We stood at the top of the hill looking down.
Dad nudged my shoulder.
"You can do it," he whispered to me as the neighborhood kids whizzed by. "Pretend you’re on the Screaming Eagle."
I gave him a look. We both knew I wouldn’t ride that roller coaster. I still won’t — it was built before I was born, and I know it must creak on the way up a hill just like I do at 40-years old.
On my bike, though, I went — scared as could be.
Dad waited at the bottom cheering me on and reminding me it was going to be okay. Moments later, I hit a rock and skid on my face and knuckles a few feet until I lost momentum.
Dad scooped me up and carried me home a bloody mess to get cleaned up and fed.
This weekend my Dad stood over a much deeper ravine surrounded by loved ones in a bed at Beth Haven nursing home. Though he was peaceful, my anger fixated on the heartless and unforgiving disease taking him.
Cancer didn’t care that we needed my Dad.
Cancer didn’t care about the empty seat at Connor’s baseball games, Logan’s football games, and the one at my kitchen table where his hand always curled around his favorite coffee cup.
Cancer didn’t care who he was or that he was special to us.
He was a husband. He was a father. He was a Papa. He was a friend.
To cancer my Dad was just another bundle of cells to invade and possess — it only accomplished half of that, though. Cancer did invade but it never possessed.
As angry as I am at that nasty and awful disease, Dad didn’t allow cancer to take possession. That’s because he never stopped being thankful.
"I’m not a tragedy," he once told me as we stood in the toilet paper aisle at Walmart. "I’ve lived my life and watched my kids grow. If you want to see a tragedy, go to a children’s hospital."
I won’t tell you he didn’t have his days. Hours were spent in the emergency room because he suddenly lost eyesight (he regained it quickly thankfully). Days spent in the hospital when his heart started to AFib.
Those were the trenches he was in and we assisted in the battle any way we could. A lot of that meant learning how to hold it together during moments we wanted to fall apart.
When it comes to treatment options, scan results, and discussions about quality of life — heartbreak becomes business to be addressed with a clear focus. There isn’t always a place for emotional break downs in the planning — and in the hoping.
So, for as long as necessary, we stopped feeling and wrapped our hearts in armor to deflect the pain, fight off the fear, and put on a good face for the grandkids who desperately wanted to know everything was going to be okay.
We called it staying optimistic, and I will admit to you that I am struggling to shed that layer of skin.
Although I have cried through three months of contacts lenses in about two weeks, I cannot seem to process the fact that he is really gone. I can’t wrap my heart around the fact that hope is gone.
And after a year of trying to stay that way, there is no reason to continue being optimistic.
But then I remember that descent on my bike.
For just a moment as the breeze hit my face, I understood freedom.
The beautiful process of letting go and trusting what’s ahead — even if it was scary or something I hadn’t done before.
I was so afraid.
But my father waited for me at the bottom. He went before me.
And when I got there — bleeding and hurting — he scooped me up and took me home.
I can’t really tell you what happened between Jesus and Dad as he took his last breath, but I have a feeling it went something like that.
Cancer didn’t win. Dad didn’t lose the fight. He won eternity.
Jesus went before him and then scooped him up and took him home.
There is no greater hope than that.