I never met my paternal grandfather (Grampy) because he died when my dad was 29, ten years before I was born – & yet, because of the way my dad spoke of him, even though I never met him, I felt like I knew him. He was a charismatic, musical, life of the party, strict yet loving & family-oriented man whom the neighbours called upon when they were in a bind. He & my grandmother shared such a classic & romantic love story when they met (she was at a dance on a date with another guy, my grandfather was singing in the band onstage & saw my grandmother sitting at a table with her date, he went up to her & said he had to have this dance & the rest is as they say…) he loved bringing his family camping, cottaging & he made terrible, really thick oatmeal which he’d insist his kids eat. I know all of this because of my dad. My dad did such a wonderful job of keeping his memory alive. I used to feel badly for him, that we, my sisters and I, would only know his dad through the stories he told of him. Never did I think I’d have to do the same for him one day. Never did I think that he was unknowingly setting an example of how to keep the memory of loved ones’ that had passed alive in order for future generations to know & appreciate them. Never did I think he was teaching me in those moments, about how to talk to my own children about him - their Grampy- one day…
From a very young age, my worst fear was losing my dad. When I was a kid, these fears would intensify & surface at night & I would often cry to my parents expressing how afraid I was of my dad dying. This fear stayed with me. Fast forward about 25 years from those sometimes nightly cries, to carrying my one year old son into my parents’ house & just having this desperate need to talk to my dad. I gave my son to my mom, found my dad in the kitchen & through tears, blurted out, “You are going to die one day….you are going to die one day & my world is not going to go on without you…I won’t be strong enough to carry on without you.”
Without seeming bothered or jolted & without skipping a beat, he looked at me while leaning against the counter, stirring his coffee as he so often did & said, “Yes, I will. It’s a part of life, Melinda, and you will be fine. The world goes on & when the time comes, you will carry me with you in your heart & make the most of your life with your kids.” Never did either of us think that 8 months later…
I’m embarrassed to say that I really thought cancer was something that wasn’t ever going to touch my family. (How ignorant, stupid & totally naïve was I?) When I was younger, I had worked at a camp for kids with cancer. I knew other people who had cancer in their families but I ‘just knew’ it wouldn’t happen to my family because I wouldn’t be strong enough to handle it. Well, cancer became a very unwelcomed part of my family’s story. September 28 2016, my dad got his bladder cancer diagnosis- but we had every reason to hope he’d beat it. December 4th, after having a facial seizure the night before, we found out the cancer had literally jumped to his brain… brain metastasis & a terminal diagnosis – 6 – 12 months to live. I fell to the floor when we found out. It’s impossible to describe what it actually feels like when your world shatters.
When you see your family members break & you can’t help them because you’re just as broken. When something happens in life that no matter what you do, no matter how hard you work, no matter how hard you pray or wish or want to take it from them, you know you can’t change it… it’s something you just can’t wrap your head or your heart around. Life as you know it has changed, from that moment on. At that moment, the grieving began – for him, for me, for my family. Never did I think the chapter of my life when my dad was alive would come to an end at 33.
That chapter when my dad was alive was such a great chapter. He talked to us (his 3 daughters) about anything & everything – he didn’t shy away from any conversation that other dads might have said, “Go ask your mom…” We had wholesome talks, hard talks, arguments where we expressed strong differences of opinion, emotional & heart-warming, memorable talks. He wasn’t afraid or embarrassed to buy us our hygiene products or beauty products or rub our backs when we had cramps. He did the ‘standard’ things that most dads did (taught us how to ride our bikes, how to throw a ball, how to drive, etc.) but it was all those little things he did for us that are even more memorable for me. For instance, without us knowing, he’d take our cars to fill them up with gas; when there was a good sale, he’d buy us groceries or household items; picked us up from parties or clubs regardless of how late it might have been; and planted a different coloured rose bush for each of us in his garden.
He was ever-present & loving. He was the hardest worker I will ever know, constantly doing: for his kids, for his wife, for our home & when he worked as a principal for his job. Even when he was dying, he used the energy he did have to help my mom with things around the house to help to prep her for life without him (ensuring to buy her 10 years worth of vacuum bags because what if the company stops selling them?) & talked to us about how to help her & each other when he passed.
He had such a strong, admirable faith that he wasn’t afraid to share or express – something that’s become so ‘taboo’ in our society. Our family was whole & close. We took the best family trips , loved our ‘games nights’ (even as adults), sang songs around the campfire and loved having meals together. We laughed a lot together, we shed tears together, we fought together, but above all & despite differences, we held each other in the highest regard & loved deeply, always expressing that love through cards, in conversations & affection.
