When I was going through treatment, I wrote. I wrote to process information and events. So here I am, again, putting finger to keyboard (it just doesn’t sound as good as pen to paper…). However, this time the cancer journey was not mine, it was my fathers.
Many people were unaware that my father was battling metastatic prostate cancer, even his close friends. He was not one to concern others with his problems (sometimes even his daughters). He found out it had become ‘metastatic’ (meaning it had spread) a bit over five years ago.
In those five years he continued to live life in the same way – full of adventure and taking any opportunity that came his way. He sailed the Caribbean – twice – and recently bought a Harley Davidson, and rode it from Gladstone to the Gold Coast. That was two months ago, and that is when the reality of his illness hit home. It would be his last big adventure, as it was becoming evident that his body was starting to lose the battle.
In the past two months there were many doctors appointments, but the options were running out. Being the fighter that he was, he didn’t believe the doctors and searched tirelessly for other options. He was never a man to accept the word ‘no’ and now was no different. But there was no cure and no treatment, and I think that was the hardest thing to accept.
On Friday October 29, I had planned to have lunch with him. During the past few years battling cancer, he had given up drinking to try to improve his health. But now as there were no other treatment to stop the progression of the cancer, he decided it was time to have a drink. And it would be his chance to share some stories about his life.
Lunch never eventuated. Friday morning he went to the Emergency Department. We didn’t think he would survive the night or week end. He said our goodbyes to us, and us to him. But the next morning, he was back to his cheeky self. Without knowing what was ahead of us, close friends stopped by to visit and reminisce on times together. In those moments he was happy; he was living. But in other moments he wanted to check out. He didn’t want to live in pain, nor did he want to live in this state. He was an independent, adventurous man, and he was losing touch of that man. To his credit, he kept his wicked sense of humour to the very end.
After five nights in hospital, he was moved to a Palliative Care Unit at a different hospital. Although he often felt he was a burden on us, as my sister an I spent every day with him, it was never the case. It allowed us to look through photos together, and spend as much time as possible with him. Over the next few days, fatigue and tiredness took over his body, and each day he slipped further and further away. I was fortunate enough to be staying in his room overnight when he passed. He was not alone.
Today marks a week since his friends were able to visit and say goodbye while he was still with us. And today we gather to say goodbye one final time with him watching from above, but to also celebrate a life lived well and full.
You learn a lot when you have someone in your life that has a terminal illness.
1/ The hardest conversations are sometimes the most rewarding conversations. Our father was a sailor, and he lived a lot of his life at sea. When I thought about what his wishes would be after he passed away, I thought he would want to have his ashes scattered at sea. This is what we would have done or decided if we hadn’t had that conversation. So when I asked him, when he was filling out his Will, I was shocked to find out that he wanted to be in a spot where some of his friends had been buried. He wanted to have a resting place where people could come and visit and lay flowers.
2/ It’s ok to plan ahead. I felt sick at the thought about asking Dad if he wanted to pre-plan his funeral arrangements and speak with a Funeral Director. But apparently it is a very normal thing to do, and rewarding for the person dying to have their say. We were in the process of this, but he became too unwell too soon. I wish I had been brave enough to have the conversation earlier.
3/ Technology is the best. When I sat with him in the Emergency Department on the day we were due to have lunch, he started to tell me stories. He still wanted to share his life story, and he knew he was running out of time. I took out my phone and started taking notes, and then I remembered that I had an app to record. That app was used many times in the last week, and now my sister and I will always be able to listen to his voice and his stories.
4/ Write your story, while you are healthy. Although he didn’t get a chance to tell his whole life story, he was able to share things with us that nobody else knows, as most of it was from his younger years and growing up in Finland. I wish we had started writing his story earlier, because there were so many to be told.