I was excited about turning 40. I knew that it was the start of a new decade; out with the old, in with the new. But the universe had other plans for me. During my 40th year, I faced some of the biggest challenges of my life. My best friend was diagnosed with breast cancer, my beloved Kitty became sick and had to be put down, and lastly the loss of my father.
My dad had been ‘sick’ for almost 15 years. His early diagnosis of Parkinson’s caught us all off guard but what would come next was nothing we could have prepared for. When the specialist diagnosed him with PSP, I knew from my research that things would be tough, but never imagined the emotional roller coaster that came along with this illness. Throughout this journey, my dad remained my teacher.
In the last few weeks of his life, he had gotten sick. A cold, no different than something you or I would get. But he was weak and his body was tired. The week before he passed away, things were up and down. But like so many other times over the years he had always fought his way back. When I spoke with both my mom and brother the Wednesday before, they suggested that I come for a visit. He had been on oxygen for at least a week and his appetite had dwindled.
That Thursday, I took off work and went to see him. Expecting the worst, I tried to prepare myself for what was to come. When I arrived at the nursing home, the nurse had informed me that he was in the rec room waiting to get his nails done. What? You can imagine the surprise. When I entered the room, his face lit up and he asked what I was doing there. I explained that I had heard that he wasn’t feeling well so I wanted to check in. He looked at me and smiled and said ‘you can’t keep a good man down’. We visited for over two hours. Little did I know those would be my last.
I went home thinking, wow, what resilience this man has. Through the years he was many things: a hero, a disciplinarian, a hard worker, a father, a husband, but during those last years…he became a fighter.
Four days later, I made the trip to see him once more. How could this be the same person that I had seen just a few short days ago? He was in bed shaking, grasping for breath, burning up with fever. He was non-communicative. I sat and held his hand, hoping that it would bring him some comfort.
As I hugged and kissed him goodbye, he took a deep breath and whispered ‘I’m sorry about all of this’. Taken aback, I assured him that there was no need for apologies. I was happy to help. My mom asked me what he said to me and we both were surprised given his current status. That was his way of saying goodbye. Three days later he was gone.
In hindsight, those last few days happened exactly the way they were supposed to. I was meant to have the fun day with my dad ‘at the salon’. I have always been a story teller, so he gave me my story. Those last moments, those last words, will be with me forever.
So I leave you with the teachings of Franklin Wallace, as imparted to his daughter:
- Never, ever give up the fight! Not once did my dad complain after being diagnosed. Not once. He took life as it was handed to him and did his best. He refused to let anything get him down. In hindsight, he was always like this. I remember the time that I wanted to drop out of college and he reminded me of what life would be like without an education. And of course the time I had my first heart