18 years ago today, my dad died. He had been sick for two years with leukemia, in and out of hospital (both in town and two hours away at the special cancer hospital), had chemotherapy, a bone marrow transplant...but after such a long illness, his body just couldn't handle any more. He was almost exactly three months shy of his 50th birthday.
Because I was so young when he was sick and when he died, I blocked out a lot of those scary memories. We spent a lot of time in hospitals. There was one time when he was in the cancer hospital for three whole months. Mum and I were only able to visit him on weekends, and we had to depend on getting rides or taking the bus because we couldn't drive there. I have a few random memories of those two years, but it makes me sad that I basically lost that time because my mind blocked it all out. Self preservation, I guess? He was so sick...he lost a lot of weight, lost his hair, lost his sense of taste and smell...kids weren't generally allowed on the cancer floor (hello walking germ pits), but I was. The only time I wasn't allowed to visit him was after his bone marrow transplant when he was in ICU. I got to see him through the window though.
|He hated having his picture taken - he preferred to be behind the camera. He often looked angry in pictures, except for pictures with me or Jamie or Mum. In most of the pictures with me, he was looking at me rather than directly at the camera.|
I've forgotten a lot of things, but I remember that morning 18 years ago. My aunt and uncle came from the east coast to be there. They took turns staying with me in the visitor's lounge while I slept. I remember them being there when Mum woke me up at 4:30 in the morning to tell me Daddy was gone. I remember wanting to go to his room but they wouldn't let me. I remember bits and pieces of the long drive home. I remember my aunts and uncles showing up, a lot of whom I'd never met before. My dad was the youngest of 16 kids (although some of them had passed away by that point) and they all lived on the east coast, so I'd only met a handful of them before. It was weird having all those strangers in my house, but knowing they weren't really strangers, they were family I'd never met before.
It's weird to think that I've lived almost 2/3 of my life without him - I've lived longer without him than I lived with him.
I've lost quite a few loved ones, but the biggest losses in my life were my dad and my Grama. There are a couple of ironic things about their deaths:
*My dad was 3 months shy of his 50th birthday when he died, and my Grama was 3 months shy of her 100th birthday when she died, making her twice the age he was when he died.
*When my Grama was in the hospital before she died (and when she died), she was in the last room my dad had in the local hospital before he died. He didn't die there, he was sent back to the cancer hospital and that's where he died.
If you've read my novel Blue Sky Days, you'll see some of the similarities. Nicholas was diagnosed with leukemia and had to go to a cancer hospital an hour away. I have a scene where Emma walks in and the nurse is shaving his head - that's one clear memory I have from when my dad was in the hospital, so I worked it in. The room Nicholas was in was the same room number my dad and Grama were in. I worked in other little things, like Emma's dad's name was Paul, and that was my dad's middle name. There were other things, too. Writing the book was cathartic - I poured my heart and soul and guts into it, bled all over the pages and let the blood mix with the tears, the memories I had, and the ones I'd lost. I gave Nicholas the happy ending that my dad didn't get. I think he would have liked that.