circa 1975 - The first snapshot I ever took with my brownie camera.

Because of some recent news, I have been scanning though old pictures - some of which I haven't looked at in over a decade.  There are so many great memories and some tragedies but as I look back I see a pretty charmed life full of family that started big and kept on growing.

The news that brought me back was not the memories I had hoped to uncover.  My son and my daughter have found out recently that their friend's fathers have been diagnosed with cancer -  one whose prognosis is pretty bleak.   When I hear news like this, it literally takes my breath away - I gasp for air as my mind takes me back to my life as a kid in high school over 30 years ago.  My dad lived a hard life with many tragedies along the way - the death of a wife and being left with two small children to raise, the death of a son who was only 10 months old and a constant burden of being the provider of our large family and I dare say the stress of living with my mother (sorry mom).  He rarely visited the doctor and had smoked since he was 11.   I spent years pestering him to quit, even hiding his cigarettes risking his wrath for my cause.  Well, cancer did not evade him.

I think about these boys beginning a journey that I didn't take very gracefully and I wonder what I could say to them to help them along the way.  It was only in scanning this last picture that I see that my dad died in 1983.  I was 15.  I have never been too keen on remembering dates but me not remembering this was because I didn't want to.  I wanted to wipe every memory of those 6 months from existence.  While it was happening, I was in denial.  None of my friend's parents had ever been sick - let alone DIE.  I don't even remember anyone even getting divorced.  I wanted to stay after school and try out for the cheerleading team - my Mom made me come home and spend some time with my dad - watch TV, play cards, whatever he was up to.  I wanted to spend time with friends.   What did they think of me?  I couldn't run far enough away from the tragedy that was unraveling at home.

My dad spent his last few weeks in the hospital - Millard Fillmore Gate Circle - which I watched on video being demolished last year like I though at the time was happening to my life.   I wouldn't visit.  It represented everything that was being taking away from me.  Finally, my mother insisted that I take a day off from school and sit with him at the hospital.  She knew he was not coming home.  He was a shadow of his former self - so weak, so frail.  But in my denial, I force fed him apple sauce and told him that if he wanted to get better he had to eat.  He weighed 65lbs.  That was the last he saw me and maybe that was good for him, knowing that I was headstrong and that I would most-likely be okay.

My mother told me just a few years ago that the six months preceding his death was the sweetest time for them.  They grew together, let things go that no longer mattered and best of all, my father received salvation.  As my mom put it, the cancer and the time they had together at the end was a trial worth suffering through.   My dad left his earthly body without any grudges, forgiven and most importantly - he was at peace. 

I wish I would have cherished those moments.  I guess that would be my advice.  Cherish every moment.  Let them feed into you as much as they can, get as many stories from them as you can possible take in.  Forget being bitter or afraid.  I thought I was being punished for being left fatherless but God had a perfect plan.  If my dad would have pulled through he would have been a better man because of cancer.  I am not sure that there would have been any other way to reach him. The good news is that we had family - a big family who loved us and who filled in the gaps.  And the son of my dad's first marriage that my mother raised as her own - MY brother who was part of MY family because of God's perfect plan - filled the gap, walked me down the aisle and is always there for me - even if that entails a lifetime supply of Webber's mustard this he sends biannually.  So this is not sad story.  This is about treasuring every moment and realizing that every second we have on earth is a gift. 

The last picture I ever took of him.