I was 25 when my father got sick. He and my parents had divorced a decade earlier. It was an acrimonious split, to say the least. There were five unhappy kids at the time. Ten years later, some still shell-shocked, there were five adult children. I was the second daughter, the second-to-the-last child. I was 25.
My father and I had had major differences during the divorce and for several years after. I didn’t see him and refused to talk to him for more than four years. I finally saw him again when I was 21. I had found something in him that made me forgive what he had done. Our relationship was quite good after that.
When the brain tumor was diagnosed in April, all five of his children came to be with him for the operation. I stayed two weeks. And I visited again twice more – for a couple of weeks at a time – before his death on July 8. When I left on July 6, with promises to return soon, I had no idea that death was coming that quickly. I suppose I had joined him in the land my stepmother and I called “denial land.”
My father was 56 years old. His mother was still going strong at 85. He didn’t want us to tell her. He asked all of us to keep it from her. That he had a brain tumor. That it was melanoma. That they took out a cherry-sized tumor in April and another one the size of a tennis ball in the same place just five weeks later. That he was undergoing radiation. That he was getting sicker. That he was…dying.
My father didn’t want her to know. He wanted her safe from it. I thought at the time, and I think so more now, that it was mostly for him that he didn’t want her to know. He couldn’t face the additional burden of her knowing. Because if she had known, she would have come down from her home in Massachusetts to stay in Florida for however long it would take. In front of his children, he could die. In front of his wife, he could die. But he couldn’t die in front of his mother.
So we all went along with it. It never occurred to me to tell Grandma. How my siblings felt at the time, I don’t know. I didn’t really have anything to do with any of my other siblings. I had hated some of them when I was growing up and the actions of a couple of during the time my father was dying only served to feed the alienation, the bitterness. Frankly, I didn’t really ask anyone – sibling, mother, uncle, aunts – how they felt about not telling her.
I loved him. It was that simple. Afterwards, when my Grandma was beside herself with sorrow, beside herself with anger at us not telling her, she accosted everyone, one at a time. To a person, they all sobbed, cried, apologized, begged for forgiveness. “I had wanted to tell you, but Norman swore us to secrecy.”
But when I say “to a person,” I mean excluding myself. Because when she asked me why I hadn’t let her know, I told her that I had promised him. That I had loved him too much to even want to tell her. That he had loved her too much to let her know. That he knew she would forgive him. That she would understand that he couldn’t bear to be around when she found out he was dying. That it was an act of love on my part, on his part and, finally, on her part.
[This was written as a contest entry for Scribbit's write-away contest for February. I was almost tempted to not enter it because it makes it seem like I'll do anything for chocolate. And this post has brought to mind much sadness for me. But it is chocolate. So.]