Yesterday, July 27th, at 10 AM, my dad passed away after a short 4 month struggle with glioblastoma – one of the most lethal and aggressive forms of cancer. It’s a brain disease, exacerbated by aggressive brain surgery as the main treatment, and to some degree we’d been losing him slowly – his personality, the guy we knew our whole lives – since the initial diagnosis in April. He clearly and unequivocally hated being sick, and he hated treatment with all of its side effects. But he died peacefully in the way that he always said he wanted to, at home with his family. He suffered very little physical pain throughout the whole process of illness, and he didn’t have to suffer long with the frustrations of losing his mental and physical capacities because his decline was so quick. At every stage his disease progressed more rapidly than we hoped, and it made him miserable and chipped away at his personality, but the mercy in that is that he lived the vast majority of his life as a strong, healthy person. His illness was a crappy, and totally inappropriate, end to a happy and well-lived life, but it ultimately defined very little of who he was.
Dad was generally shy and unassuming, and he didn’t live a life that many people outside of his circle of acquaintances would have noticed. But people loved him. As a son, I’ve always felt that I couldn’t have had a better father. He wasn’t the type to gush about emotions or have deep conversations, but he was unfailingly supportive, funny, and caring towards his kids. He was principled and devoted to my mom throughout their 40 years of marriage, and he was amazingly kind to our friends. When we were kids, he’d read us bedtime stories, and when he’d get bored or want us to go to sleep, he’d end them abruptly with conclusions like: “..and then a bear came into the house and ate all the kids! Now go to bed!” When we were teenagers and we’d ask him for money for food at football games, he’d give some to our friends as well. When we were adults, he consistently supported all of us as we pursued broader lives than the one he’d had in Ohio, moving around the country and the world, even when it was clear that the separation was extremely difficult for him. And the final major life decision he made was maybe the bravest and the one that showed how much his family meant to him – to move away from Southern Ohio for the first time in his life to be near his daughter and grandkids in Nevada.
Mom, Angel, Leah, Shayne and I were with him for most all of his last few weeks, and we saw an extremely rapid decline where compounding losses in his physical and mental capacities were visible every day. Family and friends visited constantly, and we encouraged people to get here as soon as they could because we could see what was happening. By Sunday night he was struggling to breathe for the first time, and it became clear that he wouldn’t live more than another day or two. By Monday morning his breathing was rapid and labored, and we knew he would go soon. His brother Ed arrived at the apartment and we called Shayne, who was on his way from New York, and immediately after my brother told him he loved him and said goodbye, dad passed.
And now we’re going about the business of life after death. He had clear wishes for what things would look like for him after he died, so he’ll be cremated as soon as the state completes the paperwork that has to be filed, and we’ll have a memorial gathering for him at his father’s house in Middletown, OH at the end of August (Saturday the 22nd for those who would like to come). There won’t be a viewing and there won’t be a formal funeral service, because he hated those, but there will be a party: Midwestern casseroles and salads, friends and family and a chance to pay respects to a humble, funny, kind man that lived his life the right way.
For our part, Angel and I got an apartment with Mom and Dad here in Henderson. We’d scrapped our PCT hike for the year, and had planned to be caregiving for at least a month and staying in the area through winter. When we got to Vegas, one of the few things my dad communicated to me verbally was that we didn’t have to get off trail to be there. And on multiple occasions across the last few weeks Mom suggested that if Dad passed quickly she thought we should try to get back on the PCT. I never thought that would be a realistic option, but then, yesterday, it turned out that it was. And so we talked to Mom again today, and she wants us to get back on trail. And so, this weekend, she’ll be driving us to Chester, CA to pick back up where we started. We’re only half-way through more than 3 months after we started, and we’ll take some more time off for Dad’s memorial service. We are going to have to pull up our ultra-runner panties and grind out some big miles every day to try to catch the herd, but we still have a decent shot to finish before the snow gets to WA. It’s what Angel and I want, it’s what Mom wants, and it’s what Dad would have wanted, so it’s what we’re going to do.
Cancer sucks, this whole experience has sucked, but from here it’s a hike with a much bigger sense of mission. Dad’s illness defined the first half of the hike for me. Now, Dad’s influence will define the second. Manning Park isn’t a place I’m trying to get to before Dad gets really sick anymore, it’s a place I’m trying to get to because it’s what he would have wanted. So screw you cancer. And screw you death. This Saturday it’s time to hike!