“Bobby, it’s a tumor.”
I can still see Frank Hampton looking directly into my father’s face and saying those horrible words. He had wanted to tell my dad himself, since he and my dad had been friends for years. I felt the bottom drop out of my stomach – sort of like what happens when you’re on a carnival ride, except this wasn’t fun at all. It was literally deadly serious.
The day was September 26, 2001. Frank had admitted Dad to the hospital because he woke up that morning not making any sense when he spoke. We thought he’d had a stroke. At the time, the MRI was at the imaging center in Rome, so I took a ride in the ambulance over with Dad. He knew every doctor in town because of his work with the hospital authority. After his test, every doctor scattered. I knew something was very wrong then, but I just didn’t know how bad it was.
I didn’t realize at the time how profoundly that day changed my life as I threw myself into researching brain tumors and, upon finding out he had the absolute worst kind you could have, researching what treatment options there were. Going over his assets with him before the brain surgery so somebody would know what was going on if he shouldn’t survive it. I made a legal pad of information that I lived by for six months after his death.
But that day was when I switched from being a 43 year old adult who had very little responsibility outside of a job to a caregiver. And I stayed in that role for the next 13 years till Mom passed.
I know that God has a purpose for everything. I had to grow up fast during Dad’s illness, and I appreciated the fact that he had been so proactive in getting everything in order so that I could just manage things. But the tumor gave me a gift in an odd way – I found out more about Dad’s boyhood and how he grew up with his siblings in the time he could still speak than I had ever learned before. I treasure the lunches we had together on the two days a week I’d come up to take him to his radiation treatments.
Dad and I had always been close. He had a dry sense of humor that I adored. He’d get a twinkle in his eye before he did something silly. And I couldn’t believe I was going to have to go on without him. But by the end of three months, I had to let him go to God. It was a blessing because he was in such pain.
I learned a lot while Dad was sick. I learned while watching my husband gently help my father take care of himself, then again years later while he held my mother down so they could medicate her while she was delirious (while tears were streaming down his face), that I had married the right man. He loved my parents, and he loved me during the nights of crying (which still happen). I learned what a fantastic church family I have who supported me and came to Rome and stood with me at the funeral – both times. And I learned that I have a core of friends who I’ve chosen as family.
September 26, 2001 changed everything in my life. I spent the next thirteen years essentially as a caregiver – first guiding Mom through living without the person on whom she’d been dependent for 52 years… then helping her through her final struggles with emphysema and dementia. It’s been two years since she passed, and I’m still adjusting to life without taking care of someone. I’m watching my friends starting down the same path I’ve already traveled, and I wish I could make the way easier…
Fifteen years have passed since my life path altered so radically. I miss my parents daily. But, when all is said and done, and I consider all that has happened and the road I’ve traveled – in the words of the beautiful hymn… “It Is Well With My Soul.” Thanks be to the God who never left me.