Wednesday, December 11, 2013
You may have noticed that I haven't posted a whole lot this year. Part of the reason for that is that I've been putting off this post since February. My dad passed away 8 months after being diagnosed with lung cancer. He found out just a day or two after his 67th birthday at the end of May. (He hadn't smoked in more than 30 years, but apparently, that didn't matter.) I went out to spend time with him and my sisters in September during which we talked about me bring the kids out once he was feeling up a bit better. He found out in early December that the chemotherapy drugs they were giving him weren't working and that he would have to try and get approval and assistance paying for a newer, much more expensive drug. December 23 he went into the hospital with a collapsed lung. I was on a plane the next day and stayed at the hospital with him for the next week to keep him company and be his advocate with the doctors and hospital staff. He underwent a surgical procedure while I was there to try to keep his chest cavity from filling up with fluid caused by the cancer. It was painful but towards the end of my stay he was doing better, had been approved for the new drug and was set to be released the day after I was scheduled to leave. We spent the week talking about all kinds of things and the last day I was there we talked about plans for the future including him wanting to come out to visit us and his plans to look into working as a fitness instructor for a cruise line. The day I left was the last time I got to see him. Even though we were hopeful, I cried the whole way back to the airport.
One week later, he was back in the hospital with pneumonia. This time, my older sister arranged to go stay with him. The hope was that she would spend a week there while he recovered and started on the new chemotherapy. He was only in the hospital a few days for the pneumonia, but before my sister's week long stay was up he had to be taken back to the hospital for a collapsed lung (this time the other side). The last 2 weeks of his life were spent in the hospital undergoing the same painful procedure, followed by a stoke which left him unable to communicate to anyone when something happened to the tube inserted to drain his chest cavity, apparently causing him so much pain that he went into a catatonic state for hours before anyone could figure out what was wrong. Within days, his body just finally gave up. My older sister called me constantly during her 2 1/2 weeks with our dad including from his bedside the hour before he died and then again to tell me he was gone. Within hours, I was on a plane back to Phoenix to help my sisters plan his memorial and beginning taking care of his affairs.
I'm thankful that my sister's work allows her to telecommute and that her bosses were flexible and understanding when she couldn't get as much work done as normal while helping our dad. I'm sorry that my sister had to see him suffer so much at the end but eternally thankful that he didn't die alone. I'm so grateful that I got to spend that week with him and so very sad that my kids never got to spend much time with him because we lived so far apart. I would make tentative plans to take everyone out to see him but things just never seemed to work out. I knew writing this post would be hard and didn't feel I right posting anything until I did. So, in true procrastinator style, I just stopped posting. I also stopped quilting after I finished dh's quilt which I had brought with me to Phoenix to hand quilt while sitting with my dad. And I stop doing almost any exercise which would make my dad really sad about since he taught 13 exercise classes a week including two the day he went to the hospital at the end of May for trouble breathing because there was over a liter of fluid keeping his left lung from inflating. Even while going through chemotherapy, he would ride his bikes for miles most days.
Growing up, my dad rarely ever got sick. He was always healthy and active, often riding his bike to and from work. My sisters were always more athletic than me and I was never big on being part of a team but I would try from time to time different exercise programs because it made my dad happy. He was never very talkative but tried to be encouraging and supportive of each of his three daughters. He taught us how to enjoy life and not take ourselves too seriously. He was blue collar and had laid back approach to living. I remember him waking us up early in the morning to play in the first snow after moving from FL to TN, doing donuts in snow in our VW bus to get us to laugh, dressing as Lucky Louie the clown for children's church many Sundays when were were young, taking each of us out to eat on our 13th birthdays, giving me a delicate gold caduceus necklace to encourage my desire to become a doctor and always being ready to help me, his artistically challenged daughter, whenever I needed help with making posters and such for school. He could juggle, make balloon animals, rip a phone book in two, play guitar and draw great pictures. He told us stories about learning to ride a unicycle when his sub would surface while in the Navy. During the Summer Olympics in Atlanta, he would walk his black lab down the street while riding his unicycle. When I was in middle school, he joined Master Swimmers where he trained and competed for awhile. On his 49th birthday, he earned a blue belt in Hapkido. For his 50th birthday, he began the process of becoming a certified fitness instructor. He was a volunteer teacher at his local YMCA while he worked full time. He won a body building competition in the senior division. By the time he "retired", he was supplementing his retirement income teaching 13 classes a week in aerobics, pilates and yoga. His students spanned a wide age range including a woman in her late nineties.
He used to say he had a black belt in "corn fu" since he was a master at telling corny jokes. He wore T-shirts with sayings like "I'm out of my mind. Please leave a message." If someone teased him about falling asleep in his chair, he wasn't napping. He had a photographic mind and he was developing the film.
My dad was so many things and he will be missed.
One of the last days I saw may dad. Dec. 2012
The picture we used for his memorial program- happy, healthy and on his unicycle.