Friday, December 28, 2007

Who needs pictures anyways?

When I first started planning this wedding, Dad was the picture of health. Ok, maybe an overweight, non-active picture, but a healthy picture nonetheless. When I interviewed the first photographer, he recommended that I make a list of all of the pictures that I definitely want. My list looked pretty typical:

  • Us
  • Me & my siblings
  • Us & my family
  • Us & my extended family
  • Us & his family
  • Etc., etc., etc.
My thought was that for the first time in a long time, the entire family will be together and all dressed up so we should take advantage and get lots of pictures of all of us. BOY has that changed! Shortly after Dad died, one of my first thoughts was that I definitely do NOT want wedding pictures because Dad will be obviously absent from them. Almost one month later, I still feel the same way.

Would I regret this decision later in life? Possibly. But I don't think so. I'm not a huge picture person in the first place, and I think it would be immeasurably harder for me to have to stand around for family photos without Dad there & then later look through those pictures knowing that he had to miss such a fun occasion.

I think what I'd rather do is have just candid pictures on the wedding day & then get dressed back up later in the summer and go get pictures of just us, with no additional family. Then I still get nice pictures of us without having to have the whole wedding photo experience.

Dad's handkerchief

When I was growing up, Dad always carried a plain, white handkerchief in his pocket for his constantly drippy nose. As a little girl, I always liked to use his handkerchief because it was so much softer than a tissue. I think I also enjoyed the reluctance with which he gave it to me. I would tap him on the arm in the middle of church and tell him I needed a tissue. He'd give me a disapproving look, pull the handkerchief out of his pocket, unfold it and refold it to a clean section, and hand it to me. I would then shake the handkerchief open, stick it up my nose and wipe excessively, and then hand it back to him. At the time I didn't see anything wrong with that, but now I understand why he always gave me that disapproving look.

The day after he died, the first thing I did was open the top drawer of his dresser and pull out that old handkerchief from its resting place on top of his socks. It was much rattier and parts were yellowed with snot stains, but it still smelled like him and that was worth ignoring the thought of germs.

For the next two weeks that handkerchief helped me through the tears, the viewings, and finally the funeral. I eventually had to wash it, so it doesn't smell like Dad anymore, but now it sits in my top dresser drawer waiting for my next case of a drippy nose.

How I ended up here

My dad died on December 1, 2007. It was fairly sudden; it was certainly unexpected; and I never imagined he wouldn't be at my wedding in May (or that I would care). In late September he had walking pneumonia. When he still had a hacking cough near the end of October, he went back to the doctor. A few tests later and we got the 'cancer' call.

"It looks like lung cancer. We need more tests to be sure. It will take about 2 weeks before we know anything for certain."
Two weeks is a long time. But looking back now, it all happened so quickly. By early November we found out that it was indeed adenocarcinoma lung cancer and it had already spread to his brain and his spine. That at least explains the terrible back pain he had been having. The doctor quickly started him on a new treatment, Tarceva, and pain relievers to help with his back.

His first week on the Vicodin was by far his best week. He still had a cough, but his back pain was much better and he was able to get out and around. After that his back pain started to get worse again, and his face broke out in a rash (a common side affect of Tarceva) which made his whole head hurt. By the next week he had bronchitis and was in the ER with difficulty breathing and a fever. The ER gave him an antibiotic and sent him home.

The day after Thanksgiving I picked him up and brought him to my house for a couple hours. On the walk from the car to the door he picked up one of my empty trash cans from the curb and carried it up for me. By the time we got inside he had to take a few minutes and catch his breath. We sat and watched TV for most of the time he was there. We tried talking a couple times, but every time he tried to talk he ended up having a coughing fit, so eventually we just gave up. Walking back to the car was the same thing: he took a few minutes to catch his breath and was ok again in time to get out of the car and walk back to his house. This was the first time I realized how bad he was doing.

Sunday night my mom called me. Dad had a fever again and she needed me to drive them to the ER. We took Dad in and several hours in a cold ER room later we found out he now has double pneumonia, fluid in his lungs, and fluid on his heart. They decide to admit him and give him IV antibiotics. He should be able to come home Thursday.

Tuesday I went to see him and he was same old Dad. Crabby because he was in a hospital, but still in good humor otherwise. We playfully made faces at each other while Mom was talking to a friend and he slyly gave me the finger and I shot it right back at him. At the time I had no idea that this would be our last normal interaction.

Wednesday morning he woke up and couldn't see. The brain tumor (which we were told wouldn't be an issue for 3-5 months) had grown and they decided to do radiation on it immediately. Later that afternoon my sister called me from the hospital and put Dad on the phone. He wanted me to go to the MVA for him tomorrow because the car my sister was driving needed to be transferred to her name before the registration expired at the end of the month. I thought what we had was another normal conversation, but apparently he was having an extremely difficult time finding words, which explains why he told me the wrong place to look for the paperwork.

That night I got another call from Mom, this time crying. Dad had a stroke and was unconscious. They were transferring him to the ICU & she had no idea how bad it was. I called my brother in Philadelphia & he decided to drive down that night. I called my sister in Japan (who was due to come home on Friday) and she got an earlier flight to come home Thursday instead. That night my mom, my brother, my oldest sister, and I sat in the ICU with my dad who could barely talk and had what were my last conversations with him.

He insisted that I go to the MVA in the morning, so I got up early Thursday and took care of that. By the time I got to the hospital he wasn't able to talk at all. The only way he could communicate was to squeeze our hands with his right hand and raise his right arm. When our hands were in his he constantly squeezed it tight. When he really agreed with something we said he lifted our hand straight up in the air.

Things declined from there quickly. Thursday and Friday he suffered from seizures and breathing fits. By Friday night they told us it was time to make him comfortable and transferred him to a hospice room. By Saturday morning he was completely unresponsive to anything going on around him. No more hand squeezes. No more signs of recognition. We spent the day in his hospital room, with Mom by his side and the rest of us talking and sometimes carrying on as usual. Until Saturday night when his labored breathing finally stopped.