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April L. Smith

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April L. Smith

Letter to Dad
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Six Months
By April L. Smith   
Rated "PG" by the Author.
Last edited: Tuesday, June 29, 2004
Posted: Thursday, June 17, 2004

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Two years later...I still miss you, Daddy.

I miss my Dad. Even as I write this, the words are slow to come to mind. My brain has still not fully grasped his death…it is with a measured effort that I can even comfortably write the words “his death”. I still feel his hugs. Warm, strong arms, long like my own, enveloping me in their safety. My Dad was always my protector. My knight-in-shining-armor. While I often turned to my mother for the emotional tribulations that came along in my life, it was my father who I would run to for the physical aspect. His voice, deep and throaty and commanding, would guide me. His strength, muscles and brawn, would lead me. I was never fearful with my father around. Now that I no longer have that guidance in my life, I am, for the first time in my life, anxious about where my path will lead me. I remember the good times in the past, celebrating with my family. My Dad was the family member in charge of putting up the Christmas tree, whether it be artificial or not. With precision and deep deliberation, he’d wrap the strands of tree lights round and around the tree, followed by the shimmering burgundy or gold garland. His short temper would flare when a stubborn strand of lights would not blink properly or the dog would get underfoot; Dad would growl and curse and we all knew not to get in his way. We would wait patiently, my mother, brother and myself, until Dad’s work was done before we could finally put up the pretty Christmas ornaments packed so carefully in their boxes. No matter how irritable Dad got while decorating that tree, the finished product would always make him smile. And Christmas morning, it was all worth it. In my house, on Christmas morning, the children were not allowed to enter the living room until both parents were up. My brother Sean, only a year younger than me, would jump into bed with me at five a.m. and we’d huddle together in the cool darkness, impatient and animated, giggling and whispering until we heard Dad preparing everything. He’d put the teakettle on for my mother, then make his cup of steaming, black coffee. Christmas morning was the one sure morning he’d always brew his own coffee, and not opt for the quick and easy gratification of instant coffee. We’d hear the grumble of the perking machine, then the trickle of the flavored water, and excitement would build up to a crescendo. It was almost time!Then Dad’s voice, booming and authoritative “April! Sean! You can come out now!” And in a flurry of pajama-bottomed feet and squealing voices, we’d race into the living room trying to beat each other to be the first to see the bounty Santa Claus had left us. I miss those carefree days. And the absence of fear that my parents would one day pass away and “leave” me. When you are a child, everything seems certain and safe. I never wanted to grow-up for fear of losing that safety net. But adulthood has found me, and along with that safety net has gone my innocence. * * * * *Daddy always used to tell Sean and I, “Your mother is a sick woman. She has a disease. She will die one day and you have to accept that.” He tried to prepare us as best a father could. Unfortunately, he never prepared us for his own demise. When my father became ill, I struggled internally with optimism and pessimism. Optimism due to the fact that Dad was young, vibrant, and tough. He would BEAT this damn cancer. Pessimism because something inside told me how sick he really was. The months of horrible hacking coughs was not normal. I begged my mother to make him go to the doctor. I often wonder, now, if he had listened then, would he still be alive now? It’s a question I will never have an answer to. And maybe, I don’t want to know the answer.“The news isn’t good.” My mom told me. I remember our conversation vividly. I was at work, sitting at my desk, phone pressed tightly to my ear, fingers clenching the earpiece so tightly my knuckles were no doubt white. “We’ll talk about it later. Now is not the time.”“No, tell me now.” I had demanded. There was no way I could chew on that all day, not knowing what his doctor had told her.“According to the doctor, your father only has six months left.” Six months.Count it out on the calendar. Six months. That would make it the month of May.My Dad will die in May? That’s impossible! It’s not enough time! I remember thinking, as I sat at my desk in silence, my mother’s voice ringing in my head. “April? Are you still there?”“Yes. Six months left to live?” I asked, choking on my tears, knowing that was exactly what she meant.* * * * *The day my Dad passed away, May 5, 2002, the weather was beautiful. The sun was shining and so bright you couldn’t drive without your sunglasses on. It was warm with just a touch of humidity in the air. Not enough, though, to make it uncomfortable. I had run home to shower and grab some more clothes but my mother called me back when she found out the priest was to arrive at 2:00 p.m. to read my father his Last Rites. I rushed home, before the priest arrived, to find my mother leaning over my Dad, clutching his hand, giant tears rolling down her face. The sight of her tears stopped me quicker than seeing my father who had gotten progressively worse just within a two-hour timespan. I hadn’t seen tears roll freely down my mother’s cheeks since he had been diagnosed, not even once. So, to see her let go so openly, frightened me. It was really happening. Dad’s face had an ashen gray pallor and was sticky with sweat. Perspiration beaded on his brow and had also matted his dark hair, now sprinkled with gray from chemotherapy, to his hot head. I blotted his forehead with a cool washcloth. He never even flinched. I touched his arm; the skin there was cool to the touch and clammy, white as a dove’s wing. I could see spots on his arms, purplish-red spots scattered sporadically. He looked almost polka-dotted with these spots. I pulled up the comforter and felt his feet, his toes: icy cold. “I think he’s dying.” My Mother managed to sob, her eyes meeting mine. I felt nauseous. My mind was abuzz with thoughts but at the same time, curiously blank. I just couldn’t think straight. It was the moment we had all been preparing for, yet I wasn’t ready. Thankfully, at that moment, the priest entered the room. He blessed my Dad with holy water; read from his bible; touched my mother’s hand and wished her strength. Then the priest left as quickly as he had come. Above the sound of my Mom’s quiet sobbing, my father struggled to breathe. It was thick and raspy, his liquid-filled lungs gasping for final breaths of air. All I could think of at that very moment was, “So this is what it sounds like to hear someone drowning.” Each breath continued to get further and further apart. I told him I loved him. And that he needn’t worry about my mother because I would take care of her. My Mom told him to “let go, please just let go, Richie”. The almost-violent heaving of his chest suddenly lessened. “Is that it?!?” I cried, filled with dread. His chest seemed to stop. His eyes were still open. He’d struggled to keep them that way so that he could stare into my mother’s own eyes till the end. Not yet! Not yet! Oh please, make it stop! I thought, full well realizing the contradictions of my thoughts. Another breath. Silence.“He’s gone.” That was my Mom.“No, he’s not. Not yet.” Another voice, my Mother’s cousin, Debbie. My poor Mom, her voice rising in sorrow, sobbed, “Yes! He is gone!”Then a keening, almost banshee-like cry erupted from her, the likes I’ve never heard and probably WILL never hear again. * * * * *I need to put this all down on paper. I don’t want to forget a second of it. At the same time, thinking of it hurts me, still. It’s a complicated emotion to deal with: grief and the mourning that follows. I still ache. I need to hear my father’s voice one more time. Feel his warmth in one more hug. See his smile and his brown eyes, and the slight crinkle in his cheeks, especially after I kiss him there. I want to touch his hair, dark and brown, thinning on top, but soft as down feathers. I want him to wear his red shorts, his long, “chicken legs”, poking out. See him shrug into his VFW Jacket with Smitty emblazoned on the lapel. I need to see his friends, his VFW cronies, pat him on the back one more time, and hug him and tell him what a “good guy” he is. I want him to mow the lawn and shovel snow and drive his car and eat ice cream and kiss my mother and laugh when I get lost, since I have absolutely no sense of direction. I want it all, just ONE more time.

