I think sometimes people confuse the smile on my face for true happiness, but a person can’t really understand what I’ve endured in my life, solely by the smile on my face. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately because it involves a thought, which passes through my mind every day.
A smile on my face wouldn’t tell you that I watched my dad die when I was 16. It doesn’t, does it?
When I was a junior in high school, about two weeks after my 16th birthday, I learned that my dad had lung cancer. I didn’t know it at the time, but he was only given four months to live. I don’t know if I’m thankful or upset by the fact that my parents didn’t tell me or my brothers that my dad wasn’t likely to survive.
I think I’m grateful because I would have been scared out of my mind as his time dwindled down, and I would have believed he was going to survive when he surpassed that deadline. He continued to live four months longer than his doctor told him.
I don’t think I could fully comprehend the severity of the situation, and feel that I was oblivious to the possibility of death. I watched my dad change over time as he quickly began to lose his hair after starting chemotherapy; steadily grew skinnier as he lost his appetite and began to obsessively clean to keep himself busy during the time he wasn’t able to work or sleep.
It was weird to see the man who promised to outlive me so that he could continue to protect me become someone I didn’t know. I wanted to protect him, but I didn’t know how, so I dismissed the idea of death.
About two months after my dad turned 43, he was admitted to the hospital due to stomach pains he was experiencing; his cancer had spread. Looking back, it’s so easy to tell myself that I was so completely stupid and ignorant to still not accept the idea of death or possibility of losing my dad. At the time though, I was concerned with trying to live a normal life, like my parents told me to do, and to make sure my dad knew I was still doing well in school.
Shortly before my dad’s death, my mom called my brothers and me into the kitchen. She told me I better wipe off some of the perfume I just sprayed because the smell would make my dad sick and he wasn’t doing well. We weren’t going to school, we needed to go to the hospital because my dad only had two weeks to live.
I remember sitting in my dad’s hospital room and finding it strange that everyone was acting so normal. It was eery. I think I was in shock and unable to register the fact that I would be losing my dad so soon. He was talking as though there was nothing serious going on and we sat together and watched TV.
The next day, my brothers and I were allowed to go back to school. I think I was thankful for this because I could pretend as though things were normal, when they really weren’t. One of my friends wanted to help take my mind off things, so she suggested stopping at Starbuck’s before school. Once we got to school, things seemed so fluid and familiar. I think I was in the school for a whole five minutes before my brother called me to tell me he needed to come pick me up because my dad had a bad night, and things were not looking good.
I was terrified. I tried so hard to force myself to pretend as though more serious things weren’t happening and that protective wall I built had shattered in just one phone call. Upon arriving at the hospital, I took in the seriousness of the matter. There was no more avoiding it. My dad had an oxygen mask strapped around his face and so many wires connected to him, it looked like something out of the Matrix.
It was that day, two days not two weeks, that I was told my father was going to die and we needed to spend as much time with him as we could and say our goodbyes. How do you tell anyone that they need to say goodbye to their parent? It’s still something I can hardly fathom. It was a difficult task because my dad was so medicated on morphine to keep the pain at bay. My dad was having conversations with himself and he thought my brothers and I were babies. When he did have moments of clarity, he didn’t understand why were in the hospital and not in school. How do you say goodbye to someone you love who doesn’t even really realize you’re there?
At one point in the day, my dad called my brothers into his room and I went with them. He had a moment of clarity and wanted to tell them to protect me and my mom; to get good grades and work hard. He was telling them who would get what things and things they needed to do to be successful in life. He asked me why I was there. I was so choked up, I couldn’t even respond.
Shortly after that, we were asked to go in one-by-one to tell our dad goodbye. I tried to tell my dad that I would continue to work hard to get good grades, go to college and be successful; help my mom out and do whatever I could to make him proud, but it was hard to communicate these things to my dad. He wasn’t really there, he was in a world of his own and I was crying so hard, I could hardly speak. It was nice though, that some time during my attempt to say goodbye, my dad had a moment of clarity and tried to console me as my heart broke before him.
Later on in the day, I sat with my dad and held his left hand, while his work friend (her name was Crystal. I remember because at one point, my dad called her Crystal Meth) sat on my right near my dad’s head and my mom sat across from her. I clearly remember looking at my dad, and it looked as though he was trying to say something. I mentioned this to my mom and Crystal because I wanted to be able to help my dad if I could. I don’t know if he was trying to say, “Thank you.” or “I love you.”
Once they pulled off the mask, there was no reaction from my dad. I sat there in silent shock, holding my dad’s hand, waiting for him to wake up and repeat what he had been trying to say; it never happened. I’ll never know if he died before they pulled off the mask or after I said I thought he was trying to say something. My mom told me to go get my brothers, who were sitting in the room across the hall with their friends. I quickly went to get them and somehow managed to tell them to come to our dad’s room because I thought our dad had died.
My fears were soon confirmed and I stood there looking at my dad, hoping he’d come back, but secretly knowing it would never happen.
Thoughts of my dad cross my mind at least once a day. Sometimes all of these thoughts replay in my mind as I get lost in a world of my own, until I finally snap out of that horrible memory. It’s difficult to believe that I can still smile after all that, and after going through almost all of that again with my mom just three years later. While it’s easy to remember all of these sad memories, I still take into account all of the good memories I have of my dad, which put up a good fight against all of the painful ones.
If I were to dwell on the sad ones all the time, I’d never be able to smile. Thankfully, I can put things into perspective and push on past the heartache. The smile on my face doesn’t mean I’ve had a happy and wonderful life, but it means I’ve suffered and understand that I don’t need to sweat the small things. I smile because it’s how I want to be remembered and smiling is infectious. I may not have had the happiest life, but I’ve made the best of it so far and that’s what I’ll continue to do.
Looks are deceiving. There’s that saying, which says everyone is fighting a battle, which I think is completely true. Don’t forget that everyone has a story.