In looking at this cartoon about Ph.D. plan vs. Ph.D. reality, I can probably label each one of those bumps along the road. One might be when I started my new job. One might be my divorce. Another one might be for the medical challenges I faced. But that last one, that big one toward the end, I know exactly what that one is. That one is from last fall, when my dad got sick.
Just before school started I took the day off to go with my parents to see my dad’s orthopedic surgeon. He was supposed to have shoulder replacement surgery, but when they did the MRI, they found something suspicious. The appointment was to determine if he could have surgery or if he had cancer.
He had cancer.
The roller coaster began. It was doctors’ appointments, biopsies, and tests, tests and more tests. I sat with my dad as he staunchly told the nurse he had a DNR. I waited for him as he struggled to breath walking down the hallway, but too proud and stubborn to accept a ride in a wheelchair. I smiled and joked with him trying to help him keep his dignity as I undressed him because he couldn’t do it himself. I listened to what the doctor said. I asked questions. I tried to help my parents understand. i tried to comprehend the incomprehensible.
Then one Friday morning when I was at work, my mom called. Dad had fallen down in the bathroom and they were rushing him to the hospital. I left work. Raced home. Packed a bag. And went to him. I stayed with him in the hospital. They were trying to determine the primary source of the cancer. They were trying to determine how to treat it. They were trying to determine if they could treat it.
The next month was crazy. He went from the hospital to a nursing home where we struggled as a family to decide the best course of action, or inaction.
All the while, I brought my laptop and worked on my dissertation. I spent hours at night at the hospital or the nursing home sitting with my dad and typing away. He knew that I was close to finishing my dissertation and he was so proud of me. He had done all of his course work for his Ph.D. but never did the dissertation. I was the first in my family to finish.
At first I worked hard because I thought I could finish it while he was still alive and he could see me graduate. But then I knew he wasn’t going to make it until the spring and I was doubly determined to finish it for him.
Writing was kind of a companion for me late at night. I like to think that while the beeping of the machines he was on kept me company, the clicking of the keys while I typed kept him company. He knew I was there.
At the end of October, just about two months after we found out he had cancer, we brought him home to say good-bye. As he was so fond of saying in the last weeks of his life, he wanted to die surrounded by his loving family, and he did.
I was there with him. We had all been there with him at the end. His loving wife. All six of his children and their spouses. All thirteen of his grandchildren and their significant others, and both of his great grandsons.
But his reach went far beyond his family.
He was a coach. He coached baseball and basketball right up until the month before he got sick. He coached hundreds of kids over the 40+ years he coached. But he didn’t just influence the kids he coached; he changed everyone he came in contact with. Opposing coaches and opposing teams came to his wake to tell us how he impacted their lives through the strength of his character. His entire baseball team, in their uniforms came to the funeral to stand proud for him.
Everyone was special and important to him. He always took the time to talk to anyone he met. As a kid, it drove me crazy that he talked to anyone and everyone, but now it makes me proud to realize the impact he had on people’s lives because he took the time to talk to them. I try to be more like him each day.
I miss him everyday. We all do. I will miss him even more tomorrow, when I walk across the stage and get hooded as the first doctor in my family and he isn’t there to hold me in his arms and tell me he’s proud of me. But he will be there with me in spirit. He will be there in the tears I cry, the shouts of joy, and the sense of pride and accomplishment.
I love you dad. This moment is dedicated to you.