One never really understands what it means to lose a loved one until they actually go through the process themselves. The emotional rollercoaster we all know as life is now a speeding grocery cart being shoved from the top of the rockiest mountain. You will tumble with great force over and over until you skid to the very bottom face first. Bruised. Hurting. Angry. Confused. In a complete daze. Unaware of what just happened to you. Those feelings leave you numb to the chaos around you. The faces of the ones around you who used to have names are now just colorless emotions smeared on the walls surrounding you. The things you once enjoyed you can’t effing stand. So you float. You float for some time until finally reality sets in. It V-8’s you right in the face with enough force to leave a gash. It’s in that moment of awakening that your heart begins to bleed out. The one you loved so much is gone. Every regret you ever had, every memory you kept tucked away, every ounce of blame you could possibly drown yourself in, every emotion you could ever possibly feel fills you. Leaving you grasping for air until you succumb to its overwhelming force. All those paint smeared walls come crashing down around you. All the cuts you tried to keep hidden are now completely ripped open and exposed.
Asshole. Rough around the edges. Sassy. A pain in the ass. Temper.
Those are all phrases people would use to describe my dad. And as a matter of fact, he was an asshole. He did have a temper. He was certainly rough around the edges. But he could fix anything, after breaking it himself from trying to ‘fix it’ when it didn’t need fixing from the beginning, of course. But the man could repair anything with some duct tape, a hammer, a shoe string, a spatula, and a loaf of bread. It was more of an art form really.
He could BBQ like no other soul I have ever met. Mind you, when I say BBQ I mean go to the meat market at 10am on Saturday and fire up the grill around Noon and crack a good ol Busch Light… Yea, ‘good ol’ if you like the way ass water tastes, but to each their own… And tell story after story. Until it’s 5pm on Sunday and you’re starved and completely excited to finally get your OMM NOMMS NOMMS on, only to see the once plump chicken wings from the day before now all charred gristle and bone. DELICIOUS!
But really, he is one of the toughest people I have ever known. Inside and out. It wasn’t until I was older that I realized all the crazy rumors I heard when I was a weeee little tot, were actually memories. My Dad went through a lot. He grew up street smart. Not the street smarts of today’s youth.
You know, pants around the knee caps, Do yo chain hang low, Big Balla Shot Calla, 20 inch blades on the Impala, Makin it rain on these ho’s, kind of street smart. Like actually using some brain power and common sense to make it on this Globe.
We all make mistakes in life, and I know he made some decisions he wasn’t proud of, but he was a good man and he meant well.
When I got the call he was diagnosed with cancer, I thought my heart was going to end up on my desk. I tried to calm myself down and reason with myself logically. ‘It’s cancer. They can cure different types of cancers. There are treatments for these things. There might be something that could help him. It’s OK, just breathe.’
That’s at least what I think I was telling myself. Although I’m sure it was something more along the lines of, ‘It’s fucking cancer. WTF? You’d think with all the technology streaming from Apple to Andriod and with the intellectuals out there that can perform heart surgery from a computer monitor in a whole different country, they’d have a cure for all this bullshit by now. I’m gonna fucking Google this shit and see what they’re gonna do. Oh hell, might as well believe everything on the internet dummy. Breathe bitch, breathe. God dammit asshole, I said BREATHE!’
Now, re-read that in one breath.
After my so-called logical reasoning session was over and I could now have my own salt water pool and looked like a beaten raccoon, I busted out the Google machine on my search for never ending, always depressing, how in the world does Kidney Cancer relate to Single’s near me and Macy’s sales, knowledge on a subject I was completely ignorant to.
GOOGLE: Renal kidney cancer
ANSWER: Renal cell carcinoma is a type of kidney cancer that starts in the lining of very small tubes (tubules) in the kidney.
Causes – Symptoms – Tests – Treatment- Prognosis – Prevention
GOOGLE: Renal kidney cancer that has spread to the bones
ANSWER: Metastatic Renal Cell Carcinoma. The metastatic stage of the renal cell carcinoma occurs when the disease invades and spreads to other organs. It is most likely to spread to neighboring lymph nodes, the lungs, the liver, the bones, or the brain.
GOOGLE: Stages of kidney cancer
In stage I, the tumor is 7 centimeters or smaller and is found only in the kidney.
In stage II, the tumor is larger than 7 centimeters and is found only in the kidney.
– the tumor is any size and cancer is found only in the kidney and in 1 or more nearby lymph nodes;
– or cancer is found in the main blood vessels of the kidney or in the layer of fatty tissue around the kidney. Cancer may be found in 1 or more nearby lymph nodes.
In stage IV, cancer has spread:
– beyond the layer of fatty tissue around the kidney and may be found in the adrenal gland above the kidney with cancer, or in nearby lymph nodes; or
– to other organs, such as the lungs, liver, bones, or brain, and may have spread to lymph nodes.
