would be in this situation so I was trying to be strong mainly for my father. My father was a very happy and jovial man and his spirit was usually pretty good. I tried to talk about different things to distract him from what I could tell was not a very pleasant experience. We finished all the sessions but things were not progressing in the right way. The cancer was spreading and the doctor said there was not much left he could do to stop it.
A few months passed and my father was taken to the hospital because his health was declining. I was in Baltimore with my best friend, Richard, when I received a call from the hospital that my father was not doing well and I need to get there ASAP. They did not expect him to make it through the night. I was a little nervous so Richard decided to accompany me. However, when we arrived to the hospital I was not expecting what I saw. My father was sitting up in the bed fusing with the nurses. I was perplexed. I said to the nurse, you all said that he was not doing well and did not expect him to make it through the night. The nurse could not explain but I could: God is good and it was not his time.
At that point it was decided that my father could no longer live by himself. He had to go to hospice for around-the-clock care. Since he was alert and able to speak, he was able to sign the consent form; that was not easy. He argued and fussed with me but finally gave up and signed the papers. He was an independent man and I knew this would be a tough adjustment for him.
Every Saturday or Sunday or any days I had off, I would drive to Baltimore to spend time with my father in hospice. We would watch TV, eat and just have great conversations. As the weeks went on his condition worsened; he was losing his hair, weight and memory all at the same time. The one thing that amazed me is that he never forgot my name and who I was. I would quiz him and ask, “Who am I?” His response was always, “Boy don’t play with me you are my son, Shawn.” That made my smile. But on some visits, I would go in the hallway to cry. I did not like seeing him in that state and maybe I was not prepared for his transition.
On October 9, 2009, my phone rang at 4am and I knew what that meant. I answered the phone and Aunt Ethel gave me the news. I could not go back to sleep so I just crawled up in a ball and cried. I thought I was prepared for this moment but I quickly understood that nothing can fully prepare you for the loss of someone you love.
I think about many of the decisions I’ve made in my life but one my proudest is the day I decided to have a relationship with my father. Though he was not there for most of my childhood, I accepted early on that I could not change that. I knew that if I wanted a relationship with him, which I did, I would have to accept him as he was at that moment. Our relationship started from the day I made that phone call to him when I was in my early thirties, and it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made in my life.
I know that we all grieve differently but one thing I do not do is visit burial sites. That is not the image I like to have in my head of the last time I saw a loved one. I think about the many good times we spent together. My favorite picture of my father was taken at my 40th birthday celebration with him sitting at my side. He loved and accepted me for the man I am and he never let me forget it!!
We must spend every day doing the things we LOVE with the people we LOVE! Life is too short and we can’t go back and change time. Tell friends and family you LOVE them as much as possible for we do not know the day or the hour when it is each of our times, and we can’t afford to spend one day with regret.