Cancer

A View on Death After 6 years. I‘m getting closer to 30, the 6th… | by Erick Wence | Dec, 2021

Erick Wence

I‘m getting closer to 30, the 6th anniversary of my father’s passing approaches, and questions of whether I should have a kid of my own are frequent. It was a hot day in May of 2012 and we were building a fence together. For several months prior my dad had this lingering cough that was infrequent enough to worry about, but a sign none the less that something was wrong. The tendonitis that had been taking its toll on him for several years was our focus and it had him in pretty bad shape. He guided me and watched from his seat. This was our dynamic for a while given that he could no longer walk around and stand like he used to. Every project that needed to get done around the house he’d tell me what to do and I’d learn it all.

This was just another one of those days, right? He crouches to grab something. He coughs. Covers his mouth with tissue and stares at it. I look over. Pause. Notice the blood. We look at each other. I ask him “what was that?”. He says “Nothing. My nose is probably just dry.” I stare and slowly continue to work on the fence. I can’t imagine what went through his mind. “Blood? What’s wrong with me? It’s nothing. What if it is? No, I’m fine. It’s fine.” Little did he know I was thinking the same.

It’s getting late. He goes inside to shower while I stay behind to put everything away. I’m in the shed when my 4-year-old niece runs out to say “Tu abuelito is bleeding”. “Tu abuelito” is what she called her grandpa after being told “go tell your grandpa to come here” with the understanding that “your grandpa” was his name, but in Spanish. I see the panic in her little face and I don’t believe her. What is she talking about?

I go to the door and yell out to my mom. Everyone’s in a panic. I can hear my dad is in the bathroom uncontrollably coughing blood. My mom is looking for everything needed to go to the hospital. My niece is crying. My brother is freaking out. I stand there. I call out to him. He can’t talk. It’s coming out faster than he can catch his breath. He’s going to choke. I open the door. I see him in a way I had never seen him before. Coughing. Choking. Afraid. I guide him through catching his breath. He’s done it. He’s ok. The paramedics show up. They say “oh it was just a nose bleed”. No. We go to the hospital with him. The next morning we find that his “nose bleed” was stage 4 kidney cancer and he only had about 2 weeks left to live.

2 weeks. He was fine. His biggest problem was tendonitis. He wasn’t a smoker. He wasn’t even an avid drinker. What? Is there anything we can do? He’s on chemo, but that won’t really help. My father is in this bed. The chemo has given him mouth sores making it unbearable to eat or speak. For several years now my worry was that my father’s tendonitis made it so he could never play basketball or soccer with me anymore. My biggest worry was that my father is getting old because he can no longer work on projects around the house like he used to. My biggest worry. 2 weeks is all we have left and he can’t even tell me what we’re supposed to do. This man I grew up seeing as the most important and inspiring man in my life because he could do everything. He was invincible. He could beat anyone in any sport of their choice. He could fix anything. He could do anything. The same man that put me through Tae Kwon Do and was there to train me outside of class. The same man that dreamed of playing an instrument, but never could, and when he heard I wanted to he found a way for me to learn guitar. The same man who made my younger brother with cerebral palsy walk after he was told he never would. This man is in his death bed and we, I, can’t do anything about it. We take him home. We’re getting a second opinion. We don’t care what they say. I’m 21

He’s at my graduation crutches and all. Not an ideal situation for him, but exhausted he’s happy to see another one of his kids graduate. Life is as good as it can be for the last few years, but I start to notice my mother more and more worried as the winter months approach. I’ve been working so I only hear how the doctor’s appointments have been going. Some days good. Some days bad. My mother starts to tell me my father is starting to forget things. His coordination is off. I don’t see it. He’s doing fine. I spend time with my girlfriend. I go to work. I continue to receive messages of every new little thing my dad did wrong that day. He’s doing fine. We’re going to watch the next big boxing match. We get our snacks together. The fight is on. He’s happy. We’re happy. He turns to my mom and asks where I am. He turns. He looks at me. Nervously smiles realizing the mistake he’s made. We watch the fight.

