Eighteen years ago today was the last time I saw my daddy.
I said "good-bye" and that I loved him. And I told him I didn't want to leave, but it was time to go.
He nodded, wide-eyed. He was able to hug me back. But he couldn't say anything. Seven weeks earlier he had suffered a massive stroke that affected his ability to speak and see and write and walk. He could lift one hand. He could hear. He was completely coherent and fully aware of his surroundings. But he couldn't tell us what he wanted, what he needed, what he knew. He was unable to write us a note to those ends either. He could nod and shake his head... that was pretty much it.
He had been diagnosed with a brain tumor about a week before he had the stroke, right after Christmas. At first, it was deemed inoperable, then they found someone interested in trying. A glioblastoma roughly the size of a golfball positioned behind his left eye, it was blown to smithereens when he had the stroke. This happened the very day I had flown across the country to be with him. He picked me up at the airport; we went to lunch; we went to the house; he had a headache and went to lie down. I held him while he convulsed and vomited, and we waited for the paramedics to arrive.
While the resulting emergency surgery did remove much of the cancer, this type is so aggressive and the bits were so invasive that his prognosis remained very, very poor. I stayed in town with my stepmother and her family (she and my dad had been vacationing to visit the in-laws when this all happened) for 10 days while he recovered from the stroke and was determined to be in stable condition. At that point I went back to grad school nearly 3,000 miles away, with the plan of returning for a week or so of my Spring Break in March and then spending the summer vacation with him.
In February I got a call. "Can you come now? I really need you to come now." It was my stepmom. The next morning I was on a plane. We had set my return for two weeks later; that was about all the school I was comfortable missing. Why did that seem so important?
A lot happened in those two weeks. He should have died before that time was up. That sounds horrible, but it's true. He had made his peace three days after I had arrived and had opted for no more food or water. I was there holding his hand when he let the doctor know that was his choice. She said he had 10 days ... at the most. He held on for 14.
I wasn't there at the end. I left three days before he passed. I felt very comfortable with that at the time. But I have grown to regret it ... not entirely sure why. I did have closure. I did get to leave with a living memory of him before things got really bad. He was still able to sit up, and his eyes were still bright, and he still looked more or less like himself... There is a bit of feeling like I wimped out. I couldn't take it anymore. I was glad that my ticket was when it was. I didn't want to see my daddy actually die. Or dead. I know he is... but I didn't want to see it.
He was 51.
Love you, daddy. Always and forever.