I have tried to forget it. I have blocked from my memory the whirlwind of information that was vomited upon us and the roller coaster of emotions I would experience. While I was focusing on my daughter, worrying about her cancer treatment, helping her cope with the loss of a friend, and facing some fears myself, I would learn that my father was also going to battle this awful disease.
It was right before Thanksgiving when we got the news. I refused to let it interrupt our holidays. We took over the waiting room in the CC unit and got special permission to break my dad out. We ate the makeshift Turkey dinner with all the trimmings and chatted away as if there weren’t an ugly cloud looming over our heads. After all I knew this could be our last time as a family for Thanksgiving.
And it was.
The doctors had told us to stay positive and why not, they were. My dad seemed in good spirits most of the time and honestly his overall health would stay pretty good considering. I put on a good show and tried to remain strong but inside I knew the truth. I knew no matter how positive I was the end result was inevitable. Before I was ready I was going to have to say good-bye to my dad and my kids would lose their Pepaw way too soon. I would have to talk to them and prepare them. But how?
I decided that my girls were still too young to fully grasp the whole idea of forever, even if Torrence did show such maturity with her friend’s death. The girls were just five and three. Grayson, however, was older and was about to begin middle school, I needed to prepare him.
My son was very close to my father. For the first six years of his life my dad was his male role model. My dad loved my son and my son loved my dad. I had no idea how I was going to make this easy for him to understand much less accept. I don’t remember what I said exactly but I do remember we talked a lot with him about everything that was going on. He showed great maturity and understanding. Looking back now I realize my son was probably more grown-up at age 11 than he is now at 18. (That is a different blog.)
Each of my kids had their way of spending time with my dad and we made sure they had plenty of opportunities. My daughter, who was on a break from chemo, went to the hospital to teach her Pepaw how he should take his chemo. She told him to sit on his hands and count to three then the needle would go in the port no problem. She spread a lot of joy at the cancer clinic and not only to my dad. My youngest adored her granddad and she even had her own name for him, Grepaw. I think it was her way of staking her claim. Whenever we went out to eat she knew that she could climb up in his lap and eat as much ice from his cup as her tiny little hands would allow. My heart broke most for her. She would turn four years old just three days before he would pass and the few memories she had would slowly fade away as the time went on. My son, who will have the most memories, just spent a lot of time with my parents helping out and hanging with his Pepaw. He took advantage of this time.
We had celebrated all the holidays together that year, we shared many family celebrations, and we mostly just spent time together. A couple of weeks into August my father would go into the hospital and never come home. For a week, he came in and out of consciousness and then the last few days nothing. On Wednesday of that week, while he was in there, my youngest celebrate her birthday. She requested going to see her Grepaw and open her gift there. So we obliged. There in the hospital room, she would open her gift from my parents and squeal with delight. That night, my daughter would ride out of the hospital, on her new Spiderman scooter, alongside her two siblings, with the last memory of their granddad.
Saturday was supposed to be a day of celebration. We had sent out invitations ordered a cake and bought presents. The party would be cancelled and now I had to tell the kids why. I had to share with them the news that their granddad was now in heaven.
I had slept less than two hours the night before. I had barely made it home, talked with my husband, and laid down just long enough to fall asleep when the call came in. At 3AM my phone would ring and I knew without answering. At the hospital I sat there trying to mourn for my loss because I knew that once I returned home there would be three children at more of a loss than me. I tried to practice a speech that would never be spoken, it just didn’t feel right. Then as I drove away from the hospital I saw a rainbow in the clouds and it became clear how I should handle breaking the news. I woke the kids and with tear filled eyes I shared how their Pepaw/Grepaw was no longer in pain and together we cried. Together we shared that pain.
That was honestly all we needed to do. We needed to mourn together. If we were going to heal and going to find peace with this loss then we would need each other. One celebration was postponed a week but a different kind of celebration began that morning. Instead of opening birthday presents we sat around and shared stories of my dad with the kids filling the room with laughter and their minds with happy tales. I knew they needed to mourn this loss but they also needed to focus on the legacy he left behind. This was the best present I could give any of them.
It has been over six years and we haven’t forgotten. Each year we try and do something on his birthday in honor of my father, even if it is minor. The kids may have been super young when they lost him but I will try my hardest to help them preserve the few precious memories that still remain. Together we have worked to keep his spirit alive. Together we have mended the break in our hearts. Together.