Twenty years ago this week my dad died. It was a Thursday, the last day of summer. He’d been in the hospital for eleven days. Earlier that summer he’d made it clear that he did not want to die in the hospital. He known since May that he was going to die, sooner rather than later. The doctors predicted he’d last four months to two years.
Four months after that diagnosis with a brain tumor and eleven days after he was hospitalized, we brought him home by ambulance. They wheeled him down the hallway in a stretcher but he had to stand up and walk the last few feet, a fact that made him suddenly alert and pissed off. He did not appreciate being coddled and prompted, “Just a few feet, Mr. Martin. Just a few feet.”
I cradled a pillow in my arms, anxious and worried about those last few feet he needed to cross to reach the hospital bed waiting for him in my old bedroom.
Three of my aunts from Wisconsin had come to stay with me that week. Aunt Lu spent all night sitting in a recliner next to my dad but he never regained consciousness. When I woke up the next morning to get ready for work–because the mundane duties of life never seem to stop–my aunt told me that he’d been restless all night but he was resting comfortably. She assured me that he’d be fine, that she’d call and let me know if anything changed.
While I was at work, a hospice nurse came to establish care. I called at noon and received the report that he was the same.
At four, I drove into my driveway. My aunt met me on the sidewalk to tell me that I needed to retrieve my sister from her job. My dad was very close to death.
I drove a couple of miles to the fast-food restaurant where my sister worked. I stood by the dessert case and asked for her. When she appeared, I couldn’t speak. My silence told her more than she wanted to know, so we hugged and cried.
Minutes later, we returned to the house. My aunt warned us not to go to the bedroom because my dad was having seizures. I went to his bedside anyway and found him stiff and shaking. I retreated to the living room.
When I went back to see him, only his body remained. It was so clear to me that he wasn’t there any longer. He was gone. I touched his beard. Poor daddy.
Poor me. Poor us. He died when I was only 24. He was 47. Malignant melanoma–skin cancer–robbed us. He had a whole life still ahead of him–and grandchildren he had yet to meet.
That was twenty years ago.
How quickly the years slide by, how the seasons speed by, circling around and around, summer fast on the heels of Christmas, pumpkins turning orange moments after Easter egg hunts end.
I miss him.
He would have loved being a grandpa. How I wish I could wander into his garage and find him fiddling with computers and radios in various states of disrepair. He would be listening to the golden oldies on the radios, while Morse code transmissions beep in the background. I would bake him chocolate chip cookies and tell him funny anecdotes to make him laugh. If he were here.
If only he were here.