Today, was my son’s ninth birthday and the anniversary of my father’s death three years ago. The symbolism of life and death continues to be prevalent for me as I remember this same week three years ago.
My father was diagnosed with lung cancer in the spring of 2006. In November 2006, the day before Thanksgiving, he took a turn for the worse. My stepmother thought he wouldn’t survive the next couple of days. I took a red eye flight from Portland, Oregon to Vermont after Thanksgiving dinner. It was a week before my son’s 6th birthday.
I arrived the next day just after lunch. On the flight, I was nervous and wasn’t sure what to expect. When I arrived, my dad rallied and gave me a great big smile. My bright pink sweater and a necklace caught his eye. He leaned over and whispered that I looked pretty in pink. My family was amazed he had actually spoken to me. They hadn’t expected it. My father continued to decline the next 24 hours and hospice came to our house. My father mumbled and dazed off into space. It seemed as if he was wrestling with thoughts in his mind. I had never spent a large amount of time with someone who was dying before. Rather than being frightened by it, I actually learned a great deal during this time. I touched my father’s head, wiped his lips with a moist swap and rubbed his feet. My stepmother and I agreed that my father was lucky. He was in his own bedroom surrounded by family and friends that loved him. We decided this was probably a peaceful way to die.
As the days continued, there wasn’t much we could do, my father slept a great deal and we took turns sitting with him. In the meantime, the rest of us cooked and cleaned and waited.
On Thursday, after five days of waiting, I had to make a difficult decision. My son’s birthday was on Friday. I was torn because I desperately wanted to be home with him to celebrate. I prayed for help deciding what to do. I wasn’t sure how long I should wait for my father to die. The hospice nurses said my father was a fighter and they couldn’t predict how much longer he might live, they said maybe another week. I missed my family. Since, I lived across the country from my father the flights were not inconsequential in this decision. In the end, I listened to my heart. It told me you have been with your father for several days. You have hugged him, spent time together and and have had time to tell him what you feel and that you love him. Go home to your son for his birthday. I flew home and was able to wake up with my son on the morning of his 6th birthday. I brought cupcakes to school and we had a small party for him. Around 3 pm that afternoon my stepmother called to tell me that my father had died during a huge thunderstorm that had blown in that afternoon. I had been where I needed to be all week and I was where I needed to be that day. I have never regretted either decision. I think sometimes we don’t listen to that inner voice guiding us, but it is what helps us make the right decision every time. I flew back to Vermont on Saturday night and my son kept his birthday party as scheduled that Sunday morning even though I wasn’t with him.
A friend told me several weeks later that perhaps my father had died on my son’s birthday so it could still be a happy day and one of celebration.
In November, the year following my father’s death, my son and I were discussing what to do for his 7th birthday. He chose the exact same party he had the year before but this time he wanted me there to celebrate. And celebrate we did!