We Miss You, We Celebrate You

You would think death is the ultimate closure. Especially when you were expecting it. Especially if there was nothing left unsaid. Especially if there was always love.

But I don’t know if there is closure with death. Even if you were expecting it. Even if there was nothing left unsaid. Even if there was always love.

Especially because there was always love.

My father passed away 10 years ago on this day after the prostate cancer he’d had for nine years finally metastasized and stopped responding to chemotherapy after 18 months. He collapsed at home, his body weak from the final round of treatment and was hospitalized for a week.

It crushed me. Beneath my holding-it-all-together-ness I was in pieces. This mighty man with the muscular arms of one who worked outdoors, with an even mightier personality, reduced to a limp bag of wrinkles with countless tubes attached to his diminishing frame. Not my father. Not the tanned, loud, up before dawn, tireless man. What was this pale, tortured creature struggling for breath?

He had moments of clarity between the medication-induced hallucination and long sleeps. I remember the night before he passed away. He sat upright, his eyes bright — fighting spirit: wrestling the can of protein drink that was his dinner out of my mother’s hand and insisting to bring it up to his lips without her help. They watched an episode of the TV series they were following at the time, and the picture brings a smile to my face. I remember thinking, ‘Hah, he might pull through this time.’

The next day, on the phone with my mother, I urged her to stay at home, to rest. My father had been sleeping — unconscious — his breathing like a bag of rocks dragged across an endless, jagged landscape.

“How long?” I asked the nurse.

“How long?” he asked.

“Till they pass away when they start breathing like this.”

“Up to two weeks,” he said. “The family can choose to intubate.”

I noted to have this conversation with my mother — and my brother who lived abroad.

“Wouldn’t that just prolong their suffering?”

“It’s the family’s choice.”

That morning, I stroked his hair and his arms, I kissed his forehead. I whispered that we would be alright if he had to go. That he mustn’t worry about us.

Oh, that breathing. The suffering of a loved one is profoundly painful to witness.

I ordered some lunch then a family friend stopped by.

“How is he?”

I ushered him out because if there was any chance my father was still conscious under that struggling mass of failing organs, I didn’t want him to hear me say what I thought, that it didn’t look good. We were outside his room not five minutes and when we returned the room was quiet. My eyes went to his chest. It wasn’t moving. I ran out and called the nurse who ran in and sounded the alarm. The whole ward flooded in.

“Do you want to intubate?” he asked.

I didn’t answer.

“Do you want to intubate?”

And when he didn’t get an answer from me he gave the orders and they proceeded to resuscitate.

The delivery man called me and said he was waiting for me at the reception of the hospital. I told him I’m sorry I couldn’t come to pick up my lunch because I thought my father had just died.

Life… can be funny, even in death.

The nursing team tried, but my father was gone. I hugged him, kissed him, caressed him, said good bye.

Surreal.

While they washed him, I called my mother. How do you tell your mother the love of her life just breathed his last breath?

Though I was there, agonizingly there, and even after 10 years, I don’t feel there is closure. For my mother too — infinitely more than me. Sure, I rationally understand it. But humans are not just rational beings, we are emotional too — and so long as I’m alive, I doubt there will be closure. How can there be?

There will be celebration though.

I celebrate the child –the third of seven siblings: spirited, stubborn, strong. When he was child his parents sent him from the village where they had their farm and cattle to the city to live with his uncle and his family so he could go to school. During his stay there, while he was out, he fell and broke his arm. Nobody knew — he didn’t make a sound for days until his uncle’s wife noticed the swelling.

I celebrate the young man: brave, adventurous, hopeful. Still a teen and barely out of school, he became an apprentice to a stranger in a strange country then went further afield and started out on his own.

I celebrate the self-made, honest man who from his humble beginnings built a future for himself and for his family with his bare hands. The giver whose kindness embraced everyone, near or far, who was ready to help anyone before they even asked.

I celebrate the husband: loving, doting, appreciating. The countless quiet ways he expressed his affection for my mother — never missing a birthday, an anniversary, a celebration, always gifting thoughtfully.

I celebrate the father: caring, devoted — we were his world, his priority, raison d’être. All he did, he did for us. There is a photo of me and him. It’s the late 70s. I am a little over a year old in a short dress showing my diapers. We are on the roof of a hotel in which he’d just finished fitting the sanitary installations. The wind has blown our hair astray. He is feeding me the stuffing of a shawerma. Patiently, painstakingly feeding a child who didn’t enjoy eating. His face an embodiment of joy.

Generous, generous, generous.

I celebrate the fighter. Even through chemotherapy, he’d wake up and head off, check in on his team at the different construction sites, troubleshoot, support. He kept going till he just couldn’t anymore. And that last morning, he fought, with every broken breath, until it left his body.

Maybe I’ll get wiser with age. Maybe I will reach an emotional reconciliation with his death. But even if I don’t, I will always celebrate him.

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