The summer my dad died was a slow and steady march towards the end. I had last seen him in July and when we came back six weeks later his thin, gaunt appearance was so startling to me that any attempt to hide my reaction was surely in vain.
By then he was under the care of hospice which was a very new thing back then. A couple of times a week a nurse would come to the house, and no kidding, this one would sit in her car parked on the curb and have a cigarette before she came in.
Mom, who was desperate to make Dad comfortable, would look out the front window, shake her head and say, "She's the one who's going to need hospice pretty soon if she keeps that up."
The last time she came she gave Dad a sponge bath and when she was done declared, "You're all good now. Eat, drink and be merry."
He barely ate. He barely drank. There was no merry to be had.
When his pain became unmanageable at home he got admitted to the hospital. He was only there a few days when we got the call at 2:30 a.m. that he had died. Mom and my brother, Jim, and his wife, Nancy, had been there all night and were with him when he passed away. Jim called the other five of us and we all drove to the hospital with our spouses to be together with him one last time.
The days that followed were a blur of abundant love and overwhelming sadness.
When some time had passed, I asked Jim what it was like at the end and he said, "Oh, you wouldn't have wanted to be there, Kath. He fought until his very last breath."
And when I heard that I was so angry at my dad. The man who fiercely loved his God and believed in a better life after this one put up a fight and did not go gentle into the night.
Fought against what, Dad? That's not how it was supposed to be.
And I stayed mad about that for a long time.
Twenty three years have passed since then, and long ago I had a change of heart about those thoughts that swirled over and over in my head about my plan for how Dad should have left this earth. The "I know what I would do" of my more youthful years has lost its luster, replaced by a more frequent and pensive "I don't know."
I don't know what my final moments will be like but it is human nature to hold onto life.
I don't know if I'll surrender or be a fighter like Dad.
I don't know if my children will be mad at me if I don't depart on their terms.
I don't know........
My father would not have wanted any of us to stay angry about the most unheard of cancer out there, his misfortune in getting it, or the way in which his story ended early. He was a man that was always grateful for the life he had been given and that has remained the beacon in my own life.
My brother and I never had another conversation about that night again.
I know that the ending wasn't the end............