GOOGLE: Life expectancy of someone with stage 4 renal kidney cancer
Stage 1: 81 percent
Stage 2: 74 percent
Stage 3: 53 percent
Stage 4: 8 percent
And that is where my Dad’s fight with cancer began…
The next few months consisted of multiple surgeries… Removing the infected kidney. Reinforcing the hip bones because the cancer had eaten through them and they were no longer stable. Learning how to walk again. CAT scans. Lots of blood work. Doctor visits. Doctor visits. Hospital visits. Doctor visits. Chemo. Radiation.
I’d lay in bed with him or just sit and listen to him gab away and hop from story to story. We talked about all the trouble he got into when he was younger. The sweet rides he used to own. The folks he ‘bummed around with’. How to build a pretty handy rail off the side of his bed so he could sit up easier and move around without needing so much help. 30 different ways to change a light bulb. How ‘nobody in this house understands me and I can’t find peace and quiet’. Even when exhausted, he always had something to say about something. But no matter what it was, it always made me smile. He was still feisty and as obnoxious as ever.
Things continued to change, physically, mentally, and emotionally over those few months. He’d have a great day followed by a shit hole week. Followed by a wonderful few days and then an overwhelming and intense few hours. This infamous life rollercoaster was being a huge dick.
He was losing weight and strength with every surgery and every treatment and with every day. His face began to lose the shape we all had known forever. The skin covering his body began to droop. His once bright, eager, and intense eyes began to fade.
I told him how much I loved him before I’d leave for the night or hang up the phone after every conversation. I always held it together, no matter how hard and stayed positive hoping it would help influence him to do the same. And of course, he stayed positive to me in return telling me he wasn’t done here yet. Day after day I reminded him to be strong and just hang in there. He told me he was a ‘fixer’ and that’s just what he did. If something needed a fixin, he’d figure it out. And he wasn’t ready to give up yet. It never failed immediately following our good-bye’s, my eyes would swell like a water balloon left suctioned to a running spicket. I wanted so much to believe it wasn’t real and he really was going to be the fixer I always knew.
I remember talking to him on the phone while I was at work. I could hear a sense of sadness/fear/uncertainty in his voice. He got quiet and finally said ‘Kayt, I need you to call Justin. It’s going to happen soon baby. I can feel it.’ Every single part of my body went numb. It felt like I was being stabbed with thousands and thousands of sharp, scalding hot, rusted out needles all over my body. I choked down my sobs and of course, told him I would, told him I loved him, and to keep fighting. He replied with, ‘Don’t cry hunny, it’ll be OK.’
Hanging up the phone was one of the hardest things I ever had to do. You honestly feel as if that will be the last time you’ll ever hear their voice, his voice. The one thing I never thought I’d hear myself say I’d miss about this man. His loud, booming voice. Bellowing down the hall telling you to get your ass in there and then again repeated, with more force, if you weren’t there within about 15 seconds. It’s one of those things I miss the most.
That was on Wednesday. Thursday morning I went into work before the rooster crowed so I could leave early and go spend some time with him at the hospital. He was talkative and surprisingly calm for just having liters of fluid removed from his lungs. But that was just who he was… chatty Cathy. Always something to say about something.
After some time, we were informed of his updated status. It went from a few months, to a few weeks, to now just only a few days. My brain could not wrap itself around how I just lost at least 90 days with my father in a matter of hours. How do you prepare yourself to say good-bye to someone you love so much in such a short amount of time. An unknown amount of time at that. Something you thought you had been preparing for for the last 6 months.
I didn’t know what to say or how to say it. I didn’t really care. All I wanted was to be there with him and for him. Nothing else seemed to matter at this point. All that so called preparation didn’t mean squat. There is NOTHING that can prepare you for the moment when you’re told you only have a few hours to spend with your daddy before he is taken from this place. Away from you permanently. Who is going to walk you down the aisle at your already planned, but not even engaged yet wedding. Who are your babies going to call Grandpa. Who’s going to tell your babies how much of a pain in the ass Mommy was when she was younger and feed them a secret stash of Milk Duds before sending them home on a sugar high. No more Happy Birthday’s. Merry Christmas’s. Who am I supposed to call when I need to know if I should use a coupling, a valve, or an adapter on my leaky pipes in the basement. Who am I supposed to call to remind me of ground and hot wires and what happens if I cross the blue and red wire with the yellow and green wire and then the hot pink with the neon purple and the black with the orange.
