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The Truth About Losing a Parent Who Was Also Your Hero

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Editor's Note

If you’ve lost a loved one to cancer, the following story might be triggering. Take care of yourself, and don’t forget you can reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.

August 28, 2019. One of the worst days. My father was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer. It had spread already to his liver, GI tract, lungs and lymph nodes. He started the second week in September with chemotherapy. My dad tried multiple chemotherapy treatments including oral chemotherapy. It would would work for some time then stop, and the growing would continue. August 17-21, 2020, my dad had his first treatment of radiation. August 26 was the last oral chemotherapy my dad ever had the chance to try.

August 27, 2020, my dad fell. It was my sixth day at my new job since I was laid off in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The company I work now has been family ran since the 1940’s and truly understands your family is always first, unlike my last job. My sister and I got to the ER where we found out more about my dad. He broke his left clavicle bone, fractured his pelvis in two places, broke his right hip and right femur then also had a slight brain bleed.

Friday, August 28, after my dad talked to me and my sister, he decided to go for surgery. He had a metal rod, screw and cement put in for his right hip and right femur. My sister and I both told my dad if he wanted to go for the surgery we’d support him, if he didn’t wanna go for it, we’d support him. We left the choice truly up to him. Not knowing if my dad would even make it through surgery, I saw him August 28 for what I thought would be the last time.

My dad was truly a fighter because he pulled through surgery with little blood loss. He didn’t even need oxygen during the surgery. Blood transfusions and oxygen was in the OR, God forbid my dad needed it. Instead he came out of surgery and the bad news got even worse. My dad’s cancer had gone to his bones. One week in the ICU.

The author's dad wearing a hat

Thursday, September 3, 2020 was the day my dad left the ICU and was transferred to a rehabilitation center. It was the last day he was ever coherent. His last words to me that day were, “Don’t worry. Whatever happens here I will always love you. I will love you. I will always always be with you.” Due to COVID-19, it was a pain to see my dad while he was in the rehabilitation center. Especially since my sister and I wanted to see him Sunday, September 27 for his big 65th birthday, but we didn’t get to. Even just through a window they wouldn’t let us. During my dad’s times at the rehabilitation center, it was bad. A short two hours after my dad got there he tried to get out of bed and fell. The worst part, I was on the phone with him right after it happened. I listened to the nurses come in and try to get him up. The screams I heard are now engraved in my memory. I didn’t think my dad was serious because he had been incoherent. I was wrong and now have to live with that knowing I didn’t believe my dad the one time he needed me to. Monday, September 28 came and my sister and I were allowed to see him. It was awful. All he kept saying was that he loved us. He looked even worse than he ever did during his chemotherapy. I saw him again Tuesday, September 29. I went by myself right after work and he didn’t know who I was. Nothing was said. He just slept.

Wednesday, September 30 at 8:27 a.m. my phone went off the hook. My uncle, my dad’s brother, kept calling and texting me. I knew it wasn’t for a good reason. I called him back from my job phone and that’s when I heard the most devastating words, “He’s gone, Amanda.”

I quickly found my boss and he knew without me saying anything. I drove home hysterical with my dad’s friend on the phone. I got home to see my in-laws and tell them. My husband then got home so we went and got my sister. We went and saw my dad one final time. That’s my other biggest regret, besides not believing him that he fell.

It was the worst thing I had ever and I mean ever seen in my life. I would never want anyone to see my dad like that. Heck, I know he wouldn’t want my sister, my husband or myself to see him like that. It was raw. It was awful. It was a nightmare. I had nightmares because that’s all I would see when I closed my eyes.My dad passed three days after his big 65th birthday. October 2, 2020 we held the wake for him right down the street from my house. October 3 we all said our final goodbye to my dad.

Here we are just shy of two weeks since my dad left me here all alone in this dark cruel world. I’m writing this on Sunday, October 11. Wednesday October 14 will make two dreadful weeks.

My dad was not just my dad. He was my savior. My back bone. My therapist. My coach. My inspiration. My hero. My heart. My world. My best friend.

My dad was a correctional officer for 20 years and split between two of the hardest jails here in New York City. My dad was loyal to the job. He did whatever needed to be done. He made many friends, friends who I contacted regarding his loss who came to support my sister and I during his wake. His friends that now have become a part of my family. As they all said, no one could ever say a bad thing about my dad because he was just a stand up all around great guy.

After my dad’s retirement from New York City corrections, he fought the court system by himself, divorcing my mother and gaining custody of me and my sister in 2003. Best day of my life! My dad took amazing care of us. He always made sure we had whatever we needed at any given moment. My dad loved us more than life itself and you can tell. Everyone could, including myself at the age of 11. There wasn’t a day that went by where I wasn’t grateful for my dad.

