This is Shelby’s blog but today I want to write about my other angel – my original guardian angel. My daddy passed away 20 years ago today. Twenty years. I need to let that sink in for a little bit because it seems to surreal.
What was I doing 20 years ago? Well I was just 22 years old, having graduated from college the prior May, moving back to Seattle because my father was in ill health from the cancer. We didn’t know how much time he had left but I knew I had to be where he was.
The back story:
My father was diagnosed with aggressive brain and lung cancers when I was 15 years old. I was in high school and scared to death. Teenagers didn’t deal with death or sick parents. My dad was only 48 years old. He was given one year to live. We started fighting the tumors and the cancer with with radiation and chemotherapy. Treatments back in the 90s were not as advanced as they are today so the memories I have of my father are being sick, tired, in pain. But my God he was a fighter. He was going to fight that cancer with everything he had. And he never, ever, complained.
And so I grew up pretty quickly. My mom, bless her heart, still had to raise me me (very strong-willed as I am today) and became an instant caregiver to her ailing husband. We were a family and we were ALL IN to fight. And we fought in some of the same ways I fought Shelby’s cancer – with positive energy, positive thoughts, and hope. In fact, I recall when going through Shelby’s treatments and vet visits, having flashbacks to what my father and our family went though – in and out of hospitals, doctors visits, medications on a schedule.
And that one year came and went and dad was still with us. He started to get better but the cancer never fully went into remission. We watched it and fought it was it came back in the esophagus. That was removed and the treatments began – again. My daddy’s body was tired and he was aging but he was still fighting and had the same sense of humor he always had. And the same love for his family. The cancer was a bit dormant for several years and then a fall down the stairs (most likely triggered by a seizure) landed my father in the hospital unconscious. I don’t recall if it was a coma or not but it was serious enough for me to fly home from college. It was the start of my last semester at college. My dad woke up to the sound of my voice and my touch but he was far from well. At the urging of my mom and family, I went back to college to finish. It was what my dad would have wanted.
My dad recovered – sort of – from the head trauma and while recovering, we discovered the lung and brain cancers were back. This part of the story is a bit fuzzy for my memory as I think my mom tried to shield me from the dark news in order to allow me to focus on my education. When graduation was coming up, it was apparent my father might not be able to travel to see me graduate. I didn’t want to walk at my own graduation. I just wanted to get home to my dad. But a friend of ours agreed to travel with my mom to assist with my father. For that I am forever grateful because my father, ill as he was, was able to see me get my college degree. Something he himself did not have even though he went on to be a high level executive. He was so proud of me. He was always SO proud of me! It would be the last milestone in my life that he would witness.
After graduation, I moved back to Seattle. My dad was still declining in health but fighting hard. But come January of 1997, days after his 55th birthday, things changed for the worse. Within weeks my father was in the hospital, then hospice (where I remained in constant denial about what was happening). And then, on February 7, 1997, my father took his last breaths surrounded by his family and his dog.
Life after death:
To say I was forever changed is an understatement. I was 22 years old – barely an adult. Barely a plan in the world for my life and I got thrown into adulthood really quickly. I had to make adult decisions. My mom did the bulk of the work but I still had to be present and aware. I spent days, weeks, months in a deep depression. I would cry. I was so angry. I turned my back on those close to me. Life was unfair. I wished, on more than one occasion, for the universe to take me too.
See, my dad was my hero. I was the quintessential “daddy’s girl”. I am an only child and I was the apple of his eye. I am of course very close my mom but there is nothing like a girl’s relationship with her daddy. My daddy and I had the best adventures, the private jokes, secrets shared. My dad wrote me notes and letters while I was at college telling me how proud he was of me, how much he loved me. I have all those letters saved.
I am going to be 43 years old at the end of this month. It is a very real reality that I am 5 years shy of how old my father was when he got sick. But I am also very aware that I have a very healthy mom and other longevity in my family. I work hard to be healthy – not only because I live in LA and it is what we do – but to live a long and healthy life. I don’t need to know what caused my dad’s cancer (was it the smoking, the time on a Navy boat with atomic waste, environmental factors???).
Twenty Years Later:
I would like to think my daddy is proud of the woman I have become. I fight for what is right. I fight for those that cannot speak. My father was nice to everyone – no matter who they were. He volunteered at a soup kitchen. He gave back to his church and his community. He was the dad that other girls wanted to be around because he was so inclusive. I would like to think that part of my dedication to a career in philanthropy stems from the examples I witnessed growing up.
I love my dog(s) with my entire heart. My daddy also loved his dogs … his dogs (and me) were his everything. I would like to think he kept Shelby as safe as he could for as long as he could before she went to join him. I like to think that he was there to greet her and help her find her new way. It was in the darkest times when I lost Shelby, I was able to find comfort in knowing in my heart they were together. But it was a familiar journey through grief and with age, I was better able to process and work through my grief. It was not easy. But I knew deep in my heart, I had done it before and I could do it again and I had two angels keeping an eye on me this time.
I will forever miss my father. Like I will forever miss my sweet Shelby. But I will always try and be grateful for what they brought into my life … how enriched my life was because they were in it. The memories fade … I don’t have all the details of our life together but I can always look at the below photos and I can feel and remember the connection.
Forever in my heart … Sam … 1941 – 1997.