When his grandkids came along, he exuded love & appreciation for them. He was never afraid to hold them or be affectionate with them, from the time they were newborns on. He’d come over & look after them so we could shower, run errands and nap. Never did I think he wouldn’t live to meet all of his grandkids…
From the time we got his terminal diagnosis to the time he passed (2 months & 5 days to be exact…not quite the 6 months to a year we had been told!) things went slowly at first but then the cancer progressed quickly. He did everything he could as a patient – changed his diet, tried the ‘traditional’ and ‘alternative’ medicinal approach, took supplements, etc. We supported him in any & every way we could. I am grateful that we ALL did our best to fight this bitch called cancer with everything we had & in the little time we had.
Although it felt he was ripped from us & we didn’t have much time to ‘prepare’ (but are you ever really “prepared’?) he didn’t leave us overnight. Albeit a short period of time, we were ‘gifted’ in knowing that he was going to be leaving us. We were gifted the opportunity to share with him how grateful we were to have him, how much we loved him, how much he would be missed. I was gifted the opportunity to tell him that if he wasn’t such a wonderful father & if I didn’t love him as much as I did, saying goodbye wouldn’t be so hard. I was gifted the opportunity to tell him, “Dad, I’m sorry I was so difficult sometimes & challenged you in so many ways.” to which he replied, “You? Piece of cake.” He clearly lied well…
We had one last beautiful Christmas altogether where we all slept over at my parents’ house & woke up to embrace the day, in every way. We were gifted that time. And yet, I look back on it & wonder how hard those times must have been for him, even though he didn’t show it, knowing & yet hoping that this would all carry on without him. He remained strong in spirit for US, probably knowing that those last two months would remain etched in our memories for the rest of our lives. He expressed gratitude for his 73 years on earth & shared how blessed he felt he was in this life. “I had good years here…I was so fortunate with good health until now…I had the best wife, I had the best kids & the best career…what more could I have asked for?”
He shared acceptance of his imminent death. He showed us how to die with, despite an awful diagnosis, grace & his strong faith completely intact. The only worry he expressed was for us – again, his selflessness & love for us knew no bounds. Never would I realize another example he was setting for us in those last two months of this life until after he was gone…
I lost my dad on February 9th, 2017. My mom, my sisters & I never left his side while he was at hospice for 5 days. We talked, we laughed, we cried, we sang his favourite songs, & were there when he took his last breath. He passed, without a doubt in my mind, feeling an overwhelming amount of love from ‘his girls.’ What was once my worst fear became a reality very quickly & in many many ways, I’m still trying to process & make peace with it.
Grief is ongoing & multidimensional.
I grieve for so many things that people who haven’t experienced a loss of this magnitude wouldn’t understand. I grieve…
I grieve for me: no longer having him here to talk to, to laugh with, to see, to hug, to reminisce, that he isn’t standing physical witness to my son growing up & that he hasn’t held or met my daughter.
I grieve for my kids – that they won’t know their Grampy physically, the most hard-working, faith-driven & family-oriented man I’ve ever known in my life (although I will do a damn good job of ensuring they know him, as I knew mine.)
I grieve for my family: in the times we won’t ever be able to share as a ‘whole’ with my dad.
I grieve for my mom: that just shy of their 40th wedding anniversary, she lost her partner & a true partnership, her best friend, her biggest cheerleader, confidant & love of her life.
I grieve for my dad – for the times he didn’t get to share with us.
The best way to describe what it feels like to miss someone you love so incredibly is intense & immense. Grief can be debilitating & distracting & triggers can pop up out of nowhere & are tricky to navigate. Sometimes, you know what’s going to be a trigger for you, like Father’s Day. Sometimes, there are triggers in moments or events that you wouldn’t even think would be a trigger. (ie. The Raptors making it to the playoffs – he loved that team!)
Sometimes, I am able to keep things in perspective & focus on the time we had, the love I still feel & be grateful. Other times, I’m sad & angry & still wonder, “Why him/us?” It’s ongoing. I talk about it. I cry about it. I read about it. I share about it. I’ve been to different therapies for it. I hope to help others going through it, too. And through my continued struggles with it all, as he wanted & expressed so adamantly, I go on…
I go on knowing I was so incredibly blessed to have him as my dad & role model.
I go on with the lessons he taught, the stories he shared, & the selfless examples he set daily.
I go on showing my kids that sometimes it’s ok to cry over things we are sad about or people we miss.
I go on doing things in his memory & in the hope that in some small way, I make him proud.
I go on knowing that somewhere in this crazy universe of ours, we’ll meet again.
I go on & we go on as a family carrying on our legacy of love, with him ever-present in our minds & hearts.
Melinda, Toronto, Ontario