When we rounded the corner in the car, we fondly called goldie, he was already there waiting with his camera. His constant companion capturing the moments we might otherwise have forgotten. His frame standing the same height while the rest of his body shrank. It is so true that cancer eats away a person. The first time he had cancer it never started to eat away at him. It had been caught fast enough and he moved more naturally in to sickness and back out again to health. This time, it was hard to imagine he would come back to health again. The speed of it all indicated only a going deeper in to sickness.
He was quick to begin unloading our belongings, despite the constant reminders from mom to take it easy, to slow down, to simply stop. He was my dad and there wasn’t much that would convince him that slowing down that role made any sort of sense. He carried always the gauntlet of patriarch. It was never spoken but in small and subtle ways he steered our family. He held us all together in ways we wouldn’t notice until he was gone. He was the one in charge and we never questioned his guidance.
The truth of it is that he had picked the house for us. The plan to leave our community and move was a quick one. With in 24 hours we had made the decision, found a possible rental serendipitously just 4 doors up the road from my parents. We had not been able to get to see the house before signing a lease. Dad walked up took a look and decided indeed this space would work for us. He watched us begin to settle in, quietly in the back ground making sure that we were going to be okay. And only then did he retreat to his seat at the end of the couch just four doors down the street. Saying “I’ll leave you alone now so that you can get settle in.” Always with an heir of strength, for himself as much as it was for us. It was something he could hold on to, a control he could have while the rest spiraled wildly out from him.
I was relieved to be home. To be back in the town I grew up in but mostly to know dad was only a few doors away. No one ever spoke the words out loud but there were spaces in the fiber of my being that knew this was his ending. And I was knee deep in gratitude for the opportunity to show up for him. though truly this was just as much for me as it was for him. I needed to be there in ways I had yet to truly admit or discover.
One thing I had counted on for my whole life is that my dad would show up for me. Even if there was more time driving then there was visiting he showed up. Even if it meant missing out on something he had planned, he showed up. Even if it was just words that soothed my panic, he showed up. Even when illness and treatment stripped him of health, he showed up. It was so ingrained in my experience of living that I most often didn’t notice at all, taking it for granted.
And when he died it was ridiculously challenging to understand how I could ever be okay in a world where he would not be able to show up again. The parties he would miss, the walks we couldn’t take, the voice that would never again mumble, “don’t worry. It’s gonna be fine.” with a wave of the hand as if to dismiss the trouble with an his magic wand.
Slowly, as I untangled myself and found some space to breath under the weight of it all, I opened one of his parting gifts inside of myself. What I found under the wrap and ribbons was a message. A deep knowing that showing up was not just what he did for me, it is what he taught me to do. For myself, for my loved ones and for those who’s lives touch in to my own. Beyond his physical self lives this piece of who I am connected in to him and carrying me more courageously forward. His way of showing up for me beyond his living life was planting seeds of this very gift with in my own heart.