He was leaving me soon. Too soon…
When you’re told you’re dying, I don’t think it really sets in until it’s about to happen. Especially at 53 years old. You have a whole life behind you and ahead of you that you’re living for. People you’re living for. Although I knew the whole time that his death was inevitable, I still didn’t believe it. I just spent time with him and talked to him every day. I wanted no regrets and it was important to me for him to know he wasn’t alone and no matter what decisions he had made in the past, I loved him dearly and would always be there if he needed me. My pain and confusion meant nothing, as long as he was comfortable and knew he was loved. I held his hand for hours Thursday. We talked and just hung out. He knew something was happening to him, you could see it in his eyes. Everything was changing. But I didn’t expect it to change so quickly. And unfortunately, I don’t think he did either.
Friday morning came and I got a phone call from him at 915. I was at work, planning on leaving shortly to go back to the hospital and spend as much time with him as I could. His voice was softer. But very unusual. It shuttered and he stammered. ‘Kayt, it’s Dad. I love you baby. I want you to know. I love you. I love you hunny. Kayt, I love you.’ He just kept repeating it over and over and over.
The cancer had officially made itself known and was taking complete control over his body. His ammonia levels were rising because what was left of his one kidney couldn’t process the inner workings fast enough. When that happens, toxins are released into your blood. Everything begins to shut down and your brain is taken over. You lose speech, motor skills, comprehension, and eventually it results in organ failure.
In that moment, I forgot how to breathe.
His condition worsened over the period of a few hours. A man of many words was left with a ‘What’s up?’. He was fading quickly. His arrangements had yet to be made because it all happened so suddenly. One of the hardest things I’m sure I’ll ever do in my life, was looking my dad in the face and trying to explain to him and ask him where he wanted to be buried because he looked at me and said, ‘Kayt, I don’t understand’ when being asked what his wishes were. Taking his hand in hopes to ease his confusion, I spoke clearly and slowly. He asked a few questions trying to comprehend my words while his body fought him. We arrived on a decision. He wanted to be as close to his mom, my grandma, as possible. My heart was in pieces.
When toxins are released into your body, you are no longer the same person. Unfortunately with this, and that my dad was a fighter and a fixer, he would have episodes of anger and panic. They don’t understand what’s going on inside of them or around them. He wasn’t ready to give in to death. It got worse as the night went on and it was extremely painful to see him hurt so much and be so confused.
He was unable to speak unless it was in one of the panic attacks. But he kept reaching out to me to hold my hand. When we’d let go, it wasn’t long until he reached for it again. He knew I was with him, no matter what state of mind he was in. I didn’t want to ever let go.
During one of the last episodes, he was very distraught. He was in a very intense state of panic. The nurses were trying to get him in bed to lie down so he could rest. It was after midnight and he had been in his chair for the entire day. I can’t even begin to explain to you the fear and panic in his eyes and voice as I stood there and felt completely helpless. He kept yelling, ‘why are you hurting me, why are you letting them hurt me!’
After what felt like hours, but was only a couple minutes, had passed, they let him sit up on the edge of the bed.
I knelt on the floor in front of him to try to soothe his pain. He couldn’t speak and could barely hold himself up, but he held onto my hand with everything he had. I’d squeeze his and he’d attempt to do the same with what strength he had left. I remember telling him I wasn’t going to hurt him or let anyone hurt him and I was right there with him. I told him I just wanted him to relax a little and Justin and his brother would be in town late that night and to just hold on for as long as he could.
I told him I was going to have him side-step like he learned at home and slide up the bed. I asked if he understood and he squeezed my hand. I just kept telling him over and over I was there and I wouldn’t let anyone hurt him. I told him I loved him so much and he tried to mouth it in return. Despite what the doctors said about not being able to comprehend anything while in this state of mind, I do not believe that to be true. He knew exactly who I was, what I was saying, and that I was holding his hand. He was with me in every way they said he wouldn’t be able to be. Shortly after, he was calm and in bed.
That was the last time I saw my dad. I left after 1am sometime to head home and get some sleep and he passed at 7am that morning. January 4th, 2014.
I still see his face, his fear filled eyes embedded in my brain, hear his voice, and remember those last few days and few hours like they just happened. Those moments have torn at me, broken me down, and left open wounds on my heart, but I do not regret any of it. I was there for him when he needed me. I got to spend the last few hours with this man before he was taken. He knew he was loved and he knew loved him dearly. In those moments, I have no regrets.
Although the shopping cart that sent me soring down the mountain is all bent to hell, it surprisingly enough still has all four wheels intact. It wobbles and makes quite the racket, but I’m sure one day, with a little TLC and some WD40, it’ll regain its sturdiness. The faces of the people around me have started to take shape again. There are still manly colorless days and nights surrounding me, engulfing me, but it’s times like those that you add your own dash of color and make them beautiful again. Pain doesn’t just stop. It demands to be felt. And time doesn’t heal your wounds. You just learn to paint your nights with stars and keep your memories in your heart. Once they’re there, you’ll never be alone.