We never talked about death. Not after the doctor diagnosed him and used the word terminal. Not after he landed in the hospital, or the nursing home, or while he ping-ponged in-between both. We didn’t even talk about it after his final doctor’s visit when the oncologist told him, “My friend, this is the end.” Nobody asked what that meant. They left that part up to me. Somewhere in the explanation that followed I heard the words, “A few weeks,” but they didn’t register.
That night I had a very vivid dream. In the dream, my dad was seated in a wheelchair looking at me with the same stoic expression in the photo above. He didn’t say a word. He just sat looking right through me. His wheelchair, a new appendage, was parked at the entrance of a dark tunnel. It was my own voice and the words, “Are you afraid?” that abruptly woke me from the dream. Hours later he was dead.
I regret we never had a conversation about death. I wish I knew if he was angry, or grieving, or at peace that day in the doctor’s office. I wish I knew if he thought about it every minute of every day leading up to that visit, or if he tried not to. Most of all, I wish I knew if he was afraid.
One year after the anniversary of his death, I miss my dad more than ever. It seems like today I should be celebrating his life, but all I can think about is his death and those final weeks. It was during those last nights that I eulogized his life any time I closed my eyes. I could not make the words stop. They washed over me, drowning me in sorrow and smothering me with fear, even though naively I believed we had more time. I was convinced we had conversations to start and finish, the twins’ birthdays to celebrate in April, our family visit during spring break, summer plans to make, and most certainly, one, final Diamondbacks game in person.
Maybe I never asked dad if he was afraid because on top of everything else, the answer to that question would have been too much to bear. For me, grief and reality were like star crossed lovers, never meant to coexist. Denial, on the other hand, was a warm embrace from a long-lost friend. I held on for dear life and didn’t want to let go. I still don’t.
My dad was one of the most important people in my life, yet the intimate conversations I wanted to have with him–especially toward the end of his life never happened. It always felt like there would be a better time. I always assumed I had more time. I never gave it a second thought until a year ago, April 1, 2014. The day we buried my dad. The day my time ran out.
This is Vitas, my dad.