Tonight will mark 30 years since my father died at 48 of a cancer that has a 90 percent survival rate when caught early and a 10 percent when caught late. Colon cancer is even preventable when caught in the precancerous polyp stage. Get your colonoscopies, people. Please.
This is the last in a series about his illness and dying, which was in every way a family affair. If I’m a bit off on some details, forgive me. I wrote nothing down at the time, so everything is recreated from memory.
And, just like that, it’s 30 years later. Unceremoniously the hours pass, and more easily than anticipated. But I’m still dreading 10:30 tonight.
As TP sings, indeed, the waiting is the hardest part.
Unceremoniously is how Daddy would want it to pass. He didn’t want to be a bother or a burden, and one of the last gifts he gave his three girls, when he learned his prognosis wasn’t good, was the preplanning of his funeral.
He picked his burial spot under a tree in Pinecrest Memorial Park – he wanted it to be inconveniently far from North Little Rock so we wouldn’t spend time at his grave. He told Mother he wanted us to go on with our lives.
He also decreed that we should look pretty at his funeral; no funereal attire for his girls.
The day of the funeral was still one of the hardest days of my life. We’d spent so much time being strong that a meltdown was overdue.
He died on a Saturday night; along with Mother, Cathy and me were Cathy’s husband, my friend Angela, and my parents’ best friends. Their inner circle made a respectful ring around us in the perimeter of the room.
The nurses who loved him were there too, and they cried. It was a nice death, as far as dying goes.
Some random memories from the waning months: Daddy had a British male nurse – Neil, I think, was his name – who told us Daddy had a “very British sense of humor.” I guess that explained his love of Benny Hill, which he watched regularly on AETN, laughing until the tears ran.
His wry sense of humor extended to the portrait photo he and Mother had shot after he was very ill. Daddy called it “my going away photo.” We didn’t think it was funny. Well, it was kind of funny.
I prefer the family shots from when he was a healthy 36. My grandfather had this faded one in a frame until the day he died, a few years after his only son.
Daddy watched Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood a lot during his illness. He said he’d have loved it when he was a little boy. Ben and Liz loved it too, when they were little, and now Jude does.
That’s a nice connection.
He also watched All My Children – he particularly liked Brooke. When I was a toddler he came home for lunch and watched As the World Turns with Mother. He particularly liked “Poor Penny,” as he called her.
My children, at 2 and 3, thought nothing was unusual about visiting Grandbob at the hospital. Ben would load his backpack with toys so he and Daddy could play on the bed. They’d scamper ahead of me to the information desk to get their visitors’ badges; people grew to know them and where they were headed.
Liz stood on Daddy’s bed and showed him her 2nd-birthday Strawberry Shortcake dress and “big-girl” Strawberry Shortcake panties. Daddy was so impressed.
He was impressed by everything his grandkids did.
One of Daddy’s final wishes was to play with a puppy again. A very caring nurse smuggled a golden retriever puppy under her camel wool coat up the elevator to the 10th floor of Baptist Medical Center, which was the oncology/hospice ward in those days. She plopped the pup on my dad’s bed and he was a happy little boy again for a while.
Shortly after that he lost the ability to talk and the memories aren’t so good, so I’ll stop here with a final thought.
It’s odd being several years older than your father.