We saw one more Thanksgiving with him before he left on December 2nd, 2015. The entire week leading up to it I remember his body failing him so much I had to carry him for everything. My mom would say he had to go to the bathroom, I’d approach him and say “Let’s do this big guy.” He’d stretch out his arms not saying a word and I’d lift him off the couch. I can’t really remember the last thing he and I said to each other anymore. My mom says that he didn’t want to die. That all he was thinking about was what was going to happen his family. His family of four kids who he had kept up on a very minimal salary. We were there. All of us were there when it happened. Some people aren’t so lucky. Everyone leaves. My brother and I stay behind to clean him up before they take him. I’m 24.

When this pandemic hit in March 2020 the first thing that came to mind was “It’s lucky my dad isn’t around. It would’ve been way more difficult to take care of him.” When I switched jobs and started making more money I thought “It’s way more than he ever made. He would be so proud!” I work on our cars and can’t help but thank him for everything I know (and all the savings I see from not having to take them to the shop). Like most people during the pandemic, I got married twice due to rescheduling and just knew he was there for all of it. Loving all of it.

I’ve had my fair share of dreams where he makes an appearance including one that I like to think was a message. I’m a skeptic and avoid trying to find any other meaning in things other than cause and effect, but sometimes the things we experience can be uncanny. I remember this dream vividly. Digging up my father who was mummified because I noticed he was still moving. We cremated him so this is impossible. Brought him to the living room. Went to the kitchen to tell my family he was still alive. They wouldn’t listen. Went back to the living room to see him trying to speak and finally saying “I’m ok son. You don’t have to worry about me.” At the time of having this dream my mother was worried about a lot of things at home and I was filling the role in the home he had vacated. The dream could be a result of my worry or an actual message, but I like to think of it as the latter.

He has a dedicated spot in my home and anytime I make eye contact with his picture I joke as if he was still there. He laughs with me. He yells at me. He gives me advice. Just a few days ago I moved his pictures around to make room for some Christmas decorations and every time I grab his pictures, thoughts enter my head like he had just left yesterday. I’ll never be able to laugh with him again. I’ll never be able to ask him for advice again. We’ll never create any new memories again. He won’t see everything I’ve accomplished thanks to him. I really need help with this project and I know he would’ve known what to do.

I have a new capacity to talk to him in a way I never could before. I was a kid when he was here. All I cared about was hanging out with my friends, playing video games, and being out and about. Not home talking and doing things with my dad. How unfair is that? He could be here doing so much more with me than ever before. He hated craft beer because he didn’t think it was as good as the typical beers Mexicans drink. I could’ve been taking him to try flights and find his new favorite craft beer. He loved being in shape. I could’ve taken him to the gym with me and we could’ve gotten ripped together. He never traveled the world and experienced a true vacation. I could’ve warmed him up to the idea and he could’ve had a blast.

When tendonitis was the only problem, I’d say I didn’t want kids passed 30 because I didn’t want to end up like my dad who got too old while I was still young. Now that he’s gone that same thought has evolved into not wanting to die too young on my kids. What about all of the other deciding factors? What if I’m not fit to be a parent? What if my genetics and my wife’s don’t allow us to have healthy children? What if they grow up to hate me?

I wonder if my dad asked these questions. He had a tough life growing up. He experienced things with his family that he promised himself never to put us through. He dedicated every ounce of his existence to us. My father. This figure who will never know my kids and who my kids might not even care to know about will matter more to them than they will ever know. The impression he’s left on me will continue and fall onto them whether I live to be 56 like him or not. Will I have kids? Will I be a good dad? Will they write something about me when I’m gone? I guess it doesn’t matter as long as I give them my all like he did.

I’m 29.

Thank you for everything Dad.


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