The Year of Tears

The highs and lows of love and death

It’s hard to believe that three years have passed. Some days it feels like it was yesterday, and others it feels like decades have passed. The best day of my life, and the worst day of life both happened in 2010, only months apart. I cried like a baby during both events.

I’m not one of those guys that believes in the whole “Real men don’t cry” bullshit. But I do think that men save tears for moments that truly matter, you know life changing stuff, or Bambi. So when you see a guy with tears streaming down his face, you know he’s feeling something he rarely feels and the tears are simply the emotions he doesn’t know how to process.

June 5th was the day I married my best friend, and not coincidentally the first stop on our tour of tears. The months leading up to the wedding were actually completely painless, busy for sure, but drama free. The morning of the wedding I took our rented Corvette convertible out for a “spirited drive” to collect my thoughts. In all honesty there wasn’t much to think about, I was marrying the best friend I’ve ever had. I was never so sure of anything in my life.

I was standing at the alter in the beating hot sun for what felt like an eternity. Then I saw my future wife come down the stairs. I couldn’t hold it back, there were too many emotions to process and they converted to tears. In front of all the most important people in my life, I was crying like a baby. Most people would tell me it was sweet and nothing to be embarrassed about, but it always feels like a parent telling their child “you did great out there” after they strike out during a little league game.

Cry baby 1 and cry baby 2

We went on an incredible two week honeymoon exploring Europe. It was the trip of a lifetime, filled to the brim with amazing memories. What I didn’t know was that back home my dad was struggling with some frightening health issues.

Apparently it started on my wedding day. My dad noticed his hand wasn’t cooperating with him as he did up the buttons on his dress shirt. Nothing overly alarming, just as though his hand had fallen asleep or something. Weeks passed and he could no longer hold a pen to sign his name or a razor to shave his face. His arm had become limp and useless, definitely something to be alarmed about.

He finally went to the doctor to get it looked at and the initial diagnosis was probably a mild stroke. This was relatively good news to my dad, some mild lifestyle changes and everything would be ok. The doctor returned with x-rays and said “looks like you have lung cancer…” My dad had seen too many friends and family members struggle with cancer. Nothing scared him more than the thought of getting cancer. So this news that was delivered ever so bluntly, hit him like a sack of doorknobs.

It was a about a week after our honeymoon when I got a phone call at 10pm. When dad calls at 10pm it’s rarely good news. Someone had died, or was in the hospital, it was never good news. “Chris, I have some bad news for you, I have lung cancer” that sack of doorknobs came back around and hit me too. I was floored. “What, How, Why, When?!?” I knew the answer to most of these questions but I couldn’t make my mouth say any other words.

My dad had smoked for most of his adult life. He quit briefly the year before my parents got divorced, but started again after the separation. Again in April of 2010 he finally quit after my sister had paved the way and encouraged him to do the same. It was like some sick joke.

It would take many weeks as we waited for biopsies and test results. We all stayed positive, we were going to beat this. We didn’t know much about the cancer, but we knew if we all supported him we could beat this together.

When the results finally came in, the news wasn’t good. The lung cancer wasn’t operable, and it had metastasized to his brain. The only thing that scared my dad more than cancer, was brain cancer. Suddenly all the optimism we built up was washed away. It was clear, we weren’t going to beat this and we only had a short amount of time together.

I remember sitting outside during a mid summer thunderstorm one night and simply balling my eyes out. I know, it seems super cliche to sit in the rain and cry. But, my dad and I always enjoyed a good lightning storm, and sitting there watching this amazing lightning show brought up emotions I’ve never dealt with before, the tears quickly followed.

How do you deal with the thought of losing someone so important to you? how do wake up the next day and carry on with life? how do you care about anything else? I still don’t know the answers to these questions. You just dig deep and find the good in the bad and make the most of it.

We arranged to spend a full week together with the agreement that we would enjoy our time together. We wouldn’t sit an mope about what was sure to come, we would laugh and create new memories together. We played video games, ate amazing meals, shared stories, and laughed like you wouldn’t believe. It was a great week that I wish I could live again and again.

The months to follow would be far less fun. In and out of the hospital fighting pneumonia while coping with cancer. Handling the harsh realities of declining health, the loss of independence, and the prospects of death. There were many tears shed by everyone involved, it was a very rough couple months.

I tried my hardest to remain strong, to keep everything together, to balance home life, with work, and a dying father. It was really hard to keep all those spinning plates in the air. Sometimes I would just shut down, stare at a wall and be completely void of thought. I don’t know if you would call that meditation, but it certainly helped.

The days leading up to his death were the hardest days of my life. I had learned about the process of death from a palliative care nurse. While it was super morbid, it was also comforting knowing that there was a process. I could now see the process unfolding. Not eating, loss of memory, loss of cognitive abilities, long periods of rest, and brief windows of consciousness.

It was now at the point where someone spent the night with him, the inevitable was coming sooner than later. As I tried to sleep in the chair next to him, one of those brief windows of consciousness happened in the middle of the night. My dad said he was scared, we held hands and I assured him everything would be ok. I told him I was proud of him, he said the same to me and he slipped back to sleep. I cried alone amongst the cold beeps and clicks of the hospital equipment around me.

The following day he slipped in an out of consciousness all day, I don’t remember him saying much, but I remember him looking at my sister and smiling from ear to ear and then falling back to sleep. I don’t think they shared any last words, but that moment is forever etched in my mind.

I spent the night with my dad again, this time the room was quiet and sleep came easier. I could tell my dad was dreaming, the expression on his face was like a window into a very amusing dream. I slept easy knowing that he wasn’t in pain, and he wasn’t scared. I was awakened early in the morning by a nurse with the news that he passed. I again faced emotions that I thought I had prepared myself for, but I had no idea how to process. I don’t remember tears, I remember a sense of peace, a feeling of calm. I didn’t need to be strong anymore, I didn’t fear what was to come. I was deeply saddened, but thoroughly calm. It was a confusing and unexpected mix of emotions.

That morning was three years ago today. I try to forget about the anniversary, it’s a not a happy day to remember. But as I sit here sharing the memories, I realize that I remember more of the good times than I do of the bad. I remember the laughter more than the tears.