Jun 19, 2012

Fifteen and a Half

Jamie always wakes up before me, even on the weekends. On Sunday, I woke just enough to hear him wrestling with some laundry then dozed back to sleep. I woke up for the day when I heard him come back in the house from walking Chuck. He was on the phone wishing his dad a happy Father's Day. I sunk into the mattress and shrouded myself with the heavy comforter.

False advertising. It wasn't comforting.

My dad died on March 2nd, 2011 after a six year, on again/off again battle with colon cancer. My dad had no reservations about telling me how he was relieved when my mom canceled what was supposed to be their first date because he had found out he had VD and "didn't want to risk it." In early 2005, however, he didn't want to be the one to tell me he had cancer.

I knew that the doctors suspected it and I knew when Dad was expecting his results, so I called him from the Metrolink station on the way to work. He wanted to pawn it off on Mom, but she wasn't home; I pushed. Dejected, he answered, "It's cancer."

He was on chemotherapy treatments after his initial surgery to remove a large portion of his colon. After some time, they told him he was clear! No cancer. They removed his chemo port from his chest. What a jinx that was. A few months later, we found out that his cancer had spread through the lymph system to his lungs. The cancer spread more over time and at the end of 2010, it reached his brain. 

Sometime toward the end of February 2011, I went home to Ohio. It took me two days as I had to spend the night in Denver. My last normal conversation with my dad was on the phone at the Denver airport. By the time I got there, he couldn't hold a normal conversation. He was still in the rehab center when I first saw him. He was sleeping. My mom woke him up, "Darrell, Darrell! Look who's here." 

He forced out, with raspy breath, "Buttons*." 

I managed to keep it together for a while and didn't lose it until I was alone with him. I sat on his bed, at his hip, facing away to the window. I held his hand while watching the snow fall. The snow on the ground was so new and so white and the flakes that were falling were huge. It was peaceful and I began to tear up. As I was no longer able to keep my composure, I laid my head down on his chest. He kissed me twice on the head and I cried. 

The following two days involved speaking with Hospice, setting up a hospital bed at home in the living room and of course, moving him back into the house. We spent a week or so after that at home with Dad. Family and friends visited and we felt so supported. It seems like Mom and I lived off of pizza and lattes from East West Brew House and sugar wafers, and I have no complaints about that. 

It was an odd relief when my dad died. He had been sleeping for nearly a day straight when it happened. My Aunt Mary had been at the house for a couple hours, and I was in the other room, chatting with Jamie online. In the middle of our conversation, I said "I'm going to go in the other room. Aunt Mary's been here for a while, I'm just going to go in there."

I walked into the living room and stood at the foot of the bed. Dad was sleeping; breathing as he had been. Hong-hoo, hong-hoo, hong-hoo. Mom sat in the chair to my dad's right. Aunt Mary, standing to his left said, in her usual "well gosh!" tone, "Geez, I wish I knew a better prayer in Polish! I only know the Lenten prayer." I urged her to say it, anyway, and she bent down to recite it in his ear. She stood back up. Hong-hoo, hong-hoo, hong-- We waited. He had been having some apnea, so we just stood there a little wide-eyed in anticipation. I held my breath. HOO hong-hoo, hong-hoo. 

We all relaxed. "Wow," I said, "Can you imagine if you said that prayer and then that was it!?"

Hong-hoo, hong-hoo, hong--

We looked at him. We looked at each other and waited.

"I think this is it, Dolly**." Mom said.

It was a really unexpected reaction, but I was relieved and felt at peace. I gazed over my dad and I smiled.


It's been fifteen and a half months. Father's Day didn't seem as hard last year as it was this year. I may have still been in my relief stage then, which has since worn off. Time has made the sad days fewer and farther between, but Father's Day was really rough. I think I spent two thirds of the day in a state of weepiness and on the couch with the laptop dialed to Pinterest, which helped. (So did the margarita Jamie made me.)

Over future years, I hope to be able to spend Father's Day with my own kids, showing Jamie how much we love him and telling my children stories about their Grandpa Stancliff much in the way Dad told me stories about my Grandpa Stancliff who had passed before I was born. 

My dad left a lot of things behind and has given me so much over the years. I am just so happy to be able to say that the last thing my dad gave me was a smile.

*Buttons has always been my dad's nickname for me.

**Similarly, my mom has always called me Dolly.

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