The last week and a half was undoubtedly the worst of my life, thus far. I passed the days in a small hospital room with my dad, the news blaring from the television mounted on his wall. My mom and step-grandmother took shifts during the day, running home only to wash and change clothes. They spent each night lying by my dad's hospital bed, watching over him. It was last month that we were told his lung cancer had returned. It was only last November that we had celebrated the defeat of his first bout with it. It was a few weeks ago that I sat in the living room with him, tears welling in my eyes at the thought of another battle that he looked at me and said, "Don't you worry Jenny. I'm going to be there to dance at the boys' weddings." He said it with such conviction that I almost believed him. It's been only six days since we were forced to say goodbye and walk out of the Intensive Care Unit with little more than our memories.
Perhaps he would have made it through had it not been for the hospital he ended up in a week and a half ago, but that's another story for another day.
To add insult to injury, I was also in a car accident. My sister called to tell me that he was taking a turn for the worst and I needed to get down to the hospital. A distracted driver, a woman who pressed the gas pedal rather than the brake, slammed into me with such force that I careened into the car in front of me. I was just about at a stop, so you can imagine how violent the impact was.
Three days later, we had the service. It rained every day that he was in the hospital. Vicious storms popping up in the afternoon, with lightning that crackled across the sky, thunder that shook the building, even hail. It rained at the service too, but quietly. A signal that the storms of the week were coming to an end.
Another chapter closed.
It's been tempting to think of everything that went wrong. To feel angry at all that's been lost, at all we've been forced to endure in this family over the years. It's hard not to feel that it's outrageously unfair, to point to something or someone to blame for it all. And trust me, there are some viable candidates.
But sitting here in the wake of it all, I choose only to think about the beauty I witnessed amidst hardship and tragedy...
Like the boys getting to hug their grandpa one more time before he fell unconscious.
All of the laughter in that hospital room in the days before he died.
Recording "the tornado" with my mom and the way it cheered us all up even when we were sad.
The musical therapist who stood with her guitar next to the hospital bed on the last day that my dad was conscious and played him one of his favorite songs, "Walk the Line" by Johnny Cash. The way he closed his eyes and listened to the music, absorbing the quiet melancholy of her voice.
How she tracked him down in the ICU on his first day of life support to play the song she learned especially for him, because she couldn't play it two days prior when he was still conscious.
How I'm certain he appreciated and heard it anyway.
When I called my sister just after the car accident, sobbing so hard I could barely breathe, my only concerns being my boys and that I wouldn't make it to the hospital in time for my dad. My brother heard and raced over to be with me at the scene of the wreck. How he made me laugh through my tears and helped me make sure the boys were okay in the backseat.
That I didn't end up missing my chance to say goodbye. He powered through until the next day when I could be there.
The group texts to check on each other.
The outpouring of love and support from friends and extended family.
Times like these serve as a reminder that you have to be strong and fight like hell to keep the good close. You never give up. You can't. Because there will be tragedy. There will be death. But there will also be love. There will be birth. Renewal. There will be life. And as imperfect and scary and downright heartbreaking as it is sometimes, it's worth it to be here to experience even a fraction of the power of good. Of kindness. To experience love in its purest form. All that comes after isn't merely pain and you should never buy into the fallacy that it does.
The story doesn't end here. It just keeps going. And often, it's better than you could ever have hoped for.