Last summer, as I sat there one day at my dining table (AKA my office) I could hear my parents in my kitchen making themselves lunch. It was just another day out of the five weeks they stayed with us, visiting from New Zealand. I could hear the low hum of their casual conversation and the sounds of their food preparation and cooking, nothing special.
But something on that random day caused me to pause, get fully present, and take it in.
I felt a deep poignant blend of love, nostalgia and memory. I knew, even then, I would forever remember that moment of comfort and familiarity and stability that my parents are alive and well and healthy and doing their thing with ease. I don’t know why I paused, but it was an ordinary moment that became extraordinary. And then, I went back to whatever I was doing on my laptop, and life moved on. And eventually, my parents returned to New Zealand which is where they are now.
But as I know all too well, nothing ever stays the same.
Early this May, I sat in that very same chair listening to my dad tell me over Skype that he had just been diagnosed with Stage 4 Cancer. He was told it had spread to other parts of his body. He was told it was terminal. He was told that he was too far gone for chemotherapy and radiation. He was told average life expectancy at this point is six months. Yet when he told me all this, his voice was as calm and matter-of-fact as though he was giving me advice on some home repair question that I had called him about.
Even delivering news of this magnitude, he was still my calm and practical father. That’s my dad!
Needless to say, I have not felt grounded, practical, rational or calm for any length of time since that day. While my dad went into hospice with a terminal cancer diagnosis, Mother’s Day happened, immediately followed by my parents 49th Wedding Anniversary, and now Father’s Day is here. All of these occasions are suddenly infused with a much different level of emotion. Meanwhile, my sister and I are in the United States and my parents are in New Zealand and they don’t just let you fly in whenever you like, as they did pre-Covid. To say it’s all hit me like a gut punch, repeatedly, is an understatement.
My late husband Dan told me more than once that when your parents die, it is the end of an era, and facing this possibility, I am finally starting to understand what he meant. For all these years my sister and I have joked that my parents, who have dedicated the last fifty years of their lives to physical, mental and spiritual health and wellness, would outlive us. It’s common wisdom to expect the death of our parents before us, but if you know my parents you would see why I never got the memo. What got my father to the doctor in the first place was concerningly low levels of energy like he had never experienced before. No other signs or symptoms that could possibly be construed as cancer, let alone something so insidious spreading through his otherwise healthy body.
My father, hospice aside, has no intention of going anywhere anytime soon and his positive attitude and strong spirit are exactly what I would expect from him. This daughter can’t know what the future holds. Yet I know there is always meaning to be found in some, any, all of this experience, because how else can we make sense of what life presents to us?
We do not have infinite moments but we have infinite capability to see the extraordinary in them.
My father’s future is unknown. I know he’s going to move forward into it with grace and courage, his way. I know that he has lived a life most of us can hardly imagine. I know that he has always tried to make the very best choices for himself and his family. I know I am an excellent driver, speed reader, natural songwriter-singer-performer, great writer (so I’ve been told) and logical thinker, because of him. I know that he has taught me much, so much so that it remains to be quantified or probably never ever can be.
I know he’s been the very best father he could possibly be. I know that he loves us deeply and is so proud of me and my sister.
I know that he would give anything to be in my kitchen, with my mother, making a casual lunch on a random day, when they never knew their daughter was listening and appreciating and loving them in the other room.
Happy Father’s Day, Papaji. I love you.
Previously published on My Edmonds News