I enlisted in the US Navy at the age of 19 and stayed for 8 years. 4 months before I was to be discharged, my father was diagnosed with Stage 3 melanoma cancer. The original cancer site was a mole on his back and it had metastisized to the lymph nodes under his arm. He had surgery to remove the cancer and a few months later started radiation treatment. He was undergoing radiation treatment when I was discharged.
Upon my discharge, I enrolled myself in college to pursue my engineering degree. I had the GI BIll from my time in the Navy and had saved some additional funds to pay for school. At this time I was also married to my first wife.
During my time in the Navy, I had a very distant relationship with my parents. When my father contracted cancer, I decided that it was time to step up as the oldest son and do what I could to help. I was attending school about 100 miles away from where my parents lived, but would regularly make trips to see them and help out where I could. My golden child twin brothers were living less than a half kilometer from me at this time while they were attending the same school I was, but I hardly saw them and they did little to help as my father deteriorated.
My father underwent a chemotherapy regimen, and by the time the holidays rolled around, was declared cancer free. Everyone was very happy that he was doing so well. Around Valentine’s day, my father and mother went to visit my father’s sister about 1000 miles away. While they were there, my father fell very short of breath. They went to the emergency room, and a chest X-ray showed his lungs to be full of cancer. They immediately flew back home and my father was checked into the hospital and his lungs were drained. He continued to deteriorate over the next two months as the cancer spread. The chemotherapy was stopped since the cancer had returned while he was undergoing chemotherapy. He was declared terminally ill. My father spent several weeks in and out of the hospital and had his lungs drained of fluid several more times. Finally, he decided that he was tired of the hospital and wanted to go home to die. My wife and I arranged to take time off of work and school so that we could help with whatever my father and mother might need during his last few days. My father came home from the hospital for the last time on a Friday afternoon. He was very weak, and I regularly had to help him around during the evening, since my wife and mother weren’t strong enough to help him. Hospice dropped of a nebulizer, which was supposed to help his lung function. We were to help him sit up and give him a nebulizer treatment every 3 or 4 hours.
We set up a watch schedule so that someone would stay up with him overnight. I had the first shift from 10PM till 3AM and my wife was to take the second shift from 3AM to 8AM. Right before our shift change at 3AM, I gave my father a nebulizer treatment since I knew my wife would have a hard time giving him one during her shift since he was so weak. I woke him and helped him to sit up. He was now extremely weak and I could feel all of his weight as he leaned against me and attempted to suck on the nebulizer. About halfway through his treatment, he dropped the nebulizer out of his mouth, looked up at me and said “Stephen, you have so much potential”. His comment cut through me like a knife. At this point in my life, I had successfully completed 8 years of service to my country and was currently enrolled in engineering school with a 4.0 GPA for my first semester, but in his dying breaths, he was still telling me I wasn’t good enough, I was a failure and not living up to what he perceived as my potential. Here I was, helping him as best I could while he prepared to leave this earth and I’m told I’m inadequate. I ignored his comment, put the nebulizer back into his mouth and finished his treatment. I then laid him back down in the bed and he went back to sleep. I woke my wife to take the next shift and went to bed.
At about 7AM, my wife came and woke me saying that my father’s breathing pattern had changed signicantly. I jumped out of bed and ran to him. His breathing was erratic and very heavy and he was occasionally twitching between breaths. I went and woke my mother. She came into the bedroom where my father laid and my father passed away about 5 minutes later. His degrading comment to me was his last words.
How I wish his last words would have been different! How I wish he would have said “I love you” or some sort of statement that showed that I actually meant something to him. Unfortunately, he was always my narcissistic mother’s perfect enabler, even until his dying breath.