It was winter when he called me. We talked daily so it was no surprise, but this time it was different. He said he had something to talk to me about but he wanted to do it in person this weekend. I was with my two best friends who didn’t know what to say. But I knew.
It was cancer again. I knew it the second I heard the sound of his voice, the way he told me everything was okay with a soft edge to his words. It was cancer, it was worse this time and everything was about to change.
He was diagnosed on February 10th and he told me on Valentine’s Day. Even though it was six weeks before, I consider that the day I lost my dad in so many ways. The father who carried my bags out to my car, bought me groceries, repaired holes in the wall, changed my oil, asked me about dates I was going on. The dad who would drop everything if I asked him to, let me beat him in chess even though he was so much better. The dad who took care of me. The dad who gave everything he had for everything I was going to be. From that day on it was me who took care of him.
He died on March 22, 2014. 41 days after diagnosis. It wasn’t enough time. I had made a list, true to Virgo form, of all of the things I needed to ask him.
“Did you know my mom was the one right away?” “What is your biggest regret?” “Did you do everything you hoped to do?”
I didn’t have time. Pancreatic cancer is faster than we realized and the 6 months to one year that the doctors had given us quickly turned unrealistic.
He turned 59 five days before he died. It was St. Patrick’s Day and we had planned to go out and celebrate, but instead we sat in the basement of the house he built. We smoked and drank with our little family and his lifelong best friend. I asked him if he wanted a hit of the joint and he said, barely conscious, “Hell yeah I do.”
He was one of a kind. He understood what life was and that was his biggest advantage, and his biggest downfall. Up until the day he died he kept telling me it was all okay, it’d all be fine, not to worry. I know he wouldn’t have wanted it any other way… Surrounded by his family, surrounded by love.
One of the first things he said to me when he found out about the diagnosis was, “I just want to get back to myself, back to the happy guy I am.”
That’s exactly what he did.
I am a journalist. I took notes of the final days, of the things he said, of the things he felt. I noted the color of the sky and the smell of the candle that burned next to his bed. In the week I spent sitting next to him holding his hand, I cried at how vividly blue the sky was. Had it always been that beautiful? Because I knew that tomorrow I may not have my dad anymore- but today was a beautiful time, we were together. Now.
I wish I had more time, but I realize now that it’s never enough. He told me stories of his days cutting down peyote on the Mexican border (seriously), and smuggling hash from Amsterdam back to the States. I’m lucky he trusted me enough to tell me his stories throughout the years, he knew not to wait until someday “when I was older.”
I’m lucky to be a living piece of him.
I hope you ask questions, take pictures, write it all down. I hope you understand how precious it all is, and how beautiful. And that, it will all be okay.
Chelsea Nolan is a 22 year old writer and traveler. She lives with a passion for hearing and sharing stories, doing yoga and collecting memories. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @WildGypsy_
Featured image courtesy of Tiffany Lucero.