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Remembering My Father (My Superman) a Year After Losing Him to Cancer

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It has been a year since I made the trip back to Maine upon learning the extent of your prognosis.

Just three weeks prior, I sat across the table from you at one of my favorite restaurants in town, celebrating my 33rd birthday. We were amongst family.

You were visibly frail then — more so than I’d remembered you being in quite some time. Not since your last bout with cancer, perhaps? One of the many battles you defeated mightily.

I suppose I had become accustomed to seeing you overcome so much. I simply expected that this time would be no different. That you were ill, and would recover, like you always had before.

You were Superman to me, even beyond my childhood years.

I held it together driving to visit you in the hospital. Riding up the elevator to your floor, I heard your voice trailing through the hallway as I approached your door.

I peeked in, only to immediately retreat from view, biting my lower lip, trying desperately to hold back tears and failing miserably. How had things deteriorated so quickly in just a few weeks time? I held my breath upon entering your room, a smile plastered on my face amidst the pain.

“Hi baby!” You rejoiced. Your arms outstretched, hair combed meticulously and beautiful big green eyes magnified by your sunken cheeks.

We sat together embracing.

I had so much I wanted to tell you, but all I could muster was, “I love you so much,” echoing through our tears.

“I know you do, baby.”

“I love you, too. I know I wasn’t a perfect dad.” Your voice cracked as you attempted to continue.

“You were the best dad,” I stammered reassuringly.

You talked about how challenging getting through your dialysis had been lately. How you felt pressured by some within your hospital team to make a decision on whether to continue or not with treatment.

You were adamant you wanted to try one more time. To see if you could handle it so you could hang on a little longer.

A doctor and social worker entered the room. They began running through your options once again. They reinforced what we all knew already: you were terminal and the dialysis was only prolonging your pain. The inevitable.

They explained what stopping dialysis would entail. You would be able to go home and spend the time you had left with family. Your pain would be managed. They said you would simply become more tired until you’d eventually go peacefully in your sleep.

You nodded silently in agreement.

“Doesn’t that sound like a good plan?” your doctor asked.

“Well, I guess so,” you responded, uncertainty permeating your voice.

Your brain was foggy from the medication and from the cancer infiltrating your body.

“Good!” he answered. “We’ll start getting the paperwork in motion.”

“Wait a minute,” I interjected. I looked over and met your gaze. “Is that what you want to do?”

“Well, I really wanted to try the dialysis one more time.”

Your doctor once again explained what this would mean for you, and expressed it was time to make a clear decision without wavering.

“It’s not an easy decision to make,” I countered. Anger dripped from every syllable.

“I understand,” he said softly, once again shifting his attention back to you. “We will plan to have your dialysis tomorrow morning, as scheduled, and then go from there.”

I knew he was right. And they were, in fact, pushing you towards a decision that would ease your suffering. But by God, it was your decision to make. You had earned the right to be in charge of your own fate at this point.

A few moments of silence lingered following their exit. I sat shaking a bit, trying to compose my anger, sadness and heartbreak. I looked up to find you staring back at me, a calm smile upon your face.

“That right there,” you remarked. “You stepping in when I needed you to, being strong. You reminded me so much of your mom.”

The following day mom texted to let us know you were coming home. You withstood your final dialysis treatment until your body and mind said, “No more.”

You said “stop” on your terms, and spent your final days teaching us all what it truly means to be brave.

You beat cancer twice, and your life — well, it was a fight in so many ways. But you were Superman until the end, showing an inordinate amount of courage in letting go.

Today, on my way back from running errands, my mind wandered back to these memories.

It is so often the case that everything and nothing reminds me of you. I’m grateful for these reminders, for the memories and for the love.

You were not a perfect person… a perfect dad. But your love is what set you apart. Because of you, I will carry on this legacy with my own children.


Ellie Fadden father gravestone

Thank you, my Superman.

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Thinkstock photo by Choreograph

Originally published: August 29, 2017
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