How I Lost My Hero

October 20, 2015

Coming home from school each day as a little kid, I was greeted with a hug and a smiling face. Even if my day at school was bad, my dad always made the best of the situation: taking me out for a ride in our old Chevy to get hamburgers or playing video games with me at home. He would always give me advice on how to handle my situations and he would stick up for me and tell me to “keep my chin up, because no matter what you’ll be okay”. I was his princess.
One day, when I was very young, I was told by my mom that my dad was sick. He was diagnosed with leukemia-lymphoma when I was a baby. Being only six or seven when this was explained to me, I didn’t fully understand the meaning of the word “cancer”. What was this “sick” everyone was talking about? Couldn’t he just take some Tylenol and be better, like I did? Slowly I began to realize that whatever this sickness was, it wasn’t good. My childhood was filled with weekly doctor’s visits, sitting in the car for a two-hour drive to the nearest cancer treatment center. Of course, my dad being the country man he was, would turn up “KMNT 104.3” as loud as it would go and we would sing all the way there. I think personally that my dad inspired me in my love of singing and music, as it was something he always enjoyed.
I never minded going to the cancer center. The nurses were always very kind to me; reading me books or playing games with me. When I got a little older, I started to ask all kinds of questions. “What does this do?” I would ask as I watched them give IV’s to my dad. They would always explain what the procedure did, and how it would help my dad get better. According to the nurses (Who all ended up becoming very close friends with my dad) on the days I wouldn’t come to dad’s treatment, I was all he could talk about. I was always greeted by new nurses with an “Oh, you’re the daughter Charlie talks about so much!” My dad was a very popular person. Everyone in my small town (and every other town in Lewis County for that matter) knew who he was.
So when the cancer got worse… everything for us changed.
My dad started to become more irritable as the cancer progressed through his body. His ill-spoken words turned from frustration to full on cruelness, words that killed my soul and broke my body down. This of course threw me into a world of darkness and hate; locking myself away in my room every day and never talking to him, drowning out the yelling with headphones and loud music. Sometimes, I remember sitting on the floor and screaming my lungs out, hoping my desperate cries of distress would stop the fighting going on through the walls. Sometimes it worked, while other times it just fueled the fire. He became rude towards my mother, and as I became a teenager I felt the need to stand up for her. This in turn resulted in more pain for all of us.
It’s not that I “hated” my dad. I was just deeply saddened and hurt to see his mental and physical state deteriorating before my eyes. Of course I was confused. Why was this happening? Why was the happy go lucky person I knew from my childhood not the one I was seeing now? What had caused him to be this way?
The trips to the doctors I used to enjoy now haunted me. He was getting worse and worse and I feared each appointment, not knowing if it would be his last.
The day came upon us suddenly. It felt like one of those moments where time stands still, and then rushes past you at the speed of light. Days felt like only hours. My family went into a cold numbness when we were told the chemotherapy and radiation would no longer be an option for my father. He, being the stubborn person that he was, refused to accept it. He took weeks of unnecessary treatment, telling himself that this wasn’t the end; that the doctors could keep giving him medicine and it would all get better.
I had spent so much of my life pretending that his sickness didn’t exist that I went into shock when I realized it was never going to leave his body. It was taking him over, like a fire in a dry field of wheat grass. He slowly lost his ability to walk, and not long before that a bad dose of radiation badly burned his face, leaving him unable to talk as well. The powerful, strong man I had always known had now withered away, and I refused to accept it. I continued to go to school, to numb myself with small talk and halfhearted conversations.
The day my father’s soul left this world was a cruel, cruel day.
He had been admitted into the local hospital a week earlier. It was December 10th, 2012 when the lord took him from us. He did not die peacefully, even though I wish I could trick myself into believing he did. I was in school, and around 8am I started to feel very strange. Random tremors would rack through my body, my stomach felt nauseous, and it felt as though someone was attempting to bash in my skull in with a hammer. I knew that today was the day my mother and I were going to go visit my dad in the hospital, and I was picked up early from school. I thought we were going to go, but we just sat in the parking lot of the school for a long time without saying anything. I was extremely confused until my mother turned to me and told me that my Dad had passed on. He had fought his battle for almost 13 years. I didn’t know what to think, let alone what to feel. I sat in silence the rest of the evening.
My father’s death shattered our small community. The day of his passing, I texted my best friend at the time to tell her what had happened. According to my teachers, she burst into hysterics. My entire class was notified of the situation. All of them mourned with me. My dad had been their babysitter, their guide. He showed an insane amount of kindness to anyone close to me. When we held our ceremony of life for him, our small hall was filled with almost 300 people, lining the walls when we finally ran out of little grey folding chairs. He was so well known, and no one could comprehend that his soul had left us.
Today, I am 16 years old and it has been three years since my father’s passing. I still cry over all the things I know he will not be with me for; my graduation, my wedding, and any children I have. But as each day passes, I tell myself that he is up there, watching over me. I know he is proud of me. I also know that he wouldn’t like to see me crying, mourning him when we all know it was a blessing for his body to finally be rid of the suffering and the pain. In my heart, I am happy to know that my dad is happy again. I like to tell myself he’s living on a big farm up in heaven, taking care of all of the horses and animals that have come to join him in the afterlife.
And I know that someday, I will join him on his ranch in the sky.
Destanie Ellis