Do you remember the most powerful thing that has ever been said to you? Do you know precisely where you were when you heard words that were so profound, so moving, that you would think of them often as the years went by?
I remember those words. And I remember exactly where I heard them.
I was standing in the waiting room in the hospice facility in Scranton, Pennsylvania. In the next room, my mother lay lifeless. I had just seen her the day before, and had I known that it would have been the last time I would have seen her alive, I would have taken the time to say so much more to me. She wouldn't have been able to respond, as she'd not spoken in at least a few days. She was tiny, frail, skin and bones when she died. The cancer had been a vicious monster, and the radiation and chemo treatments had weakened her once relatively robust figure and turned her into a mere glimmer of what she had once been.
I was only sixteen, and while I was certainly old enough to understand the finality of death (I'd lost my grandmother seven years earlier, and my grandfather three years earlier, and had been close to both), I think that I was in denial that my mother way dying.
While standing in that next room, while dad said good-bye for the last time, my brother Mike said something that shakes me even now, years later. He said that even though we were all sad to lose our mother, we should think about how it must be so much harder for dad. Harder for dad? How could it possibly be harder for dad? This was the woman who had given birth to us; the woman who had been there when we got home from school with snacks for us; the woman who had tucked me in at night and sang songs and told stories through my stuffed animals. How could this be harder for dad? He was a grown-up, and although I was sixteen, I was still very much a little girl who needed her mommy. Harder for dad? Ridiculous.
But then he said it. The words that would shake me.
"He picked her. We just ended up with her by chance. But dad picked her."
How right he was. The four of us kids had lucked out to have a mom who loved us fiercely for the twenty-nine years that she had been known to at least one of us as "mom." But my dad? He had chosen her. This was the woman who he had picked to spend the rest of his life with, the woman who he confided his secrets in, the woman who he looked forward to traveling with, to seeing the world with, to growing old with. And even though the four of us had been robbed of experiences that we should have gotten to have, dad had been robbed of even more.
Growing up, I was always a mommy's girl. Suddenly being a teenager with no mom and only dad at home was a tough change to make. We got by, with some rough patches on the way. At the time, I never really realized how hard it must be on him as well.
These days, I realize that there is so much that I do because of my mom's passing. I love to travel, and when I go to new places, I feel like I bring a piece of my mom along with me. "You never got to see this," I think "So I'll see it for the both of us." She should be here now, and her and dad should be traveling across the country, and bringing back gifts to spoil their grandchildren.
So today, on no special occasion - not the anniversary of a death, not a birthday, not Father's Day or Mother's Day, or any special holiday, I just wanted to recognize my dad for what he has done. He made sure that my brothers and I never went without anything that we needed, he put money away for rainy days (and oh man, have there been some rainy days!), he's now helping to raise my nieces at a time in his life where he should be able to enjoy his retirement and sit back and relax. I don't think I say it enough, and we aren't really "say how you feel" people, and I could never do it in person, because I'm just a little more sappy than the rest of my family (blame it on me being the only girl), but I needed to put it out there. I appreciate so much what my dad has done, and I am sorry for all that he won't ever get to have or do, that he should have gotten to.