Updated: Nov 4, 2019
Nothing prepared me for this. Though I knew it was coming, it is one of the hardest things I have done.
We had 8 months to say goodbye. Some would say we were lucky we were given notice to spend the most time we could with him. We had time to do all the last things and say the last words. In reality, it was 8 very painful months. From the minute Dad got diagnosed with Pancreatic cancer in April of 2017, fear, pain, sadness creeped their way into our family's lives. It was a roller coaster of feelings. It was different stages of fear, pain, sadness and hope each time.
First diagnosis was terrifying. Dad had lost almost 30 lbs, he was in a lot of pain. We heard our options and Dad was eligible for surgery. We were grateful and hopeful yet still very scared. Lots of what ifs but "we can do this" we thought.
A few weeks later, in May, we went in for surgery. We prayed and everything went really well. First big sigh. He is going to be ok. He healed really well after surgery, doctors were impressed and so were we.
Few weeks later, Dad's pain was back. On July 17th, a week before his 65th birthday, we got another diagnosis. Dad's cancer was back, this time in his liver and in multiple spots. It was not operable. They gave him 6 to 9 months. Our hearts dropped again. "NO. This can't be happening." We were devastated, angry and scared. We cried and prayed. This time they suggested aggressive chemo, once a week for 3 weeks, then 1 week break. The family agreed to go for it. Here we go again. Terrified but hopeful.
The first few weeks went very well. Dad's body reacted well to it, his tumour counts were going down. He wasn't having any side effects to chemo. We were even more hopeful. Dad went on with his days as usual and enjoying life! And then the pain was back and each time it was much stronger. His body now was getting weaker. He had now lost over 60lbs in less than 6 months. His body was too weak to continue chemo so we stopped. His tumours were growing really fast. "What?! No! Whyyy??" Heartbreak. Poor guy went through so much already. He had been fighting so hard. He was so hopeful and so were we. Ugh. It was happening again. Uncertainty and a ton of fear. "What now?"
Dad kept getting smaller and smaller. Each day I looked at him, I could not believe it was even possible for him to lose anymore weight. It was very hard to watch. He now was struggling to swallow, to walk, to talk. It was heartbreaking to watch. I could not look at him, or talk to him or even think of him without breaking into tears. I really hurt that he was hurting so much and there was nothing I could do to help. Here we were again, scared, powerless and devastated.
On December 4th, Dad wanted to go to the hospital. He was in too much pain. We took him in and they wanted to keep him in palliative care. They they told us this was it. Our hearts dropped once again. Our tears were flooding our faces. This was it. Again. The family insisted we treat him and the hospital did. Dad reacted really well to the treatment and a week later Dad came home feeling a bit better. Another big sigh. It is not over yet Dad. We are still here. You can do this. He spent his absolute favourite holiday, Christmas, at home with all of us on Christmas Eve which is all he wanted before he goes.
The next morning, on Christmas Day, Mom called saying Dad wanted to go back to the hospital. He was having a really hard time breathing. Ben and I dropped everything and went straight to the hospital with them. Dad was laying there, sad and scared. Every time I looked in his eyes, it felt like a sharp knife went through my heart. He would stare at the walls for hours just thinking. Every time I asked what he was thinking about he would shake his head and not say anything. Dad did not want to share his pain with us. He kept everything in which made it even harder for me to watch. As a counsellor, I spend hours helping so many and the one thing I am good at, did not serve my dad. I felt useless and hopeless.
Dad was moved to palliative care where he was very well taken care of by the nurses and so many family members that visited us each day. We spent all our days by Dad's side and each day watched him get weaker and smaller. I still could not believe that was possible, even then, when he was all bones. How was it possible for someone to suffer even more? Well it was. Dad's health declined by the days. We knew he was getting close but in our hearts we still prayed for a Miracle. What are we without hope?
Throughout all these stages, I tried to spend as much time as I could with him. Some days were harder for me to make it there and I would feel sad when I wasn't by his side. I would call him a lot more often to check on him. I would try harder to make eye contact when I was with him. I tried to get in his world and know him a little better each time. Some days he would really shut down and push us all away. Some days were very special because he would open up and share things I had never heard before and these are the days I kept holding on to. Those days were also the hardest because those days brought us closer than ever. The closer I got to him, the harder it was to accept that this was ending soon. I was finally having a relationship with my father, 35 years later, and he was leaving. I was finally making peace with all the things that no longer mattered only to say goodbye soon. I was finally ready to give us a real chance but this was it. This is all the time we had.
On new Year's eve, the doctor gave us a pass to take Dad out for a few hours. We took him for dinner at his favourite restaurant. Dad could not eat, he could barely speak, he was in so much pain but at dinner, he looked at me and said "Baba, I am so happy that we are all here together. It makes me really happy." I said "Me too, Dad." and smiled. Us being together meant the world to Dad. Since we were little girls, he always told us that all he wanted is to see us always close to eachother and spending time together.
I didn't know that we would have the blessing to spend both Christmas and New Year's eve with him and I am so grateful we had these last beautiful days with him. This was Dad's favourite time of the year and he was so scared he would miss them.
A few days later, on Thursday January 4th, I went in the morning to see him and he did not look good. I knew in my heart something was different this time. Even though we had 8 months to prepare, it hurt just as much. It was really time to say goodbye. I called my sisters to come in. We stayed by his side all night. The doctor saw him the next day and told us he would not make it through the day. Our hearts dropped all over again. Yes we knew this was coming; but it made no difference. Reality finally kicked in. We re-arranged our lives to stay by his side the entire time. We cried, prayed, and said to him all the things we never got to say including I love you. Yes can you believe I had 8 months and I didn't know how to actually say these words to him. I know he got my love through many of my actions but being able to finally say I love you and have him hear me was the best gift I gave myself.
Dad held on really tight until his very last breath. On Saturday January 6th at 8:24pm, Dad took his last breath and we were all by his side; my sisters, mom, our husbands, our cousins and even some friends. We were all with him when he finally let go. Even in that moment, it felt like a dream that he went through these 8 months of great pain and suffering, and then he was gone. I couldn't not believe this was it. It was finally happening. After everything we went through, we were there, saying goodbye.
I am grateful for those 8 months where I actually had a chance to get to know Dad, connect with him and say goodbye. I am also grateful for what this journey reminded me of: the importance of Love and Connection. Everything else I thought mattered, really didn't. The time spent with loved ones, and I don't mean time sitting there ignoring them or resenting them, I mean quality time looking at them in the eyes and being curious about who they are and what matters to them. Those are the special moments that matter. Those are the moments that will make us or break us. Dad was missing those moments for many years, and when I finally connected with him, it was too late.
Today, I still can't believe he is gone. I think of him, see him in my dreams, hear his voice all the time. I miss him so much, especially the new person I got to know in the last 8 months. My heart wishes I got my father much sooner. My heart wishes I was there for him before things got this bad but I also know that this is the journey we choose in those moments.
I love you Dad. May your soul rest in peace.