The show that has flushed all of America’s tear ducts has a storyline, a scene, or a character that brings back memories for everyone who watches it. Maybe those memories for you are ones of happy bickering with siblings, falling in love, and familial reconciliation— however, the memories for me (and for some of you reading, I suspect) are much more somber.
When I was 16, my biological father came cascading into my life via a newly created Facebook account. At the time, he told me he was newly sober and living at a VA facility in White City, Oregon. I rolled my eyes… I’d heard it before. Emails, drunken phone calls, and birthday cards every few years punctuated my childhood. Tales (mostly lies) about how fun and how glamorous his life was found themselves to me every few months, and then I wouldn’t hear from him for a year or two. After the age of five, I stopped seeing him as my dad and more of a strange cross-country uncle that I had in my life. When he friend requested me, I told my mom “hmm, Tim has a Facebook. Cool. Maybe I’ll get more updates.”
When I was 17, I got a message following message:
“Hi sweetie…went thru ruptured appendix surgery…biopsy came back, doctor called me this morning letting me know i have cancer…I know i haven’t been there for you & glad joey was able to take the roll. Anyways, i go under the knife thursday noon. If they can’t get it all…im calling it a wrap..i dont want to live w/out quality of life (so to speak) But want to make sure i got all your correct info, so you can get my insurance policy monies. I’m lucky to have such a beautiful daughter 🙂 and I wish you all the best. Love ya 🙂 If you want to call…”
My. heart. sunk. He had just celebrated 1 year of sobriety, and I had been ignoring his messages for months. I was a senior in high school, and too busy to be bothered by him. I walked out to my parent’s front porch and called him and told him I was going to visit him in Oregon, and asked him 1,000,000 questions. He told me I didn’t have to come, and not to waste my money. I told him I’d hold off on the visit but that I would eventually come out there whether or not he wanted me to. One month later surgeons tried to go in and get the rest of the cancer, but much to their frustration, it had already metastasized to every major organ in his abdomen. He was officially terminal.
The doctors said he had months at best, so I dropped everything and booked a flight to Oregon for the next week. Five days after turning eighteen, I flew cross-country to meet a man and his extended family that I hadn’t seen since I was in diapers. We had a visit, his sister Tami showed me the Oregon countryside, and we all fully expected him to die within the month. We were wrong. I got to make several more trips out west to see his family as his cancer dragged on for two more years. Tim went through 11 rounds of chemotherapy before finally succumbing to cancer without any family present in the VA domiciliary infirmary surrounded by who I hope were his favorite nurses.
The last visit we had he couldn’t leave his bed except for to sneak cigarettes outside of his room on his short walks. His bones looked like they wanted to poke through his skin, and I was honestly afraid to hug him too tight for fear of rupturing his stomach because his tumors had taken over his whole body. I still lie awake some nights still with visions of his frail body clutching his walker as I drove away in a borrowed car on my way back to the airport.
He died over Fall Break my Junior year. My wonderful dad came to get me and drove me back to Virginia and I made arrangements for his cremation, burial, and stressed for weeks as to how I was going to pay off the remainder of the balance that was left at the end of it all. I picked out his epitaph sitting in one of my psychology classes and fought to keep the debt from going to collections. I didn’t go to the funeral, and I still haven’t been to Oregon since. He’s buried in the National Cemetery just miles from Crater Lake (one of the most serene places on Earth) and one day I’d like to go see that headstone I anguished over. I like to think Tim’s final resting place is symbolic of the peace he now feels— peace from addiction, from cancer, from never feeling like he was good enough.
While we didn’t have meaningful interactions with one another until I was nearly an adult, he changed me. I’m still not sure if I’m better off for having gotten to know him in his twilight hours only to lose him, but I know that I don’t regret it. He didn’t raise me, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t my father, and no matter the mistakes we make trying to navigate being human in this world, everyone deserves to be loved in the final hours. He was an amazing man— witty, charming, and kind. Everyone who spent the last years of his life with him misses him dearly, and I loved him. I have his huge forehead, and sarcastic morbid sense of humor. Not to brag, but he said over and over again how proud he was of me and how I was the best thing he ever did. It’s been three years, and I’m still processing the entire ordeal, and I’ll likely continue to evolve my feelings on the subject.
All of that being said, THIS IS US IS MAKING ME CRY SO MUCH. I don’t want to spoil the show, but there’s a storyline there that hits way too close to home. NOT COOL NBC. But honestly, I’m thankful. It’s reminded me that I’ve made it so far since going through Tim’s death, and reminded me to live purposefully in the wake of loss. Does anyone else have any crazy TV related emotional trauma right now?