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Smile

I couldn’t breathe properly for months. Life moved quickly until September, after that it almost stopped all together. May was the month of my Aunt Pat’s death. In June, we found out that Skip had cancer. He of all people deserved to live his life the way it was intended, live it to the fullest. He spent most of his adult life caring for his wife, Pat, who had Multiple Sclerosis and was confined to a wheelchair for much of her life. Even though it was inevitable that the end of his life was near, he fought until the end and with a smile on his face the whole time.

“Skip has cancer. The Melanoma spread. It’s everywhere now,” my mother told us on the way to the O’Hare airport. I was speechless. I had no one to talk to; no “real” friends, only people to hang out with. I didn’t say anything for a few moments.

“But he’ll be ok, right?” I inquired. Now it was my mom’s turn for silence. She didn’t say anything back to me. I was scared.

Once back in Denver, we visited Skip. He was still smiling, like he always was. He said the pain wasn’t that bad, but I think he was lying. You can’t have an invasive disease eating away at your body and be in complete comfort. We ate dinner with him often and family members flew in from across the country to stay for weeks at a time. I was glad that family was around for his last months. His son, Shane, had already moved to Denver when his mom’s disease had gotten worse. It was nice having family around, but for the wrong reason.

Whenever we visited him, I felt like crying. Even though I always wanted to cry out in distress, I knew that it was important to smile and stay positive, despite the inevitable. I saw my cousins more often than we had ever seen each other in our whole lives. We joked around, but nothing was sincere. Everyone was afraid to cry, so instead we would joke and laugh nervously with watery eyes. I missed true happiness. Even when I wasn’t around him, I still faked a smile and only cried at night by the cover of darkness. When I was with my friends, I pretended to be happy. Even around my family, my true emotions were hidden behind a veil. Nothing was genuine. I learned to be quite the actress.
In September, shortly before my birthday, Skip was moved to Collier Hospice Care. All of our family members were rushing to catch a flight in and say their parting words. Skip was in his last few days. The cancer was hungry, eating away at his every last bit of strength. But until the last day, he had the strength to smile. He was in pain, but he was surrounded by family and was showered with love until the very end. Love is enough. He took his last breath as he was reaching out to a life that is so much better than anything he could have experienced here on this earth.

I don’t remember his last words to me, but to me, that doesn’t matter. The words I took away from the life that he lived were far more important than anything he could have ever spoken to me. Skip taught me to smile through it all; even on your last days, even through the pain.



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