My year of firsts began on August 6, the day my father died. I received a morning call like I had for the last week or so from his surgeon who typically would provide me with an update of his post-operative progress for a 10cm T-3 malignant tumor in his colon. At 83, his progress was steady and sure. He hated the hospital and was determined to leave, taking as many slow and measured steps that he could to get out.
That morning was different — I barely said hello when the exasperated surgeon told me that dad was in cardiac arrest and I needed to get there. After rushing to the hospital, I was met by both the surgeon and a hospital chaplain — obviously not a good sign — and told that while the medical staff was doing everything they could, it did not look like he would make it.
With my wife and daughters on the way, the doctors asked to make the call, and sitting in a private waiting room with the chaplain I just met, I then started my year of firsts — day one without my father.
While my mother died more than 22 years before him, I did not feel grief the way I do now. Maybe it is because I am older, have a family and feel a greater sense of my own mortality. Perhaps, it was caused by the close presence of my father in my life, especially since he moved just a few minutes from my home and became deeply involved in our lives including volunteering at my daughters’ school. For whatever reason, it was very different — more intense, sad, painful and unexpected. Don’t get me wrong, I have laughed, smiled and felt my heart warm at times. However, pain and loneliness have won the battle thus far.
So in this year of firsts, the tough moments have triumphed everywhere from the funeral home to my living room, and my car to my office. His presence is missed, and I often am reminded of him in unexpected places causing me to withdraw into a depth of sadness that I have never felt before. I constantly do what it takes to do my job, be a husband and father. I don’t think I have been very good at any of these roles since August but have pushed on, hoping that my grief will subside and I will finally embrace and adapt to my new normal.
This doesn’t mean that there have not been memorable and positive firsts since August as I fight as hard as I can to be the husband, father and individual I strive to be. So many memories have made me and my family smile and laugh. We can’t help but describe delicious food as “so good” just like he would and call each other “honey” or “sweetie” since he called each of us those nicknames. We regularly recall his daily phone calls, his love for eating ribs and his weakness to give my daughters anything they wanted with such great joy. He left us with so much love and endless happy memories but his loss overshadows this right now. We want another phone call and would give anything for one more Friday night family dinner.
A month after dad’s death, my older daughter led my wife, younger daughter and me to the summit of Lookout Mountain in Montreat, NC to witness sunrise as it appeared over the mountains. The beauty and peacefulness of this moment has remained with me. We climbed the mountain in darkness only to be reminded of God’s beautiful creation as the light appeared. That was the first moment I remember when I thought I might feel better some day. I keep waiting for my personal sunrise and know it will come someday.
It only is fitting that the final two days of my year of firsts will be spent cycling 200 miles in Pelotonia- a charity ride where 100% of funds raised by participants are directed to life-saving cancer research. While Dad did not die from cancer, it put him in the hospital and he never left. He did not die from cancer, but it did kill him. So, I ride for him and while I cannot save my father, I want to ensure that we eliminate cancer and help friends who have fought and are fighting today.
Biking 100 miles per day is difficult but it is nothing compared to the pain and uncertainty cancer patients, survivors and their families experience each day. So, I ask anyone reading this to help me end cancer as I conclude my year of firsts with the toughest (and best looking) group of cancer fighting warriors- the Midnight Train from Georgia.
We will push through long summer days on our bikes and weather the pain from cycling long distances to raise money and end the struggle for those with cancer. I cannot think of a more appropriate way to end my year of firsts which has undoubtedly been my most challenging year. I can’t wait to do it, for Dad, my friends who have fought and are fighting cancer now, and all of my teammates who motivate me with their dedication, passion and drive to end cancer.
Some team members will contribute periodically throughout the season as we ramp up to Pelotonia weekend in August.