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Reviewed by J. Conrad Guest 6/14/2006
A heartfelt write, April. I understand your grief. Rest assured it gets easier with time, but you will never forget, nor should you wish to.

Reviewed by Dave Harm 10/20/2004
Wow, don't know what to say. My father-in-law was in the hospital and at least a dozen people kept trickling in and out for their final good-byes. When it was over, we knew he wasn't alone. It hurt a lot! But it was also peaceful! The man we loved had his family present! One final thought, personally, I don't care for the word "death." Its so final. I always say, "He left this world." I know we'll meet again. Very well written, felt like I was there!
Reviewed by Debra Conklin 6/29/2004
April, your pain is still so raw that it hurts to read this. Though I was there at your home, when Richie passed on, I feel as though I wasn't. I felt like an intruder, embarrassed to be witnessing your families sorrow and pain during that time. But, the love, support and strength of everyone was a testament to how much Richie meant to you all. You were lucky to have a father such as this, April. There are those of us who weren't as fortunate, treasure these memories. He'll always live on, in Sean and in you. You especially, with your words.
Take care, April.
Reviewed by Margaret La Forte (Reader) 6/29/2004
April sweety, i think every one who read this will be able to feel you. You expressed your inner feelings so vividly..I'm sorry for your loss...Margaret La Forte
Reviewed by Tamara Dailey-Keur 6/29/2004
April, this is such a tear jerker. I can feel every inch of your pain, as I went through the same thing with two family members last year who passed away from cancer. Bless you heart... you truly are a strong woman with strong compassion. Thank you for sharing this piece with us. I hope that others can find comfort in knowing that there is someone who has been through the same emotional roller coaster as we have. God bless you and never change your beauitful heart. Love, Tamara

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