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Life is More Than Just Living
“Did they say it was cancer?” His eyes opened groggily as his voice trembled. The colonoscopy had knocked him out cold, but not enough to muffle the dreaded six-letter word. “Yes.” That was all she could muster up as she scanned his weary face. Her mind was whirling with endless questions. How will we tell the kids? How are we going to fight this? Can we afford the hospital bills? What are we going to do? My mom held his hand as my dad drifted back to sleep.
A half hour later, my dad awakened and the doctor entered the room. He told my parents, “We will have to send out some tissue to be tested to be sure it is cancer, but I have little doubt that it’s not.” My dad kept thinking, how could this be happening? I have two little girls to take care of. “I’m sorry it has come down to this,” the doctor remarked. “Go home and get some rest.” My parents walked lifelessly out into the frigid, December air. They had a long road ahead of them.
Days later the tests came back positive. It was now time for a CAT scan to see if the cancer had spread. My dad went to the hospital and doctors prodded, poked and pinched him. Scans, measurements and samples were taken and my dad was on his way. This was only the beginning of women with clipboards and men in lab coats.
Christmas time finally rolled around. Being the typical six year old that I was, I had been waiting for it all year long. The tree was lit, snow was on the ground and beautiful lights were on every corner. The most magical time of year, right? Wrong. The phone rang on Christmas Eve, giving the worst possible gift imaginable. It was not even wrapped.
“Mr. Glueck,” the voice on the other end of the phone said, “the tests have come back. The cancer in the colon has spread to your liver and lungs, making this a stage four cancer. We will start chemo as soon as possible, but enjoy the holidays and we will schedule you next week. I’m terribly sorry. Have a Merry Christmas.” He hung up the phone, hands shaking. I guess it’s time to tell the girls.
Christmas passed and it was one of the best yet. It exceeded all expectations and was filled with lots of laughter and love. Unfortunately, the laughter was put to an end when my parents sat my sister and me down on the couch one day. My dad looked at us with determination and strength, and slowly said, “I have cancer. But I’m going to be okay. The doctors are going to help me.” What would in most cases be quite the devastating news, did not even faze me. In my six year old little brain I knew Daddy was just sick and he would get better. Boy, was I wrong.
Days, weeks and months passed. Dad was undergoing chemotherapy and I was still undergoing my normal routine. I did not seem him as often as I was used to, but I knew the doctors were helping him and this was just temporary. He began to lost weight and even more hair. Yet, he was still my dad; I hardly noticed.
Nearly a year after the diagnosis, he was scheduled for surgery at the end of October. His body apparently did not want to wait that long when it surprised him with a blood clot in his leg a week prior to the operation. Up until this point, this tragic occurrence in my life had not taken a toll on me. However, I now finally began to notice changes and my life quickly became strange. It was rare that I would stay at my own house and sleep in my own bed. I would sometimes stay with my grandparents, and other times family friends. I would go to school as normal, go home, go to the hospital with my mom, but leave with someone else. It was odd, but I never doubted my dad when he looked me in the eyes and said, “It’s going to be okay.” I had relied on him my entire life for everything. Why would I turn on him now?
The hospital visits never failed to leave me with mixed emotions. It thrilled me to see my dad. I missed him so much throughout each day, visiting him filled an elephant-sized void in my heart. On the other hand, I had never felt so scared. The walls were a dreadfully dull white, the exact opposite of anything remotely close to cheerful. Every floor and room was freezing. Plus, I had never seen my dad look so weak. There were dozens of tubes going in and out of his frail body along with constant, obnoxious noises from life-dependent machines. Hospitals are like the lottery; you just cannot win.
My dad’s unexpected blood clot caused him to be hospitalized for Halloween, his favorite holiday. I still dressed up, still went trick-or-treating, and still got candy. But this Halloween was like a birthday party without a cake?incomplete. My favorite aunt came over, helped me get dressed, and even painted my face green to give my witch-like appearance the full effect. As must as I enjoyed her company, all of her efforts could not make the pain of my dad’s absence easier. He always made Halloween more than just collecting candy, he set up haunted trails, he put countless decorations about the house, and he, himself, dressed up each year. His annual enthusiasm for the day became a family tradition. But sometimes, even traditions are broken.
Roughly two weeks later, the day I thought would never come came. It was a crisp November morning and my sister and I were at our grandparents’ house. We were spending the day with Grandma while Grandpa was at the hospital with Mom. Nothing was out of the ordinary until the front door opened. My mom and my grandpa walked in, their eyes bright red and puffy. We gathered in the family room as my young mind became more and more confused by the second. “The doctors couldn’t help Daddy anymore. He’s no longer with us, but he’s in a better place without pain.” My mom struggled to get the words out. At the time, it seemed more like he was on an extended vacation. I did not understand, but cried for hours knowing he would not be there to tuck me in that night.
In the days following, I missed more school than I ever had before and saw more tears than I thought the human body could produce. I remember seeing my dad’s body, stiller than a rock and whiter than snow, shoved into that box they call a casket. Everything beyond seeing his lifeless body is a blur. It had never even been a possibility to me to lose him. My mind goes numb just thinking about it.
Today, as I sit in the church pews on Father’s Day, hearing others bragging about their dads, listening to their plans to celebrate their dads and seeing their excited attitudes toward the day, it takes everything in me to hold my composure. I understand now. As I enter into my late teenage years, ten years after the day that changed everything, I finally understand exactly what it was I lost. The same man who taught me how to tie my shoes, how to ride a bike, how to laugh and how to love would not be there to see me grow up. He would not be there to see me drive off on my own for the first time. He would not be there to see me receive my diploma. He would not be there to walk me down the aisle. He would not hold grandkids. My dad was, is and will always be the strongest, bravest, most determined man I have ever known. I never once saw a tear fall, saw fear in his eyes nor heard a single complaint during his battle with cancer. He somehow always managed to swallow the pain and put a smile on his face and I am beyond grateful that those are the memories I carry. As much as the facts of the matter tear me up inside, I would not be who I am today without such a tragedy. Losing a parent has truly changed me from the inside-out. I laugh a little louder, love a little harder, and live a little less carefully all thanks to my father. He taught me the true value of life.