For closing in on sixteen months, I’ve been traveling. Not quite non-stop, but I haven’t been home longer than three weeks at a time, most of the time it has been two weeks. It started in April 2012 with a performance I did at DC Tribal Café. From there, work took over until mid-August. Since then, almost all of my travel has been for personal reasons, and most of them are dance-related, and I’m still not finished.
Over last summer I had taken on the responsibility of production managing the art show section of my boss’s tour. I took on more than I was expecting, but there was a bit of me that was excited about it. But in the cracks of my work, I was watching my father face his final battle with cancer.
I must admit that I was in denial about how hard it was until I saw him at the end of May. He looked frail. That is something I would never have associated with him. And to top it off, he was no longer having long conversations. His ability to speak and remember things was deteriorating.
Pop has always had something to say…….questions to ask……words of love about my mom (to be honest though, he still found the strength for those).
I went back home at the end of June for my brother’s wedding. I was completely unprepared for the change those few weeks had made. Pop hardly had any of his faculties working due to some of his medication but he was determined to attend the wedding. I was crying at the wedding equally for my brother’s happiness and also out of pure sadness over Pop. I don’t know how my mom made it through as well as she did.
After seeing the shape he was in, I knew I couldn’t waste time anywhere else. He wouldn’t want me leaving work, but I had a short break at the beginning of July, so I flew back. We took him off the medicine that made him so loopy, so when I returned he was able to talk a little and he was able to actually see you. Over that week, I was constantly hounding him to eat more. I would feed him when he let me. And we would talk.
Being in the middle of the storm I was in with work, it was hard for me to be excited about anything. And not having a community in NY, I didn’t know where I belonged. It upsets me that I wasn’t happier during those last conversations. I know he’s seen me excited, happy, and in love, but in those moments I was challenged and weak.
I departed again for more tour to San Francisco and Los Angeles. I was planning to stay in Los Angeles and visit friends for my week off, but I realized I couldn’t afford to miss another day with my parents. I rushed home and the waiting game began.
Mom and I would mostly go about our daily routine. She had a bit more practice at this point than I did. I found myself standing in their bedroom doorway watching my dad sleep. He no longer left the bed. And hospice said it was a matter of days.
How could that be Pop laying in there? The facial features were but a shadow of his former self and the smiles were gone too. Despite his fondness for pretending to be a grouch, he was happy guy. Being a smartass is definitely a trait I received from him.
I did my best to be strong. I helped change him although I didn’t think I would be able to handle it emotionally. I tried to feed him. And I talked to him. I did my best to tell him all of the things I should have been saying for years. While Pop was very good at expressing love for my mom, he was never very expressive with us kids. And that’s fine. He got better at it as the years went by. I tried to get better at it with him too. It’s crazy, I’ve never really had a problem sharing my feelings with my friends and lovers, but Pop was different. Maybe someday I’ll figure out why. Maybe it’s simply because he wasn’t very verbal towards me about it. I don’t know and don’t care about it at the moment.
I just know in those last few days, I tried to make up for all the times I didn’t tell him how much I admired him. How, despite his relatively hands off parenting, he was an incredible father. And of course that I loved him.
We held hands in these moments. There were times when I knew he was listening because I could see acknowledgement in his eyes. Other times, I just needed to keep saying it.
At 5:30am on July 27, I heard my mom call my name. Clearly my unconscious knew something was wrong, because normally I would never have woken up that quickly. I went to their room and the time had come. My mom and I sat next to him. She told me stories. She started telling me about the various songs on their special playlist. One song in particular he had added as background music to a slideshow he made for my mom one year. She played it for me.
As the song ended, his breathing slowed………….then stopped……….
His body was still there. It didn’t make sense. I didn’t feel any energy shift………….it wasn’t right that his body was there but it didn’t move.
This was my first experience watching death. It has altered me in countless ways. The biggest was the realization that he was alone. There was nothing…….nothing I could do to help him. Nothing.
I can only hope that he knew I was there as much as I could be, and that I think about him daily. His impact on me is far greater than he would ever be willing to admit, even if he was aware of it.
A few days after Pop died I headed back to work. I took a couple road trips with my mom. And I’ve done a very good job of not processing all of this for almost a year. I just immersed myself in as much dance and travel as possible, balancing work with all of it. But it’s all catching up to me. I get weepy at the slightest thing, and am seeing all the walls I’ve put up. They’re cracking and I shouldn’t have them up in the first place.
Tonight is one of the first nights in over a year that I’ve had completely to myself in my home. No roommates, no work, just me. I have been waiting for this night for a while. And I kept telling myself once I was able to have a night like this, I would process, or at least get started processing it all.
It’s such a strange thing when a parent dies. We are luckier than others. We’ve had an amazing family for many years.
I miss Pop. I will always miss him. And while there are never enough photos, and never enough video, he will be remembered.
I love you Pop.
I love you Pop.