The Last Year
The last year: there is no way to make that sound less awful, less final. It was the last year of my father’s life and the last year I had a father. This is important to note because I view my life in two distinct parts, when I had a father and when I did not.
Despite the cancer diagnosis I still did not think of my father as sick. To me, he was still my strong athletic father. He was rising at five and reading several newspapers before most people stir. Surely this man would endure. There were visits to Dana-Farber in Boston and consults with doctors in Rhode Island. Our new normal began, chemotherapy and radiation were now on the calendar along with golf lessons and PTA meetings. Cancer became real.
Before long, the treatments would take their toll. Hair loss, vomiting and constant pain. I would sometimes drive him to his treatments and I would irritate him with my driving because of the nausea. He become short with me on several occasions. That was not him.
News inevitably spread of my father’s illness. I encountered pitiful looks almost daily and it made me retreat. It was my senior year of high school and I was withdrawn, I did not care about anything. I applied to a single college by early acceptance, was accepted and enrolled because I thought I should stay close to home. The rest of the year I was on autopilot. My memory from that time is painfully selective.
I turned eighteen in February of 1996, around that time my father started giving me a lot of seemingly random advice. He told me to make sure I did squats so that I wouldn’t have knee problems. He told me to never get mixed up in drugs especially heroin. He made me promise to never ride a moped. All solid advice, but to a slightly nerdy student, it somehow seemed a little unnecessary.
I realize now that he knew he was dying, and was trying to give me all the advice he could in the time he had left. In those last few months he grew sicker, but I never saw a hint that he felt defeated. There were setbacks, hospital stays and isolation rooms as the weeks went on. Still I did not see a man ready to leave this world. My father’s illness progressed, and as all too often occurs, nothing could contain or stop the cancer any longer.
My graduation day arrived but my father was not there. He was alive but could only watch my graduation on public access television from his bed. Those last few weeks following graduation were horrible. My beloved grandmother died. My father died almost two weeks later on July 8, 1996, the day before he would have turned fifty years old.