Because I Have to

One of my biggest regrets was that my dad didn’t hold Saoirse the day she was born.  I’ve told you this before, I think? Dad was there, all right, in my recovery room as soon as we were allowed visitors after her birth. He was bundled up in his winter coat with a scarf wrapped around his neck because the chemo made him so, so cold, but I didn’t let him hold her. He’d been at the hospital for twenty-four hours, waiting for me to have the baby who wasn’t in a hurry to come out, even though he was in pain and should’ve been at home, in bed, sleeping. I don’t remember if he was the first one to enter the hospital room after she was born, but he’s the first one I remember seeing. I made a point to remember that moment, remember his face, the way he carried his body, because I guess I knew I’d never see him greet another one of my babies. But I didn’t let him hold her.

The nurses had scared us, me and David. They’d told us she shouldn’t be in crowds for the first six months, that we should be diligent about hygiene, and that, under no circumstances, should anyone else but us hold her for the first twenty-four hours. So everyone who’d been there that night–my dad, who’d been there that night–filed into the room, excited and expecting, and we said, no. No, you can’t hold her, we said. We have to protect her. Regret filled my heart even as we said the words.

November is Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month.  It is a horrible, horrible disease, this pancreatic cancer–one that would cause someone hearing of the diagnosis to respond with a low, pitying, “Oh.” I hated that “Oh.” That sound was a death sentence, a white flag, the click of a door shutting close. I remember Dad’s face when we first read the oncology report in the elevator at Johns Hopkins. I remember his face at the restaurant later (because we went to lunch even though my dad had just found out he was dying, because what else do you do?).  He stared at the table, and I realized I was seeing fear in my father for the first time in my adult life. I remember him telling me, a year later, when I was pregnant with his first grandchild and standing in the middle of my parents’ driveway, that he was okay with dying–he was just sad to be leaving his family.

I miss him as much today as I did the day we buried him, me holding my two-month-old in my lap, praying she’d stay asleep for the entire ceremony. He shouldn’t have endured so much pain. He shouldn’t have had to have been so scared. He should’ve been diagnosed with a disease, any other disease, where there’s more money for research and more public support and knowledge and better treatment and more, more…hope.

I can’t redo that day. I can’t take back my decision, or the look on his face, or the bittersweet feeling of holding new life while watching another fade away. I can’t bring him back to tell him how very much I loved him, and what he meant to me, and all the stupid mistakes I wish I could apologize for. But I can beg you to learn about this disease, to raise or donate money for research, to run the Purple Stride and wear the purple and and get in touch with legislators and benefactors, to pray for those affected by it.

Because it’s not death that we’re afraid of. It’s the dying part that sucks. And the thing is? It doesn’t always have to. Not if people advocate instead of wish, and give instead of look away, and act instead of ignore. Not if we step up to give the hope that isn’t always there.

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Please visit pancan.org or knowitfightitendit.org for more information, and thanks for listening. I’m gonna go find a tissue.

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