June 15, 2014

Goodbye, Dad. ~ Kristin Laing

man reading newspaper

“Dad? It’s Kristin. Guess what?! I did it, I got published! Yeah, and people are actually reading my articles!”

Oh wait… We can’t have that conversation…

I can hear your slow, rich baritone voice say, “Awww, that’s great!” But it’s only my memory of other conversations we’ve had. Instead, the conversation I can’t have takes me right back to the first conversation I had with Alice the night you left us all.

“I told you. Your dad died.”

I think you knew you had prostate cancer long before you told Jim, Deirdre and me but you didn’t want us to spend the years it takes to advance to stage four fussing over you. You always hated it when people made a fuss over you. I get that from you.

And my eyes.

My sense of adventure. My laugh. My love for animals, nature and hiking. My appreciation for irony and humor so dry it’s dusty. My Scottish pride. My open mind—to people, cultures, religions.

We lost years. We were both hurt by the divorce, we both wanted someone to blame. Bruised egos got in the way of hiking and whitewater canoe trips. That melted away the day I had no pride left to hide behind and called to say I was in trouble and needed you.

“I love you,” you said. “We’ll get you through this.” And the war ended.

After that, no conversation ended without an “I love you”. Every visit began and ended with a bear hug, though the bear hugs got gentler, weaker, as the years began to stack up behind your bushy eyebrows. (I really hope I got mom’s eyebrows.)

After the shock that 2012 would be our last year together wore off and helplessness set in, I vowed to make it a really good year for you. You would not see the pain in my heart for the loss I was about to experience. You had your own pain, your own future to come to terms with.

I planned a birthday hike; it was your last. For the first time, I was the lead. The pace was slower than it had ever been before as your body struggled to meet the demand for oxygen. It was the reality that the end was no longer theoretical—your lifelong passion had come to an end. This fact weighed heavily on me in the months that followed.

Ever the biology teacher, you approached cancer with curiosity rather than fear. You researched, explored, experimented with homemade remedies and alternative wellness. Even through your pain, you taught about what you were experiencing—what it was doing to your healthy cells, how the sugar you loved so much was actually feeding it.

You were one of those teachers that kids loved. You loved your job and you loved your kids. When I reached out to tell them you were getting weaker by the day and that hearing from them would cheer you up, they rallied to your side. They shared their memories, what a great teacher you were. Even now, almost two years later, they find my Facebook page about you and share their stories.

On the visit I knew would be our last, you kept telling me to become a writer.

“Your stories are so good. You should write a book,” you repeated.“You’re right, Dad. I should some day,” I replied.

Why did I go back to the job I sucked at and was unhappy in over staying to hold your hand through that last week? Because I also get my puritanical work ethic from you. If only I had known they were going to fire me two months later anyway…

I shook with dread and tears over having to say goodbye when I left your hospital room that morning. I did not want you to see me cry. I wanted you to know that it was okay to let it come when it was time, to not fight against being freed from your suffering. I didn’t want you hanging around on account of my tears.

It took everything I had to say, “It’s time for me to hit the road,” without choking on the words. You were just a shadow of the tall, strong man who used to swoop me into your arms when you came home from school. As if you knew I couldn’t muster the courage to say goodbye, you unceremoniously announced, “I have to BM.” As the nurses entered to help you, I stood outside your door. You looked at me, a smile in those big, crystal blue eyes and waved.

Why should the last goodbye be filled with tears anyway, right? The tears will surely come later. And my, oh my, how they would fall.

It’s been a little less than two years now. There are no more hour-long phone calls about the latest conspiracy news on the World Bank. I haven’t been able to hike a trail without you in the world yet. The sudden and often unprovoked waves of raw grief still hit me, especially when I have exciting news. Like becoming a writer—just like you said.

You were the first man in my life. My first love. My best friend. Happy Father’s Day.


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Photo: Pixoto / Andreas Voigt Photography and Pixoto / Zoran Nikolic

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