My husband and I moved in with my folks on Sept. 8, 2017. I remember this day specifically because we drove ALL day to make it to Colorado to celebrate my dad’s birthday. Looking back, I am so happy we did that. I think it might have been my dad’s last.
My dad has a condition called Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis. It is a terminal disease meaning there is no cure. It is a progressive hardening/scarring of the lungs. As the lung tissue continues to thicken, his lungs no longer properly move oxygen into the bloodstream, and as a result, his brain and other organs don’t get the oxygen they need. Because of this, my dad uses a portable oxygen tank 24/7. The doctors don't know the cause of this disease, but they have told us that this disease will eventually kill him.
My mom told me of my dad’s condition in June earlier this year, but I truly did not understand the severity of it. I chocked it up to him being 79 years old. I didn’t think he would only have months to live. My mom had tried to talk to me about the severity of my dad’s condition, but as soon as she mentioned the word “dying” I shut down and shut her out. I refused to talk or even think about my dad dying.
Andrew and I were going to get married on September 17th, and I knew that I would need to take time off of work for the wedding prep and our honeymoon that we were taking shortly after. Andrew and I made the decision to move home to “help out” still not really understanding what was truly going on with my dad. We hadn’t seen it face-to-face.
On Sept. 17th, my dad was able to walk me down the aisle, but he was not well enough to partake in our father-daughter dance. I tried not to think much of it. After my husband and I got married, we went on our honeymoon shortly afterwards. We made it back to Colorado for my mom’s hip replacement surgery early October, and on Oct. 12th, my dad had a heart attack. We spent an entire week eating, sleeping, working, living in ICU. My dad’s first night there was the scariest night of my life. When my mom asked the doctor if she could send us home for the night, he said, “absolutely not”—that my dad wasn’t stable. My dad had a lot of fluid in his lungs and was on 55 liters of oxygen—his oxygen concentrator he uses at home is usually set to 3 liters to give you reference of how bad off he was. He was as white as a sheet and was coughing up blood. He looked so helpless. I prayed so hard that God would give me another hour, another day with my dad. I wasn’t ready to lose him.
His condition slowly improved and by day 5 in ICU, he was back to his sarcastic, joking self. I was relieved. Such a crazy, emotional roller coaster—from celebrating getting married to relaxing on our honeymoon to being so scared for my dad to being relieved he was getting better to finally realizing how serious his lung condition was to knowing and accepting that it would slowly get worse and eventually kill him. How does anyone accept something like that? Knowing that a loved one is going to die and knowing that there is absolutely nothing you can do about it? There is no greater pain (besides actually losing a loved one) than seeing a loved one suffer and knowing you can’t do anything to help them.
Since moving home, I have spent every day with my dad whether we talk for hours or sit in silence. Whether we are shaking our heads and laughing at the stupidity on Family Feud or we are (he is) watching football (so boring to me!), we just spend time together. I remind myself to NEVER take him or his time for granted. I read a quote once: “Love your parents. We are so busy growing up that we often forget they are also growing old.”
My dad raised me. He was the one who took me to school. He was the one who picked me up from school. He was the one who took me to tennis practice. He was the one who traveled with me to my tennis tournaments. He was the one you’d answer to if you hurt my feelings or were mean to me.
I have this very specific memory when I was in elementary school. My dad would take me to Popeye’s every morning before school for breakfast. I would always get a sausage biscuit with a hash brown and an orange juice. When he’d pick me up from school, he would take me to this truck stop that had an ice cream parlor in it. I used to get a double scoop of Butter Pecan ice cream. After a while my mom started to notice that I was getting pretty chubby. My mom told me later she couldn’t figure out why I was gaining weight. Well, her questions have now been answered.
My mom was in school and working when I was growing up. At one point, we were trying to sell our house, but my parents had already bought another house nearly two hours away. My mom stayed behind to work and try to sell our old house, and my dad and I were living in the new house so I could start school.
I’ve lived life without my husband, my cat, my friends, even my mom, but it feels like I have never been without my dad. How do I even do life without him? The thought brings me to tears. I miss him already, and he isn’t even gone.
There was a period of time in my life when I didn’t know how to communicate with my dad. The older I got, the harder it was to talk to him. I realize now that is because we are so alike—we are both stubborn; we both can talk to anyone about anything for hours (even if they aren't talking back); we are both sometimes cynical, and; we are both headstrong. I remember thinking my dad was too difficult, and I didn’t want to make an effort. Now I wish more than anything I could go back.
I have watched my dad get better and then get worse. He would have good days and then he would have bad days, but then he would go back to having good days. I would feel relief and naively think to myself that he was going to beat this disease and miraculously get better. I didn't understand how he could he be so sick when, some days, he was so happy—he seemed liked himself. We've gotten to the point now where he just has bad days. I can tell he is suffering. He is in pain. His memory has gotten worse. He has almost completely lost his appetite. He is too weak to walk to the bathroom by himself.
The moral of this story is that your family comes FIRST. Your work is just that—your work. You will never be able to replace your family or get more time with them. Make the time. As hard as it is to watch a loved one suffer, they will know that you are there for them, supporting them, comforting them, laughing with them. I will never regret quitting my job and leaving my life in California to take care of my dad.