When my dad was diagnosed with terminal cancer, we knew exactly what to expect. We had just gone through it with our mom. My brothers, Juan and Dat, and I were devastated. When you’re put into a situation like this, you can make what you want of it. You can choose to laugh or cry. We chose to laugh. A lot.
It’s not that we didn’t care. Nothing could be farther from the truth. But we knew no matter what we chose, the outcome would be the same. And if you don’t laugh, all you would do is cry.
The three of us had each other. We also had an awesome extended family and amazing friends. All three of us had just started our careers, so we needed all the help we could get. We set up a calendar in our kitchen and everyone signed up to make sure my dad was never alone.
My dad’s sister, Batsy, would make him his favorite rice pudding. One night, he was extremely bewildered from the pain meds and was eating some. But he kept telling everyone in the room that I made it and it was the best he’d ever had. Aunt Batsy was fuming mad. She was so upset that I was getting the credit for HER rice pudding. She kept saying, oh you made it, did you? Uh-huh, sure you did. If you made it, why don’t you tell us what you put in it? It was absolutely killing her to not say it was hers. Best pudding ever. I still smile thinking of that moment.
My dad had two brothers still living, Dom and Larry, and they took it up a notch. They would sleep at our house in case our dad needed anything in the middle of the night. That way we could sleep and still go to work. Juan and Dat kept crazy hours being policemen and I was a teacher so I would be up and gone early in the morning. So them being there would be a huge help. What could possibly go wrong?
My dad was very close with his two brothers. So this was very hard on them as well. And as everyone else in our family did, they turned to alcohol to help ease the pain. So night after night they would come over and drink their feelings. We quickly realized that, although we were so glad to have them there, perhaps they might not be prepared to handle an emergency, if one should arise. So we got a baby monitor and hooked one end up in my dad’s room upstairs and one in my room in the basement. You know, just in case.
So now, each night I would go to sleep listening to my uncles talk over some brown, because their voices were picked up by the monitor. My Dad told me he would listen to them as well, and how much he loved hearing their stories. He enjoyed them because they were freaking hysterical.
We had so many people come and go from our house on a daily basis. But when it came to bedtime, my uncles would help my dad upstairs to his room. Then they would hit the kitchen cabinet for some liquid courage.
One night I heard my dad call for me on the monitor. I walked upstairs, passed Dom and Lar, who were oblivious to my presence. They were sitting on two kitchen chairs pushed away from the table. Facing one another. Their knees almost touching. Staring at each other. I shook my head and went upstairs to help my dad with whatever he needed. He said he’d been trying to get their attention for some time. Again, we laughed.
Eventually, my dad had to be admitted to the hospital. This is when things got really weird. Juan, Dat, and I brought him in by ambulance and the ER doctors told us to say our good-byes. We cried a lot and said what needed to be said. Then it got awkward because he didn’t die. We just stood there staring at one another, like now what should we do?
My brothers and I wanted it to end right there. Everyone, especially our dad, had been through enough. It was just the four of us and it wasn’t at home. My dad was adamant about not dying at home because our mom had and he didn’t want us to go through that again. But life can be cruel.
The ER doctor came back in and said he didn’t know why, but our dad had stabilized. Well now what in the hell are we supposed to do we do? He was unconscious and basically dead, but he still had a pulse. Next thing we know he’s in a room. He’s staying. And so are we.
Basically, we were told that it would be any time now. We called everyone who had to be called and then we waited. Four freaking days. The three of us sat there and stared at him for four freaking days. We slept there too. We just wanted to be there when he really did go. Even though we knew it was our dad’s wish for us not to be witness to it.
So, as you might imagine, four days in a hospital room with your brothers and not quite dead dad, is enough to make you insane. Everyone got a chance to say their good-byes. I mean everyone. Every relative and every friend my dad ever had. The janitor even came in to say a few words. It was getting old.
After visiting hours ended, Dat and I would crawl into the twin hospital bed next to my dad’s. Two grown-ass siblings sharing a bed. Nothing weird about that. You do whatcha gotta do. Juan found a nice quiet bench in a nice bright corridor to call his own. Each night we wished for the same thing. Peace.
One of my favorite stories from those four damn days is the time Shelly played a funny joke. On the dry erase board over the bed Dat and I shared, she wrote, Hogg, Ima. The next morning, the new nurse on duty came in. I was sitting in a chair next to my dad. She starts to gently tap Dat on the shoulder. Mr.Hogg, Mr. Hogg, are you okay? Do you need anything, Mr. Hogg? He woke up and had no clue what was going on. Just watching him try to explain that was not his name was hilarious. I’m not a Hogg, I’m an O’Connor. I have never laughed so hard in my life.
We also had to bring a lawyer in to get my dad a will made up in a jiffy, so that we wouldn’t have to deal with any of it after the fact. My dad told his brothers to get a lawyer. But by time the lawyer got there, he was pretty out of it. It was like a scene from Weekend At Bernies. We had him all propped up and were moving his hand to make a signature on the will. It felt very Anna-Nicole Smith.
On day four, we are finally convinced to leave the hospital and get something to eat together. Juan, Dat, and I go across the street to a restaurant and right after we placed our drink order we got the call. You better come back.
My dad did not want to die at home. And he did not want to die in front of us. If only we would have gone for a bite to eat a few days sooner.