Later on in 2003, my dad got another job and started working at a center for developmentally disabled children. My dad worked there up until 2018 when he had back surgery and I pretty much told him it was time to retire and enjoy life. He listened after I had to keep yelling at him. It was the Irish in him that made him so stubborn and thick headed. Now I know where I got it from.

Then Friday July 26, 2019, just three short weeks after my grandma, my dad’s mom passed, we found out something was going on with my dad. He had a chest X-ray done because of a cough he had and they saw something on his lungs. He eventually had a PET scan done where then we found out about his cancer.

The day my dad was diagnosed, he asked the doctor what if he chose not to do chemotherapy. The doctor, who was truly wonderful, told my dad he’d have maybe six months to live. My dad outlasted that and made it 13 hard months. My dad hated doctors and it took a lot for him to trust them. His oncologist was more like another child or great friend to him than a doctor. My dad loved him just as much as he loved everyone in his life. The doctor gave him hope, but also would tell him we will try everything we can to keep it at bay, it won’t be cured but can hopefully be managed. My dad took that and ran with it until the end.

The moment my dad was diagnosed my heart was crushed. I looked into the paid family leave care act and was approved. I started taking off of work on Tuesdays and Thursdays for my dad’s chemotherapy. I would take off other days as well when my dad wanted me to. My dad didn’t get sick from chemo, just tired and would always sweat. I was there for every single appointment. Every time he needed something from the store. Every weekend for his grocery list so I could go food shopping. Getting him a prescription. Driving him back and forth to the doctors. Getting him McDonald’s or Dunkin’ Donuts during his chemo treatments. Cooking him meals on a daily basis to make sure there was something in case he was hungry. The cleaning, the laundry, everything. Anything my dad needed I am damn sure I got it for him. Even if that meant I’d have to go to the other side of the world, I’d do it all for my dad. And here I am today and I would do it all over again for my dad. I’d do anything in the world to have him coherent one more day so I could tell him everything.

It still hasn’t hit me that my dad’s gone. It hits me every time I got to call him, the million of times I’d call him a day if I wasn’t with him, if I just left him or I was going to see him. My dad lived a three minute drive from my house, so I was so close thankfully. It’s harder than I thought it would be without him. It’s the little things. The biggest thing to kill me is that I can’t have a child and watch them run around calling him grandpa.

You always hear stories from people about them loosing a grandparent or another close relative, but never the battle they go through when they lose a parent.

It’s a mental and physical battle within yourself. You fight every day to keep breathing, wishing you wouldn’t be so you could be with them. It’s knowing the holidays, their birthday and your birthday they won’t be here. It’s the pretending to be strong when all you wanna do is break down and cry, whether you at work, home, in the car or the store, just to break down. It’s thinking of the good memories and laughing but knowing that unfortunately their life was taken way too soon. It’s fighting with your own mind telling yourself they’d want you to be happy. It’s the back and forth, if I do this or that, what would they say. It’s telling everyone else who’s struggling that’s you’re hanging in because you don’t want them to worry about you. It’s not knowing how to care for yourself because all you ever cared about was your parent. It’s wondering if your parent is really looking over you and if they’re always with you. It’s remembering their last words. It’s listening to their old favorite band, imagining you were a kid with them and dancing around. It’s the not knowing how to live life when the person who helped you live is no longer here. It’s the wondering if they hear you when you talk to them at night. It’s the battle of anxiety, depression and completely mixed emotions. The random moments where you just lose it and snap at the ones closest to you. It’s wondering if they’re proud of you for how you organized their wake and funeral. It’s knowing you’re still here without them. It’s just brutal and horrific. It’s everything and so much more than you could ever imagine.

The only thing that has helped me in these two weeks is knowing my dad isn’t suffering. He’s up there in heaven with his parents, family, friends and everyone else who meant the world to him. Just to know my dad isn’t in pain, there’s no more cancer and that he’s free is helping. The only last thing helping me get through this is knowing I did everything I could for my dad until my hands were tied when he went into the rehabilitation center. There’s nothing else that will ever help. Nothing will ever help me get through this. Nothing will ever be able to pick up the pieces of my shattered heart and put it back together. Everyone says time will help but I don’t think that’s true at this point. As time goes on it’s longer that I have to be without my dad. Until the day I meet my dad again at heaven’s gates, that’s when I’ll be better. My dad will forever be in my heart and I pray always with me. I love you, Daddy.

Originally published: December 7, 2020
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