A Gift from My Dad

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It was around the time that my father was going to turn 60. He became very ill. He had moved to Asheville, North Carolina. He asked me to come see him. I went, and he explained that he had the Agent Orange Poisoning and it was causing all his internal organs to shut down. He also said that it would only be a few weeks before he would probably be dead. I sat there emotionless. He asked me to stay with him until he passed away because he wanted me to be his caregiver. I agreed.

The next few weeks were a total horror for me. He was admitted to the VA hospital with a terminal diagnosis. I kept all of the emotions away from him. I kept him shaved and cleaned because he had a lot of pride. I want him to go out with pride. We talked and laughed, but I never let him go to that sad place or talk about death. We both knew that it was inevitable and had accepted it. I’d get him up and take him out for a smoke. I made him walk a lot. I had begun to notice the physical changes taking place, but he was happy. I saw him turn completely gray. He didn’t have control of his body at all. His face was contorted with intense pain. Throughout it all, he never complained or even shed a tear. I remained the rock, keeping him as comfortable as I could.

The smells in the hospital were horrific. The combination of alcohol and air freshener filled the room. The smell that lingered in my mind the most was the smell of death. I’ve always heard that death had a distinct aroma, and I was now experiencing it firsthand. It’s indescribable yet there.

Then, that week after his 60th birthday, he told me he wanted to be discharged and go home. He didn’t want to die at the hospital. I spoke with the doctors who agreed it was a good idea. Therefore I took him home. We got settled in and sat down to talk. He told me what his wishes were as far as funeral arrangements. Then, it was time to put him in bed. He told me, ‘‘Son, I love you.’’ In all my years he had never told me that. That brought the tears. He told me that whatever happens during the night, just let it happen. He thanked me for all I had done. It was a colossal responsibility. I am the only child. I didn’t have anyone to share this with. I also knew I had to handle it.

That night, I heard him gasping for breath and went into his room. I sat beside him and held his hand until he finally relaxed, closed his eyes, and went home. I was so happy that he was no longer in pain. I sat there awhile not knowing how to react or what I should do. I was hurt but not sad. I didn’t know if I was to cry or what. I collected my thoughts and called paramedics. I took the time to clean him up and make him look presentable. I was still determined to keep his pride intact. I also called in the family.

While sitting, waiting on everyone to arrive, I started replaying the past weeks in my head. I was experiencing so many emotions. The one thing that stuck in my head the most was my dad saying he loved me. I told myself, of all the things my dad could have given me, he gave me the one gift I always desired. He gave me the gift of love, something I always desired from him.

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