It was the year 2000 and I was 20 years old.
For about a month, Dad was having a strange problem. His days would start like they always would but an hour or so after he left his home, he would have to come back and take a nap.
He wasn’t doing anything strenuous. He was not a fitness enthusiast. He was into photography, baking, and various forms of lecherous behavior.
It wasn’t long before a doctor’s appointment needed to be made. I remember talking to him on the day that he was supposed to have his appointment. He said he was going to call me after to let me know how it went. It was a mid-afternoon appointment that shouldn’t have lasted more than a couple of hours.
The entire day went by and I hadn’t heard a peep from him. I called his apartment, no answer. He didn’t have a cell phone so in my mind, he was missing.
My only other option was the phone book. After 15 minutes of calling every phone number listed under his HMO that I thought was relevant I managed to track him down. He told me that they were still running tests on him, and getting everything processed was taking a lot longer than usual.
He assured me that he would let me know what the verdict was when he knew.
A couple of days later I get the call from him telling me that it was colon cancer.
It wasn’t so bad at first. Physically speaking he was fine. He didn’t have trouble getting around until the last two weeks.
What was hard about the entire situation was the mental and emotional toll that it took on the both of us. Him, with his impending mortality and me, with my youthful ignorance.
My father was never a social person. It just wasn’t a part of his personality. He’d occasionally meet with someone he used to work with. But his retirement propelled him further into anti-social behavior. Prior to his diagnosis he had become slightly estranged from our family so really, he just had me.
It made it hard not to feel guilty when I’d need some time for myself.
The week before he passed away things were at their absolute worst. He was having trouble getting in and out of the shower. He had a loss of appetite as well as a complete dip in energy level. It got to the point where he needed to have a nurse visit him everyday.
The nurse was the first person who first referred to me as a caregiver. The term kind of threw me off because it was the first time that I had heard it used, let alone applied to me. She gave me a packet on what my role was and what was expected to happen. I remember thinking that everything that I read in the packet was really odd because it was all stuff that had happened, was happening, or it was something that I could see happening in the future. Talk about ‘a day late, and a dollar short’.
What a lot of people don’t realize is, is that regardless of the care giving situation, every one needs a break. The person who is ailing needs to lean on someone else for a while so that the ‘main’ care giver can recharge their batteries and feel like a normal human being. That way, everyone can take a deep breath before they get back to the task at hand.
I don’t regret anything that happened, anything that I did or anything that I did not do. I think that had I had been a little bit older, I would have had the common sense to ask for help.
Getting a break every now and again wasn’t a real problem, finding the courage to open up and talk to someone was.
On a closing note, one of the things that I remember was his morbid fascination with his predicament.
One day, we went for a drive and he starts telling me about this thing that he found on-line. It was a list of things people said to each other upon the death-bed of their loved one, or should one lover die before the other, etc.
Naturally, he posed the question to me: If I croaked next week, what would you say to me on my death-bed?
I took half a second to think about it and I said ‘Save me a spot at the table’.