The illness or loss of a parent is one of the true tests of our dignity, our sense of self. On every European trip, my first stop was to see my father. We had always been very close. This time, we spent two days together before I left for Munich to continue with my trip before heading to Milan for a conference I was attending.
But when I saw my father, it was immediately apparent to me that something was terribly off. My father had lost a lot of weight. He looked strangely different – not just drawn, but perhaps a bit unfocused. Not the father I’d known so well. Not the man I’d seen not too long before.
During our conversation, my father opened up about his health. He hadn’t been feeling well for some time. He wasn’t feeling well then. I insisted that we see a doctor, and I took him to his local general practitioner. As often happens, the doctor didn’t think it was too serious. A stomach bug.
But something nagged at me. Nevertheless, I had to get to my conference. I left for Munich, heavy-hearted and with a dark premonition.
The call came later that day. My father was in the hospital. He had had a stroke while driving, had totaled his car – and two other parked cars. I was out of the country but, luckily my sister and her family were stuck in holiday traffic on the way to their ski vacation; and was only an hour away from him.
I returned the following day.
My father struggled on, in the aftermath of his stroke. He still had motor functions, but his speech and memory were impaired. The diagnosis, however, was far more dire.
The lead physician told me that my father had pancreatic cancer, which had metastasized everywhere, spreading into every organ of his body. A brain tumor caused his stroke.
My own memories of that time are cloudy, reeling as I was from the shock of this. My dad was my best friend and advisor. He was my cheerleader and supporter. And now I was going to lose him. Radiation or chemotherapy were beside the point, and an operation was useless. My father was dying. And we had only a little time left.
I stayed as long as I could but had to go back to Los Angeles and take care of my daughter, find money, and figure out my living situation, which seemed to get worse by the day. My sister and my brother took turns staying with my father, who was released from the hospital a short time thereafter. To live out his final days.
The next thing I knew, I was alone in my father’s apartment, dissolving a whole life in one week and preparing for his funeral. My brother and sister had returned to their respective families; it was my turn to take care of things. My daughter arrived and we slept on the couch until even that last piece of furniture was given away.
On the day of the funeral, my phone rang. It was my office: I had just been served a 30-day notice by my landlord to vacate the premises.
All I could think was that the worst-case scenario had already happened; I had lost my father – what else could come now? One last time I visited the grave before I had to leave. And I fell to the ground and raised my fist against the sky, and I shouted at God. “I refuse to believe that at the end of the day, the joke is on me. I refuse to believe that you will allow me to go bankrupt over the funeral expenses and be thrown out of the house!”
It just couldn’t be. But once again, I had to detach myself from the outcome. What else was there to do?
I know I sounded awfully dramatic there, but I’d been at my wit’s end. Has there ever been a time in your life when you just wanted to scream at the heavens? Was there ever a time when you actually did do something like that? What happened? Did you let it all out, and then pick yourself up? I’d love to know how you handled a similar situation – and how you came through it.
Write to me. I’d love to hear from you.