I walked out of my father’s home and into a beautiful morning. The cool breeze and the warm sun a wonderful mixture of warmth and cool that brushes at my cheeks and welcomes me. The sun shines in the sky and radiates a warmth that fills my heart with hope. “This is going to be a good day” I tell myself. My short drive is rewarded with a parking spot just outside the emergency room entrance. “So far so good” I mutter to myself. I walk into the hospital and am greeted by the sick in waiting. Five rows of seats of emergency room patrons waiting to get relief to what ails them.
Maybe I should get in line too.
Now comes the hallway. The long, endless hallway that seems to be a prerequisite for all hospitals. That cold colorless hallway that wreaks of a mixture of industrial strength cleaner, loneliness and despair. I hate this hallway.
I stop at the coffee bar in the lobby of the hospital and order what is now becoming my “usual” a large Mocha with whipped cream and cinnamon. I have to get my moments of happiness where I can now, and this is a large Styrofoam cup of happiness. The coffee tastes wonderful and brings back the warmth that was drained from me in that cold, long hallway. I thank the barrista and head to the elevator.
“Second floor please” I say to the lady that has entered the elevator ahead of me. She smiles and I smile back. Her mouth smiles, but her eyes tell a different story. She is visiting someone that is not doing well. I know that look. I see it every time I look in the mirror. We ride in silence.
I enter my father’s room to find my aunt and father’s girlfriend, Graciela, sitting alone in the room. My father’s bed is empty. “Where is he?” I ask bypassing the usual greetings. “They took him to get some x-rays.” I unclench my fist and breathe again. They had taken my father down to get x-rays, because apparently in the night he decided that he was going to go to the bathroom and fell. “He is alright” Graciela says, “he wasn’t hurt or anything. “That’s good news” I reply.
Our small talk begins and we are exchanging the usual retort when my father’s oncologist walks into the room. I have been waiting to talk to the doctor for two days and have not even seen one since I got here Tuesday night. The truth is, I only know what my father has told me. Other than the fact he has cancer, my father has been quite vague as to his diagnosis. “Finally” I think to myself “I can find out more from the doctor”. I introduce myself and shake his hand.
“I am glad that you are here, I wanted to talk to you now that he wasn’t here” the doctor says referring to my dad. My heart sinks. I know it’s coming, I can feel it. “Your father’s cancer is in a very advanced state” his words feel like knives sticking in my stomach “there isn’t anything else we can do for him.” The words fly around my head like vultures waiting to pounce on my soul. I stare at him, but don’t even see him anymore. I can’t speak, can’t breathe, can’t think. “Is there” my voice breaks the silence “is there anything left to try?” I force myself to ask. “No” he replies. “His cancer has metathesized and has spread from his prostate to his bladder and surrounding areas. At this point the best we can do is manage his pain.”
There is more conversation at this point. Discussing how he would be cared for, but the truth is that it was hard for me to concentrate after that. The words “there isn’t anything else we can do for him” keep stabbing at me over and over.
I feel sick as the doctor walks out of the room. I wish I could do the same. Walk out and leave all of this ugliness in this room. This cramped, cold room that has been my father’s cell for a week. It is so cold now.
I sit quietly looking out the window and gaze into the sun. That damn sun that lied to me and gave me hope. I want the clouds to cover it up. I don’t want to see it anymore.
I sit and look at the coffee in my hand. I take a sip, it tastes bitter now.
We sit in stunned silence.
I am roused from my catatonic state by the orderly bringing my father back into the room. I smile and kiss my father on the cheek and help the orderly put my father back in his bed.
“I must be strong now” I think to myself “he needs me to be strong now, he would do the same for me.”
My father has lost 40 pounds since Christmas. He is a shell of his former self. I hardly recognize him anymore. His strong arms that used to carry me over his head are now weak and little more than skin and bones. His skin is pale and loose and the stubble on his face is all white. The pillar of strength, that has always been my father, has been ravaged by this horrible disease. It hurts him to move. He cannot sit up and he can’t lie down, somewhere in the middle seems acceptable.
He always had the strength to say what he needed to say, to me or anyone else that he spoke to. Never held back and always said what had to be said. I wish I could do that now, but the knot in my throat is too big to speak.
He is very tired and sleeps often. It is a combination of his disease and the pain medication that he is on. I sit with him all day and night and talk to him when I can.
Later, when we are alone, I finally get up the courage to speak to him. I sit on the edge of his bed. “We talked to the doctor today” I say. “What did he say?” he asks. I recounted the conversation to him and held his hand. “I didn’t want to tell you over the phone” he whispers “I did not want you to worry.”
He looks at me and says “I just want it to go fast now.” “This cancer is a piece of shit” he declares. I laugh as tears swell in my eyes. A long pause ensues and is broken by my father “I just want to see the light of heaven” he says in a soft voice as tears swell in his eyes. It is at that instant, that millisecond, that I realize this is the first time I have ever seen my father cry. This is the moment that you read about. This is that moment in every man’s life when he realizes that his father is human after all, not the superhero that you thought he was. The realization pours over me like ice water.
I try to be strong but the knot in my throat is too much and the tears roll down my cheeks. I put my hand on his chest and he holds it. He begins to pray. I stay with him until he falls asleep again.
I am glad I came and am here for him now.
I will continue to be strong for him, but a piece of my heart is dying along with him. I wait until I get back to his house and am alone to let it out. I let it out as I type these words. The tears flow easily when I am alone.
I miss him already.