It’s been an exhausting two months. It started with seeing my biological dad for the first time in ten long years and ended with holding my dad’s hand in the ICU as he took his last breaths. Between that beginning and ending was a broken man’s desperate battle with a rare and brutal cancer called Collecting duct carcinoma. And a daughter’s emotional reunion with her estranged father. A father she could never really trust or lean on. A man who had betrayed many who loved him to feed an addiction which dictated his life’s choices.
Many others put aside the past with me to care for this man. My only sister, the baby of our family, took upon herself the role of primary advocate and family contact. My brother, who lives out of state, flew in to visit with our father in a nursing facility. My aunts and uncles, and some army pals, showed up often to cheer a lost brother and comrade. Older grandchildren who barely remembered this grandpa made awkward visits. Younger grandchildren drew him pictures. His three sisters and two daughters were his main nurturers through it all.
Each time I visited my dad, I tried to reconnect a little more with him. It wasn’t easy at first because I felt invisible. The cancer was greedy, demanding much of his energy, and his memories were stuck in the Philippines where he’d spent the past decade. I did feel for his family there, so far away, missing a husband and “papa.” I reached out to my dad’s wife, who is close to my age, for the first time ever. I did what I could to comfort her across the distance, and helped her stay in touch with my dad through video chats. Unfortunately, she couldn’t obtain a visa in time.
One day I walked into my dad’s room at the nursing facility and he immediately pulled out a journal I had left with him. It was a father-daughter prompted journal which a friend gave me for Christmas. On one of my invisible visits I wrote about myself on several pages and set it on his nightstand. Honestly, I held little hope he’d participate since he’d seldom answered my emails over the years. But I think my sister encouraged him to write in it and now there are a few pages containing his scrawl. I leafed through and stopped on a page with the prompt: “Today I feel like telling you about…” He had reminisced about my birth. His last line declared that I was “forever bringing the light into (his) life.”
I got to spend the last night of my dad’s life here on earth with him. He was back at the Huntsman Cancer Institute. It was a rough and sleepless night for both of us. My dad was quite nauseated and kept the nurse busy. When he couldn’t sleep we watched parts of movies together. His mind slipped into confusion and I soothed him by speaking softly every time he woke in a panic. Once he called the nurse in and demanded she turn the “God light” on. By morning he struggled to open his eyes and say his name. He didn’t know where he was and asked me why he was at the bank. I left him in my aunt’s company and went back to my sister’s home for a shower and nap. I was called back a few hours later to say goodbye.
That was last Thursday, February 13th. It then took two days for two brothers and two sisters to comb through their father’s belongings. My sister had kept his past life in her shed, except for one container of albums I had held onto. It was a bittersweet process. It brought up childhood memories- some good, some bad. We were able to laugh at times, and we discovered a funny letter our dad wrote to his children a long time ago about meeting our mother. My favorite part was going through his collection of old photographs. Some featured a younger version of myself with my small children. Once that task was cleared away, we set up my sister’s home for an open house which took the place of a funeral. That was a time of reconnecting with aunts, uncles, cousins, and family friends I hadn’t seen in ages. I only broke down once.
The following morning, two sons and two daughters met at the mortuary for a private viewing to identify their father for cremation. They looked upon him dressed in his army garb. Tears fell all around, but a little later all four left the room together and I think all four felt at peace. At least I know that the eldest felt at peace.
♥ I could not have made it through this very difficult experience without the constant love and support from my husband and my children, and some amazing friends. I am also deeply thankful for my faith in God the Eternal Father and His Son, Jesus Christ. I have a strong testimony of our Savior’s Atonement and am forever grateful for God’s Plan of Salvation. I know God hears and answers our prayers. I know we are children of God and that He cares about the details of our lives. And I know that our Savior and Redeemer, Jesus Christ, lives. ♥