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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The missing never stops but it can become sweeter.


This is my time to celebrate the beauty of loss.

Whenever you lose someone close to you, the dates of their birth and death become days of remembrance. 
I am currently in that phase again, however, for me there are 3 dates that mark what I call 'The Season of my Dad'. 
There is his birthday, March 22nd.
There is the day he died, April 23rd and the date that I arrived back in Tucson, January 21st knowing that I was returning to care for and eventually bury him.

On January 20th, my Sister-in-law called to tell me that my father's 5 years of chemotherapy to battle liver cancer were over.
My ticket was bought, I packed a duffle bag with some clothes and caught the red eye from Portland to Tucson completely unaware that my stay would be wind up being months not days long.

My Sister-in-law was 9 months pregnant and believing my father would die at any moment chose to be induced the very next day so that my father could meet his grandson.

That day.
January 21st was the day that life and death became equally balanced to me.

I made a commitment to be just as aware of being with my father until he let go of his life's last sigh into death as I was watching my nephew come into his life and this world screaming. 
I kept that promise to myself and because of that my recollection of that time is full of sweetness.

Every year, as my nephew gets a year older I remember his birth as one of the most profound moments of my life. My Sister-in-law had all of us in her delivery room. It was at least 10 people thick and my father sat with his back turned to her and he held his hands to his heart and prayed.
I imagine he prayed for the health and happiness of this brand new little boy but also gave gratitude for the chance to meet him.

As the days continue on in memory and I move forward towards March, I find myself thinking about the things we did together during that time:
going to every Cowboy themed steakhouse in Southern Arizona, seeing The Sons of the Pioneers, walking the trails of Sabino Canyon, eating our body weight in Banana Cream Pie and sitting on his patio to watch the magic of an Arizona sky.
He was happy.
Cousins, aunts, uncles, exes and friends made their way to his refuge near the mountains to spend time and grieve with him but his ability to accept death was done with a grace that I couldn't have imagined.

After his 52nd Birthday...his health declined rapidly but he still wanted to be with people.
He would talk for hours with all visitors, even though it hurt to swallow and was difficult to breathe. 
He hugged and held the hands of those that came to bid him goodbye.
He cried openly. He was no longer a man fearful of tears. He knew that he would be missed and he would miss out on seeing his 4 children and 2 grandchildren grow up.
He wrote his own obituary (he didn't give up control entirely) and constantly reminded us that we were loved.

2 weeks before his death, it snowed.
It was Easter and as always we attempted to celebrate the balance between birth and death but that day seemed to weigh heavier as a foreshadowing of my father's life ending as the snow covered the new growth of desert wild flowers and the air was quiet and crisp.

The night he died...is a night that even 16 years later is clear.
I had given my father a morphine shot earlier and for the first time in 2 months we had been able to get my grandmother to let my father sleep alone.
He wouldn't die in front of her but he needed to die, it was time.
I will never forget the feeling of calm as I sat with him, holding his hand and hearing his last breaths.
His last gasp.
Never. 
Minutes after I left the room...the hospice nurse came out to say he had died. 
In the middle of the shock of recognizing that my father's last moment...had just came and went without the rest of the world noticing, I looked towards his bedroom door and I saw him.
He smiled, he winked and waved goodbye.
I will never forget that.

This is 'The Season of my Dad' and even though I sometimes wonder how this slow walk of remembrance serves me I know that it opens my heart a little bit more each time I feel the tears run down my face.
This is the time when a grown woman still misses her father.
I know that my life like his is just a moment not to be wasted.
And I sigh and breathe it all in.


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