I donated blood for the first time this week. I feel it's the bare minimum I can do to pay it forward in response to all of the transfusions my father received during the final weeks of his cancer treatment. Our family got to spend extra time with him as a result of this selfless act and the depth of gratitude I have towards the anonymous strangers who granted us this privilege cannot be expressed in mere words; it has profoundly altered my outlook on life, love and fate.
One does not fully realize the power of a month, a week, a day, an hour or a minute until time itself escapes us.
At Canadian Blood Services, I sat next to a gentleman that had been donating for fourteen years. His epiphany also hit after witnessing a loved one struggle with terminal illness. The day we met was his 100th donation, an achievement I was in awe of. How many lives had he touched? How much time had he borrowed from the Gods and shared with others? I tried to express my appreciation but could barely verbalize it. In the end I didn't have to, he knew. And told me that my father would be proud.
"Are you ready to blow this popsicle stand?"
My father was restless. Desperately wishing to walk - or run - somewhere else. Anywhere else. A fighter until the very end, he didn't want to resign himself to the fate of laying in a hospital bed 24/7. This was problematic though as he was too weak to walk, couldn't communicate his needs and required constant assistance and observation. On several occasions when we were alone, delusions of normalcy would cloud judgement resulting in the need for physical restraint and the occasional scolding when he was especially stubborn. I always felt terrible about this; about negating whatever hope he had left to summon. A return to the status quo of life was all we were both fighting for but one of us had to be realistic. The burden of sensibility defaulted to me. His youngest sister, a nurse, offered a solution and thus a bit of magic happened one night that has left me with a final cherished memory of my father.
At midnight on Tuesday, July 1, the nearly vacant hallways of Health Sciences Centre had lost the frenetic energy that I'd come to expect as part of my daily routine. The silence was occasionally interrupted by the sound of a nurse being summoned or the muffled noise of television being watched behind closed doors by others also restless at the witching hour. Our goal this evening was to take my father on one last trip through these hallways, to give him one last glimpse of the outside world, the likes of which he hadn't seen in days.
My aunt, uncle and I assisted my father (and all of his medically necessary peripherals) into a wheelchair and thus the adventure began. We first brought him to the cafeteria where a yogurt parfait and chocolate mousse were purchased. While being spoon-fed the latter, my father struggled to communicate something. Deciphering his grunts and moans had become increasingly difficult but he was persistent when he had something important to say and we persistently searched for the cues/clues necessary to complete the dialogue. On this occasion, after approximately 10 minutes of guessing, it was determined that my father wished to offer everyone some of his dessert. His character never faltered.
I had been staying at a hotel adjacent to the hospital, so this was our next stop before trekking outside for a brief period. The weather hadn't changed since he was admitted. The winds still howled; the greyness that erased daylight now evolved to blackness which swallowed the stars. There was respite though. If not from the outside environment, then at least from our own emotional turmoil.
This excursion - this midnight ADVENTURE - had lasted all of an hour. But it was an hour in which worry ceased to exist. An hour in which we focused on life, rather than death.
It was an hour I will never forget demonstrating the power that a relatively brief instance of time can hold. I know my father appreciated it as well. We didn't know then, but it also signified the last moments we would get to spend with him before he drifted away into his final slumber.
On July 3, the day of my father's death, I received an e-mail from an old friend. The type of friend that one may take for granted, as they define the very essence and qualities of meaningful companionship that are often expected but rarely reciprocated in the Facebook age. I've shared a large portion of my youth with this person commencing when we met in college and, as such, they probably know me better than anyone else on the planet; appreciating my idiosyncrasies and excusing my often questionable taste in music and pop culture obsessions.
After I moved out west several years ago, we lost touch.
Current circumstances would sway fate though. I've grown to believe that few things in life are left to chance. I've never felt stronger about this conviction.
It took me a minute to read the e-mail. The power of 60 seconds hitting full force when I got past the standard offering of condolence to learn that my friend's father had also passed away several months prior. He never told me because he didn't want me to lose hope.
My father knew that I would turn his life into a work of art some day and gave me access and permission to record everything I needed during his final eight months from diagnosis to demise. At times it was difficult; other times oddly comforting. I can only hope that the book I'm crafting does justice to him: a truly special individual that I am honoured to have had in my life.