July 6 is always a day of remembrance for me. Truly a day to spend the entire day in tears, or a day to give thanks. Why? Allow me to explain. During the stressful days of my dad’s terminal illness with esophageal cancer during December 1997 until his death on July 6, 1999, I have felt such a loss.
Dad kept telling me he was in the sunset of his life. I wasn’t ready to see the sunset. I did not want him to leave me.
I’ve had people tell me I need to move on. “Get over it. Life goes on…” Etc. ETC! It isn’t easy! Today is July 6, 2018 –19 years since the death of my dad. I remember the day, as if it was yesterday. After a demanding day at work, I rushed to visit him, like I did every day. I spoke to the nursing home earlier in the day. “Dad was doing fine,” they replied. “Fine!?!” If he’s in a nursing home he isn’t fine. Yes, he was as well as could be expected; nevertheless, over the last six months of his life, I watched his body slowly shutting down. First it was the weakness from esophageal cancer. His inability to retain his food. His legs grew weaker and he fell – LOTS. Each time the nursing home reported the falls to me, like they are required. And each time, I prayed a sigh of relief. Just one more day. Please God, give us one more day.
In March, his heart grew weaker, and I realized the end was near. I stopped praying for a miracle. In my nightly prayers I prayed for God to find a special place for my dad, to use his talents, his voice, and yes – even his temper. Dad could be a tenacious man when he wanted to be!
During my daily visits after March, I noticed Dad no longer walked me to the door, to kiss me goodbye. He simply waved his hand as he closed his Holy Bible. No longer were the visits welcoming or fun. He appeared to be angry at me, always waving me away after about 10 minutes of our time together. His roommate told me Dad was mean to me. “You deserve better,” Dudley said. “He is so mean. He should appreciate you.”
I smiled at Dudley. “Don’t you understand,” I cried. “Dad is dying. He’s angry at life.”
Sometimes when I arrived after a long, hard day at work, Dad would grow arrogant. “Just get out of here,” he shouted. “You know you don’t want to be here. Just Go!”
I admit it. At times, his anger got to me. I would leave the nursing home in tears. I did not understand his anger towards me. After all, I visited every day. Just what is the matter with him, I asked God while tears rushed down my face. Doesn’t he know I love him?
Dad and Dudley were the odd couple of Sandpiper Convalescent Center. They teased and complained, always trying to compete with each other. For a while, Dad had the upper hand since Dudley’s body no longer moved and he remained in the bed, or a special wheelchair. Dudley had difficulty with speech too, but after visiting Dad so often, Dudley and I were able to communicate without a problem. After March, Dudley had the upper hand as we watched Dad sit on his bed, or remain in his bed most of the time. Gone were his daily strolls with his walker.
I suppose I was counting the days down, knowing my dad and I would not share another holiday together. No more birthday parties. No more Christmas trees, Thanksgiving and holiday dinners together. Tick. Tock…How I wish I could make this clock stop and save my dad.
On the moment of his death, I was walking in the corridor of Sandpiper Convalescent Center. A nurse I recognized approached, pushing an oxygen tank. I remember speaking with her, saying Uh, oh. That isn’t a welcoming sign for someone. She nodded, never saying a word to me.
I placed my hand on the door of Dudley and Dad’s room and so did the nurse. Quickly, she nodded, telling me not to come inside.
“Oh, Dear God, No. Please…please….Please God, NO!” I cried.
Someone grabbed me, walking me to a chair and I sat down. I knew. The clock was stopping. My dad was dying.
I heard a voice say, Barbie. We can bring him back.
“No,” I cried. “He’s a DNR. I must honor his wishes.”
Moments seemed like hours. At 6:15 a nurse approached me. “I’m so sorry. Do you want to say goodbye?”
Yes, I nodded.
I waited a few minutes for my husband to arrive and together, we walked in to Dad’s room. Dudley was eating dinner. I could not speak to him. I touched my Dad – his body as cold as ice. His skin clammy. His eyes closed. I kissed him. Told him I loved him and I would never forget him. “You’re still here, inside my heart,” I cried.
I have no idea what happened next. I was numb. Dumbfounded. How would I live without my Dad?
After his funeral, I joined a grief therapy session and learned to move forward. Still, as the day of July 6 of each year approaches, I feel an incredible emptiness. Grief. Heartache. I ask myself, will this pain ever leave?
I think not. Today is July 6, 2018. Nineteen years today… Just how can it be 19 years? These years have flown by — just like someone opened a window, tossing these years without Dad outside. I must keep myself busy, remembering my Dad, Walter W. Perkins, and the goodness inside of him. Yes, he had moments of temperamental ups and downs, but he was my dad. As a child, I always looked up to him. I held his hand. We sang. He taught me how to harmonize and he always reminded me to “Make this a good day.”
I ask you how? How do I make each day a good day without my dad?
When do we stop grieving over those we’ve loved and lost? When does the heartache end?
After my dad died, I felt like an orphan. I have learned to move on and to recognize that each day is a gift. I plan to have a serious heart-to-heart discussion with my dad today while drinking my morning coffee. I will lift my head high, looking into the Heavens and speak softly to my Dad. Yes, I will probably cry, but now, the tears are good, cleansing tears because I have learned to move forward. To make the most of every day. July 6, 2018 is another day without my dad, but I am so thankful that I was there for him daily while he battled cancer. Yes, I miss you, Dad. I was blessed to share one more day. Thank you, God for giving us one more day!