Tuesday, February 14, 2012
Someone asked me why I started HF Video, the branch of my family history business that creates documentaries of our families, helps people create Legacy Letters, and celebrates the lives of those we love and know that we are soon to lose. I started this venture because I hate regrets. And I have a huge regret that I can never redress. But there was no good reason for regrets like mine. And with HF Video, no one has to face those regrets. Here is my story:
I have sat with someone as they heard their death sentence.
In early May of 2006 I was with my dad as he read the latest lab results out loud. The cancer had metastasized and spread from his liver to his entire body—including an “uncountable” number of specks of cancer in his lungs. It was an eerie thing to listen to him calmly reading the words that screamed “Your days are over! You’re going to die!”
Just a few months later my sisters called to tell me that if I wanted to see him, now was the time to travel across the country for my last visit. The prophecy of the spring had turned into the reality of the summer. My father was truly dying. “I want to hear him sing my song one more time,” I thought.
I am the oldest of four girls, with all of the pain and privilege that entails. One of the benefits was “my” song. The one Dad wrote for me soon after I was born. He wrote a song for each of us, but mine was the least derivative and the most original. And, of course, in my mind, the best. I had grown up hearing him sing it – at bedtime, in the car, at my request, at random moments. But it had been years since I moved across the country, and still longer since I heard him sing it for me. This was going to be my last opportunity to hear my Dad sing my song.
Dad was still Dad when I arrived—talking, laughing, telling jokes, picking on us one by one or as a group. Although confined to his bed, too tired and weak to allow his faithful friend and caregiver to help him get into his wheelchair, he seemed like the same larger-than-life man I had known all of my life. His appetite for all of the good Pittsburgh foods hadn’t diminished as he ate stuffed cabbage and kielbasa and coconut cream pie.
On the night of the fourth of July my sisters and my son sat around his bed and watched the fireworks on TV, singing the patriotic songs together. What an incredible memory that was – to sing with my father one last time. That was the perfect time to ask him to sing my song, the one he wrote for me when I was born, but the thought of making that request seemed too melodramatic and final.
My sisters and I planned his funeral. My son began to create the tribute video to show. We called family and friends. We kept some members of the family from pillaging the house. We spent every moment possible with my dad, talking to him, adjusting his bed clothes, bringing him food and water and his “Kickapoo Joy Juice” an herbal tea he swore has staved off his cancer for years.
One sister taught us to never leave his presence without saying “I love you” since we didn’t know when he would die, and to causally leave without a final “I love you” would be sad beyond words.
On the 7th of July, my dad gently passed away in his sleep. I’ll skip past the now-comic scene of my youngest sister and me trying to determine if he was truly dead or simply sleeping. And the heartbreak of calling my two sisters and Dad’s friend and caregiver to come say their goodbyes. We buried him in the National Cemetery three days later among other men and women who served the country he loved so well, and began to learn how to live our lives without a Dad.
I never did ask him to sing my song for me. All of those opportunities wasted. I know that he would have done it had I asked him. Sure, we would have both dissolved into blubbering messes, but I would have had that one last song. And now I can never hear his rich tenor voice crooning the words he wrote for me.
I regret that loss almost every day. It seems such a little thing to miss, and yet I do.
I hate regrets. I miss my Dad.
“You’re our own little girl, and we love you so much. We love you, yes, we love you so much.”