It’s strange how fast life can change, how quickly everything can turn upside down and leave you struggling to get your bearings. Everything flipped for me on October 6. I got a call from my dad saying he was in the hospital with what he believed was a stroke. Dad’s a recently retired hospice nurse, so I was confident he had a firm handle on his diagnosis. We talked for a bit about his condition, impairments and possible rehabilitation, both of us sure that he’d be fine and back home in time for Christmas.
Except sometimes things aren’t so clear-cut, even to medical professionals. The brain scan meant to find the clot or bleed that caused his stroke found something much worse. My dad had brain cancer. A barrage of tests, scans and a biopsy brought back increasingly bad news. The tumor was aggressive and instead of being home for Christmas, the goal became surviving to celebrate.
On New Year’s day, my children and I flew to California to see Daddy for the last time. It was, as one might expect, a hard trip to make. But it was hard in more ways than the obvious, because I wasn’t saying goodbye to the man he was. I was saying goodbye to the man he wasn’t.
When I was little, I was Daddy’s Little Girl. If he was sitting, I was in his lap. If he was working around the house, I was following. When I was little, the only household TV was in my parents’ room, and I remember waking him on many Saturday mornings by crawling into the bed to watch cartoons with my daddy. The one thing I knew for sure was that my daddy, my superhero, loved me.
But all parents have their failures, and by the time I was old enough to drive, my relationship with my father was almost nonexistent. Once I was grown, I almost never heard from him. He’d send me flowers when he remembered my birthday, checks when he didn’t, and if he was traveling nearby, he’d take me out to dinner. It was the normal state of things, but I always felt the loss of my superhero.
In January, as I sat by his bed, there was so much left unsaid, so much that just didn’t matter anymore. Neither of us could change the past and all that had happened was irrelevant. I was just that little girl and my Daddy was my superhero again.
Now I’m home, waiting for the final news, trying to get used to the idea that he’s not going to be there. There won’t be any more flowers for my birthday, no more random calls to tell me he’s in town and wants to buy me dinner. Instead of being absent, he’ll be gone. There is a piercing finality to it.
In a funny, but completely non-humorous twist, in the weeks leading up to that first phone call, I was working on a scene that involved the heroine facing the loss of her father.In my book, the father and daughter were close. maybe too close. She is his princess and she sees him as her overbearing but invincible hero. I worked hard on the psychology of writing, the emotions driving characters. I thought I had a handle on the scene, thought I could imagine exactly how it would feel. I was so wrong. It’s so much bigger, the hurt and loss so much deeper than I could have ever imagined.
I don’t know if finishing this scene will break me or heal me. It’s guaranteed to do one or the other.
I’ll miss you, Daddy.
Voirey’s father passed away shortly after this was written. Well-wishes and condolences may be left on her Facebook page.