Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Missing my Superman

Today marks 8 years since my dad passed away. He was my hero, my favorite guy in the world. On January 13, 2008, my father lost his battle with cancer. He was diagnosed with cancer of the thymus gland in late 2002. Over the next 5 years, he endured surgery, tumor regrowth, several rounds of chemotherapy, and worst of all, neuromuscular weakness--a side effect of his chemotherapy which shut down his diaphragm, making it impossible for him to breathe on his own. He was back on his feet again after spending close to a year in the hospital and a rehabilitation facility on a ventilator, but he refused further cancer treatment and eventually succumbed to his disease. He was only 51 years old.

I shared a lot about my dad in a post from November 2014 titled Memories of a Superman. He was an incredible guy, and he deserved to have his story told. There are a lot of people in this world who miss him, my sister and I being the top two.

I've always looked up to him.

I had just turned 23 when my dad passed away--fresh out of college, living on my own in a new state, and 5 months into my first big-kid job as a 2nd grade teacher. I never dreamed I'd be writing and presenting a eulogy for my own father's funeral at such a young age, but in the days following his death, I sat in my hotel room as snow steadily fell outside, searching the depths of my heart for the best words to honor such a special man.

Here is what I shared at his funeral.

I could go on for hours about how much we're all going to miss you. I could make a laundry list of the number of future graduations, weddings, births, and other monumental moments where your absence will detract from the happiness of the occasion being celebrated. I could mention over and over again how unfair it is that you've been taken from us because you had so much left that you wanted to see and do. But I won't, because none of that is going to change reality, nor will it dry anyone's tears. So instead of wishing we could bring you back and regretting things that were left unsaid or undone, I'd like to take this opportunity to recognize the happiness you created, the lessons you taught, and the unwavering determination you instilled in me and many others who admired you.

A girl couldn't have asked for a better dad. You've been unbelievably supportive, encouraging, and accommodating all throughout my life. You always put others' interests before your own, even if it resulted in you looking like a fool. Mom left us alone for an hour while she went grocery shopping way back when I was still cute and incredibly persuasive, and somehow I convinced you to let me put a dozen barrettes in your hair. Judging from the photo evidence, you were less than thrilled about the situation, but I clearly thought it was fun, so you went along with it. Every time Holly and I came up to visit you, you let us take the reins in deciding what we would do. Whether we wanted to go visit your friends, drive around on the lawnmower, spend the day at an amusement park, go snowmobiling around Lake Isabella (you were usually partial to that activity), or take the dogs down to the swimmin' hole, you were willing and always enthusiastic. We had some great times when we ventured up here, and we always looked forward to our next visit.

Back in Quincy, Holly and I begged for a treehouse and swingset in the backyard, so you went to the hardware store and bought the materials to make one. I inherited two valuable traits from you as a result of that project. The first was your handiness. I know my way around a set of tools, and I am the official "go-to" person at home AND school whenever "some assembly required" appears stamped on a new purchase. The second trait I inherited was the inclination to ask that oh-so economical question: Why buy it when you can make it? You've always been a resourceful guy, and you always jumped at the chance to get two things out of one. I remember how excited you were when you discovered the zip-off cargo pants. You can go from pants, do a little zip, and then you're in shorts. After another little zip, you've got pants again! That was a genius invention, in your eyes. There's something to be said for resourcefulness, regardless of where it comes into play.

Your ingenuity and determination were always apparent, even when you were sick and restricted to your hospital bed. You wanted to be able to lie back to sleep, but every time you tried, you were uncomfortable because you were afraid you wouldn't be able to breathe, therefore you couldn't sleep. You saw the TV remote cord that was attached to your bed, and you saw a solution. Unable to talk but on a mission, you went ahead and fashioned yourself a "restraint" out of your remote cord, tying your upper body to the top of your hospital bed. You were finally comfortable and able to rest. Unfortunately, the hospital staff was under the impression that you were trying to create a noose and thought you should be placed on suicide watch. I guess that was a time where your creativity worked against you, but it makes for a great story.

Your passion for golf, snowmobiling, and "makin' stuff" has encouraged me to develop an enthusiasm for something in my life. I found something in college that really caught my interest, and I was able to take that interest and run with it. Becoming involved with Relay For Life was one of the best things I ever did, and it was all because of you. You inspired me to make a difference and do what I could to help find a cure for cancer. Seeing you work so hard to fight such a devastating disease motivated me to do what I could to make that fight a little easier. Being involved with Relay For Life for those four years made me feel like I was doing my part to help you, even though you didn't personally benefit from my efforts. You were always supportive of my involvement in Relay For Life, which is what encouraged me to make it bigger and better each year.

You were an amazing, inspiring, delightful man; anyone in this room can vouch for that. You've touched many lives, and you will be greatly missed. Your strength and courage throughout your battle with cancer has rightfully earned you your "Superman" nickname, and you will forever be an inspiration to me. You've taught me that nothing is impossible, and seeing you stare death in the face on more than one occasion has made me believe that I can do anything I set my mind to. I've just begun my career in education, and I've already encountered several challenges in my short five months in the field, many of which I've talked to you about. There have been days when I've questioned my ability to deal with some of the difficulties I face every now and then, but then I think back to everything you've gone through and I'm reminded that I can't just think about myself. I have to think about the children who look up to me and depend on me. You've always thought of everyone but yourself, even when you were fighting for your life, and your selfless outlook on life is the driving force behind everything that I do.

I am a better person as a result of having you as my father. You may not have realized it, but you were teaching me, coaching me, and guiding me each and every day of my life. You've told me countless times how proud you are of me, but nothing I could ever do could make you as proud as I am to call you My Daddy.

Today, on the 8th anniversary of my father's death, Victor, Max, and I will find out whether we will be welcoming a baby girl or baby boy to our family this coming May. I know Dad will be watching over us, waiting with bated breath to hear whether he will have another grandson or a granddaughter. 

Rest in peace, Superman. It's been a long 8 years without you.

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