When the inevitable came, I was going to be prepared. I am the girl who never bounces a check, is always five minutes early to an appointment, and who keeps a stash of thank-you cards, birthday cards, and congratulations cards just in case. You can never be too organized, right? In college, all professors emphasized that organization was the key to success. If you took copious notes and studied diligently, you would do well on your test. In the workplace, if you show up on time, do your work, and be nice to your boss, you usually get the promotion. Even finding a husband becomes easier if you put yourself out there and go to church. Eventually you will find your soul mate. Even if something unexpected comes about, if you are organized, you are told, you will anticipate an obstacle and be prepared to deal with it.
So the moment I learned of my father’s terminal diagnosis, I went into organizational mode. I had to find the right oncologist, the very best for my father. I threw myself into research, research into effective cancer treatments, cancer stats, and all of the gruesome in-betweens. I learned that there was hope for even people who were diagnosed with Stage III B advanced cancer disease. In my mind, if I managed the disease, somehow it would go away, even though the pit in the stomach told me otherwise. My vegetarian, non-smoking, non-drinking, exercising father was going to be a cancer survivor. If anyone could beat it, he could. Other than the cancer, he was picture of health. He wasn’t on any diabetes, blood-pressure, cholesterol meds that all his friends were on. He would go for regular check-ups every year so if the doctor did finding something wrong, it would be early enough so that modern medicine would cure him of his ailment.
I convinced myself that if I planned out all of the elements of my father’s life, I would be ready when the day my father wasn’t going to be a part of my world. I became the CEO of my father’s life. I planned for everything. I spread his whole life on the table one day, from credit card bills to checking account statements to property taxes on the house. We even discussed the ugly – the DNR orders, the medical power of attorney should he unable to make decisions about himself, and of course, the ever so important will. Everything, seemingly, had a solution. Even though father was reluctant to pass the title of CEO to me, I convinced him that it was better to be prepared. Someone should know about his affairs, just in case, but of course, nothing was going to happen to him. Because he had the proper tools to fight his disease: 1) a great oncologist; 2) love and support of his family; 3) and he was a fighter. I don’t think that ever fully embraced my role of CEO of his life, but he would glance at me and my lists, placing his glasses on the bridge of his nose and just smile.
When that day, that moment came, in late March, after four years of chemo appointments, MRI’s, CT scans, blood tests, consults, surgeries, and medical bills, there was nothing. I spent so much time keeping my father alive and anticipating that if I was organized enough, he would be a cancer survivor. What I didn’t anticipate was not hearing his loud voice everyday, not arguing about politics, not rubbing his bald head, having him say congratulations every year on my birthday, and saying I love you to him. It turns out, as much as you may plan, anticipate, and organize, you can never be prepared to live in a world where someone you love doesn’t exist anymore.