When my dad was diagnosed with Stage IV cancer, he didn’t let it slow him down, even when it should have. He was the kind of guy who would give the shirt off his back to anyone. His only caveat was that you didn’t ask him for it. He preferred to volunteer. Through all of my growing up years, we often spent weekends going to relatives, neighbors, and friends’ houses so that my dad could fix a lawn mower, build a chimney, tune a car, or whatever else needed to be done. He continued to do this until well into his 70s.
He often struggled with his feelings about people who took advantage of his giving nature, but it never stopped him from having a helping spirit. One morning, before heading off to our appointment for his day of chemo, he saw that the pre-school teachers across the street were in need of assistance. Three copperhead snakes had made their way on to the playground. My dad calmly picked up a shovel, crossed the street, scooped up the snakes, and escorted them away from the children. He did all this while eating his morning apple. Never missing a bite.
When we got home that evening, we found a beautiful fruit basket and a card signed by all the kids and teachers. In it, one of the teachers wrote that she couldn’t believe he had so calmly taken care of their problem, while eating an apple, AND smelling so good. Dad always took the time to put on aftershave. Sometimes I can still get a whiff of it, even though he’s been gone now for over a year.
He never did the things he did for attention or even for thanks. A lot of what he did was taken for granted by some. He did it because he felt it was the right thing to do. It is a lesson and a gift that he passed down to me.
The hardest part of dealing with his illness came when he was told he had to have a quadruple bypass. It meant a break from chemo and time resting in order to heal. After a short walk around the block one day, he stopped in the yard and bent over to pick up some small branches. As I realized he was about to try and break them over his knee, I stopped him. A sly smile came across his face. “Oh, I forgot.”
I was lucky to be able to spend a lot of time with my dad during his last year, so it was with a heavy heart that I brought him home for hospice. The hospice booklet outlined all the things to expect, and in my dad’s case, it was very accurate. His alertness diminished. And even though he hadn’t spoken for a few days, late one night, as I sat in a chair next to his bed, he opened his eyes and said in a clear, warm voice, “Toni, I love you.”
Those were his last words. The last gift and helping hand that he knew I needed.
Although I struggle with his absence, I’m content to know that he is with my mom, who also battled cancer years ago. Watching my dad walk with her through her journey gave me the courage to walk with him through his.
And every time I see someone trying to carry too much, having a hard time, or looking as if they could use an extra hand, I think about my dad and what he would do. One of the best things we can do while we are here is to help out a person in need. My dad was wise enough to know that by helping some one else, he was also helping himself.
Toni Morrow Wyatt is the author of Return to Rocky Gap, A Killing Among Friends, A Walk Between the Winds, and the newly published, Wading Through Shallow Water. You can visit her website at www.tonimorrowwyatt.com. When not writing, she devotes her time to her family, reading as much as she possibly can, and research.