For most people, September 11th marks a sad anniversary, serving as a reminder to be thankful for the loved ones we are blessed to have in our lives. While I still think about September 11th and remember the thousands of lives lost in 2001, it also marks the date my father passed away five years ago, in 2005. He didn't die on Septeber 11th, but that was the day we all knew our time with him was drawing to a close. I remember my father's death the same way I remember my children's births, recalling the hours that lead up to each event, thinking about where I was, and what I was doing.
For the past five years, my father had been sick, diagnosed with liver cancer when I was expecting our first child. When we were waiting for Owen to be born, it was a strange time, my father was in palliative care at the Civic Hospital in Ottawa, the days leading up to Owen's birth were a mixture of emotions, anticipating both life and death at the same time.
Owen was born at home. In a reversal of the usual events, after he was born, I took him to the hospital to introduce my father to his newest grandson. Identified as a carrier of MRSA, commonly known as a 'super bug', visits with my father required that we wear gowns, masks, and gloves at all times. The fact that my father had no skin-to-skin contact in his last days of life is something that continues to bother me to this day, he was denied the opportunity to hold his newest grandson in his arms.
The weekend my father passed was also Baby Boom weekend. On Saturday, after I worked the booth at Baby Boom, I went to the hospital to visit with him and tell him how the day went. Among the many jobs he held (we often joked he was a butcher, a baker, and a candlestick maker), my father was a shopkeeper for several years in England. When I wanted to open the store, he strongly advised me against it, but after he saw that his crazy daughter wasn't so crazy at all, he was happy to indulge me in my shop talk. When I went to visit him that night, he was not lucid, he seemed to be floating back and forth between the present and the past. Until that point, I had been fearful to let him touch Owen, worried the nurses would catch me and I would be exiled from his room. I slipped Owen's hand out from the sling, and my father held his grandson's finger for the first time, repeating 'this is heaven' over and over.
That was the last time I spoke with my father. The next morning, as I was getting ready for Baby Boom, we got the call that my father was dying. Needless to say, I spent the day at the hospital by my father's side. My father's eyes were open, his gaze unblinking; he was gasping for breath, his body shaking each time he took in air. At that moment, I regretted not telling him all the things I had wanted to tell him at each visit prior to that day. I never wanted to acknowledge what was happening, to admit how much I loved him and would miss him was to admit he was dying. I whispered the words to him that day, hoping he could still hear me.
My father passed away in the early hours of September 12th, 2005. I was lying in bed, I had just nursed Owen, I couldn't fall back asleep. My brother knocked on our door, and whispered the news to us. The next time I saw my father, he was finally at peace. The breathing tubes were gone, he looked like my dad again. As horrible as that time was, it taught me the value of telling your loved ones how you feel.