Ten Years Ago, Age 58 Part I

Ten years ago on Sunday, April 8th, 2001 my Father lost his battle with bladder cancer. He was 58 years old. I was 26.

Looking back on 10 years, I can’t believe how young I was. I don’t think I grew-up until I had Lex, but that is another post entirely. Rather 10 years ago, my brothers and I found ourselves watching a Fedex Tracking number online waiting for the package to arrive which held our airline passes to take us to possibly see our Father for the last time.

Shortly after our Father moved to California the previous year, he had been diagnosed with Bladder Cancer. This move to California was a result of my parents finally deciding that a separation and divorce was better than the continuous fighting. The move cross country, and I’m sad to say his diagnosis helped their relationship. My Mother who should be hired by patients to talk to doctors and ask questions for them, guided my Father through his doctor appointments from 3,000 miles away. When surgery was the recommendation of his doctors, he asked that they hold off on signing the completed divorce papers. He was concerned that if anything were to happen to him that we, his children, would have to deal with “things”. My Mother agreed and he had his surgery. That was at the end of 2000.

In early 2001, it was discovered when he returned to the doctors regarding a limp he had developed that a Radiologist miss read an x-ray. The cancer had metastasized to the bone. It was eating him from the inside. The cancer had spread to one of his femurs and had eaten the bone. Explained to us simply, he had been walking around on the equivalent of a broken leg. This was a man who was currently working as a Automotive Sales Associate for Sears in Sacramento, about a forty-five minute commute to the home he shared with my Uncle Jerry and cousin Paul in Vacaville, California. He had been working up until his hospitalization in February 2001, standing and waiting on customers for some 8 hours a day.

When he was hospitalized we were 3,000 miles away, with very little chance of getting there before he had to be placed on a medical ventilator. My Uncle Jerry who worked for United Airlines at the time, sent us 3 “companion passes”, vouchers for us to fly cross country at a discounted employee rate. The vouchers meant we could fly standby on any flight with room. We were planning on flying out at 7AM the next morning out of Logan, if the passes arrived. While waiting and making arrangements as a family we had several discussion. The most important was what would happen if we got there and he was on a ventilator.

My Mother, though legally still married to my Father felt she could not make hard decisions for my Father or family. Because of her estrangement, she felt she would come under attack from my Father’s family for her action or decisions. I did not disagree with her regarding this. Her strong friendship with my Uncle had deteriorated with my parents decision for divorce and some bitter feelings regarding his own divorce were transitioned to my Mother. The rest of my Father’s family, who for the most part didn’t have much contact with us but kept in touch with my Father (a few cousins, but not many) had their own opinions on the subject and I will honestly say I felt pushed out as his own child. On a visit the previous year, after my Father had undergone his Chemotherapy treatments, he visited. They took him to a Red Sox Game and insisted he stay with them on the Cape away from us. Kevin and Sean joined them at that game, but were seated in the bleacher seats while my Father and cousins sat behind home-plate. I knew myself that “the Family” as a whole would be something that we would have to deal with and with the exception of my Uncle Jerry I didn’t look forward to it at all.

This meant that my brothers and I would have to be the decision makers as his closest kin. Kevin, who was 17 at the time was not of legal age to make such decisions and Sean who was 20 at the time wasn’t ready for them. A surreal feeling overtook our conversations that day. The doctors were ready to place him on a ventilator, if it meant we would have a chance to say good-bye to him. However this meant that we would have to authorize them to take him off, in Hollywood terms “pull the plug”. At one point Sean turned to me, and said that I would have to do it. Being the oldest I wasn’t surprised that it would fall to me, but the thought of hearing those words come back at me years later in a possible fight between Sean and I was not something I wanted hanging over my head. I would take my responsibility, but I didn’t want to hear it later in a fit of anger. I pointed out that I would do what was best for our Father, but being logical it wasn’t something we needed to think about until the situation presented itself. My Mother wanted me to make sure I had a talk with my Father when I got there, to find out what he wanted. The list of things I didn’t want to deal with was getting longer.

With the Fedex package carrying our vouchers was lost, my Uncle jumped on the red-eye with another set of vouchers. He stepped off his flight, only to step on another flight with his two nephews and niece to fly back to California. My brothers and I were unprepared with backpacks containing a few changes of clothes and care packages given to us each by my friend Blue, which held magazines (each selected for our individual interests), candy and things to keep us occupied on the flight. I still have the American Cinematographer magazine that was in the package. On arriving in California, Jerry rented us a car, which I would drive back and forth from Vacaville to Sacramento during our visit.

When we walked into that hospital room in Kaiser Peranente Sacramento Medical Center, I think we were all in a little shock. Us seeing my Father’s deteriorating condition and for him seeing his three children before him. I remember his lips being chapped and his mouth terribly dry. It seemed that all of him was drying out. His skin, his lips, his mouth. I made a mental note to pick up some ChapStick , because that would fix everything right? It’s amazing the little things you fixate on. I don’t remember what we talked about and I don’t know my brother’s impressions of that day, we have never talked about it. I do remember later talking with the doctors, though I couldn’t tell you what was said except they didn’t think he would make the week. They were wrong.

He was moved to a different room the next day. I remember becoming sick with a cold. Often our afternoons were Kevin and I sitting in the room with him, with Sean coming and going. Sean had a terrible time seeing him that way, which made me think more of my Father. When Sean was younger, he spent some time in the hospital and had surgery to help with his Gastrointestinal issues. I remember my visits to Children’s Hospital Boston, Sean in bed and my Father hovering at the door. He would wander off and give blood or get a paper, anything not to be in that room. This was Sean now, becoming my Dad. I thought with all Sean’s time in the hospital, he of the three of us would deal with this the best but it was too hard to watch. Later when my Father returned home to Massachusetts, Sean didn’t know how to talk to him he would say things, I think, out of nervousness to our Dad like “I know you’re dying”. This would enrage my Father and he would tell Sean he wasn’t. I think of all three of us, Sean couldn’t find it in himself to watch the man who took him the the Freedom Trail, The Kennedy Library and the Battle at Lexington and Concord fall apart like this. He could only take it in small controlled intervals.

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~ by Cute Fan Girl on April 1, 2011.

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