Tuesday, February 14, 2012

For Dad

"Honey....Guess what? It's Valentine's Day. You made it. Remember how we said it would be nice if we were still together on Valentine's Day? Well here we are. And you know what? It's okay if you want to go now."

Those are the words my Mom spoke to my Dad around 6 AM, 16 years ago today.

Six months we'd been bargaining with him, the cancer, his body and who knows what else. I am sure he was doing his fair share of bargaining as well. After being diagnosed a second time with oesophageal cancer in July of 1995, setting longevity related goals became common. We hoped and asked that he stick around 'till Thanksgiving, then it was my birthday followed by his birthday and so on. Christmas of course became the next big day we all were trying, hoping and maybe even praying he'd make it to. We were determined - trying to squeeze every last drop of time out of the situation we could. The first few goals he met with relative ease, in the realm of things. Just after Christmas though, he took a turn for the worse that he never really rallied back from. I think that was around the time my Mom set the Valentine's goal.

I think I've said it before but time is such a funny thing. It seems like we are always wanting to speed it up or slow it down. Rarely do we focus on just being in the moment, in the present.

There were times in the six or so week after Christmas that year I seemed stuck in a whirlwind of wanting things to slow down and at the same time wanting things to hurry along. Of course, I wanted my Dad around for as long as we could have him but as he got worse I'd sometimes wish that time would slip away a little faster. I'd hear him coughing at night and I'll admit sometimes I just wanted it to be over already. When you think you know how the story is going to end, sometimes to just can't wait to get to that last chapter or page. I still feel a bit guilty about not being more in the present during that time but I suppose I did the best I could.

That Valentine's Day with Dad was very different. After my Mom spoke to him that morning, he was unusually alert. He had been sleeping or groggy for weeks straight and suddenly not only was he awake, but he was his old self (albeit a slightly weaker version). Mid morning I went into our family room which had become a makeshift hospital room for him. I was so used to him sleeping all the time I walked passed him, turned on the TV and starting watching the morning movie on CityTV (Breakfast at Tiffany's). I settled in to watch the classic film when suddenly a strong voice I hadn't heard in ages asked me what I was watching.

When we were kids, it didn't matter what we were watching or how long we'd been watching it. When my Dad came home, we had to hand over the remote control and inevitably we'd start watching whatever he wanted to watch (MASH, WKRP or worse-Golf). He was the alpha dog when it came to the TV. So on that Valentine's Day, when he asked me what I was watching, in a voice so much like the father I remembered, I instinctively got up to hand him the remote. He waved me back. "No no. We can watch this. Breakfast at Tiffany's right?". And watch it we did.

My Dad's alert behaviour lasted much of the day with the exception of a few catnaps he took. He ate lunch, he chatted actively with my Mom, my brother and the nurse who came to check on him. He even signed Valentine's cards for my brother and I. He was so "with it". It was wonderfully confusing.

Late in the afternoon we needed a few medical supplies so my Mom sent me off to the specialty pharmacy to pick up the order. On my return, around 6pm, I pulled in the driveway with Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men belting out "One Sweet Day". I don't know if it was the song or what - but I just knew...before I even walked into the house.

Inside, my Mom was fretting over my Dad and chaos was in the air. He was struggling in some way to breathe? Swallow? Sit up? I wasn't sure. She was running around trying to help, and my brother was there looking stressed and not sure what to do. My Dad saw me walk up behind my Mom, stopped struggling and said very clearly and calmly: "Wait". He put hand up, as if to say "stop" to my Mom, who was poised to resume her fretting. He sat back. And then, a minute or so later, he was gone.

Valentine's Day is a day of reflection for me. While I of course think of my Dad throughout the year, today it always gets to me just a little bit more, even after all this time. As many of you know, my Dad's battle with cancer was one of the main catalysts that would eventually lead to my being a living donor. I can't help but wonder what he'd think about this past year and the direction my life has taken. I know if he was still around my life would be very different and probably a very different Lauren would exist. While losing him when I did was so terrible, it allowed my life to go in such a different direction than it would have. I'm not a total subscriber to the "everything happens for a reason" philosophy but in this case I think there is something to it.

Yesterday this article was published about how organ donation in Canada is plateauing while the need continues to grow. With over 3500 people waiting, in 2010, 229 people died waiting for organs. It reminded me again how important time is for people suffering a life threatening illness and in the case of those waiting for a transplant, time can make the difference between life and death.

Grade 8 grad dance,working
my side ponytail and blue glasses
In memory of my Dad, and in honour of all of our family and friends out there on Valentine's Day who might someday be hoping for more time themselves, make an appointment to give blood (book online with Canadian Blood Services!), sign your donor card, (in Ontario register at or consider living donation. At the very least give them all a hug (in real life or virtually) and let them know you love them.

Way better than chocolate and flowers if you ask me :).