At twenty-five, I stood in the card section of London Drugs (usually one of my favourite places on earth), trying to pick out the last birthday card I would ever give my dad. I stood there forever, trying to find one that was just right. One that said everything I had ever wanted to say to him. One that told him how much I loved him, how thankful I was for his strong hands and fierce love, how much I would miss him. I couldn't even see through my tears, and I don't remember what card I ended up getting. It doesn't matter. I'm sure it didn't come close to the truth of what my heart was screaming, which was: I'm not ready to say goodbye to you yet. Daddy, I'm scared ... and I'm so damn angry that this is happening to you. Please don't die.
Cancer is an evil, evil thing. It takes children, it takes mothers, it takes fathers, and it does not discriminate. It has taken two of the people I love most in this world (my dad, and ten years later, my stepdad), and ripped the hearts out of those they left behind. It's not a quiet death. It's not a pain-free death. It's not a dignified death. Don't let anyone tell you different. It is absolute hell.
My dad died fifteen years ago today, while I was holding his hand and telling him it was okay to go. I watched him take his last breath, and it forever changed me.
In the last decade and a half, I'm sorry to say I've probably spent more time focused on this loss than on the gift of him. I know he'd hate that, so today I'm going to do my best to focus on all the good.
My dad was stubborn and hilarious and complicated in ways I didn't get the chance to figure out. He embarrassed me at every single school function, without fail, with his incessant photo taking and ill-timed jokes. When we went ice skating he'd make up uncoordinated dance routines using one of those metal walkers as a prop. If the fellow skaters were extra lucky, they'd be treated to his tone deaf singing voice, too. He was an avid horseman. This picture was taken in Calgary, where my dad lived for several years. I kept shouting, "Faster, Daddy! Faster!" while my poor dad ran alongside the horse.
He sang "On The Sunny Side Of The Street" while walking home from the grocery store. He made the best tuna sandwiches I've ever tasted. When my parents divorced, he was man enough to leave the drama at the door, and though I didn't live with him, he took an equal share in raising me. He became friends with my stepdad.
He protected me. He pushed me. He advocated for me. He gave me hell when I needed it. He was far from perfect, but he was my dad. I miss him.