What Is Family

Grief

Photo By Dan Freeman

What is family to you? To me it isn't always the people of your blood. I grew up believing the man raising me was my father until I was 11yrs old. A girl who was supposed to be my friend got mad and told me she heard our moms talking. Honestly it didn't matter to me that he wasn't my biological dad, because he was my daddy. He had raised me. After my oldest was born he moved to Florida and vanished. A family friend hired someone and had him found after my youngest sister died in a car crash. He came home shortly after that. I won’t lie, I was angry at that point, he left all of us and my youngest sister didn't even see him. I felt like he had betrayed us, betrayed me. But I finally talked with him and told him all this, and he told me why he vanished. Years ago he found out he had lung cancer. He fought a long time, even made it to remission, but when it came back years later it was too much. He didn't have the strength to do chemo or radiation again. My children meet him for the first time then. We made peace and when he became ill the second time and decided no more treatment I was OK with that. I rushed my children to meet their grandfather, and he them. For the first time in forever (we were little kids) our dad had all of his daughters (cause that is all he had) in one room together. It was also the first time my sisters had meet all 4 of my children together. It was a very sad time but also bitter-sweet. My daddy lived a few months more and during that time I spoke to him every day and my sister Crystal stayed with him every day. When it came to the point he couldn't talk any longer, or he was sleeping all the time, Crystal or the nurses would hold the phone to his ear just so I could say I love you daddy and thank you for being my dad. Crystal was the only one with him when he passed she took his last breath into herself.

Here it is years after he has died and I still miss him. Sometimes I will still write on his Facebook wall telling him how much I miss him and love him. It is something that makes me feel better. I have since meet other people here in Kansas who have become family to me. Family of the heart, but family no less. It's funny cause my friend Juanita and I didn't even like each other at first and now I don't know what I would do without her in my life. Meeting her mom and having them both in my lives has changed me so much and I like to think all for the better. Mom (Trulee) met a man, Bob, 10 yrs ago, actually on July 4th this year. He didn't have to take on my kids and I, as messed up as we all were, most men would say hell no. Mom and him were married in the Native American way. He is medicine man to his tribe.

He also became my dad and grandfather to my children. Bob encouraged us all to be better and to learn new things. He always challenges our minds. But politics is something you NEVER want to argue with him, you never win. This man didn't have to take us on, but he did, even had a warriors dance at a pow wow for my oldest before she left for the army. The chief even took her outside to talk to and told her we were now part of the tribe for life. This man (Bob) shows us every day how much he loves us. 

Almost 9 months ago I became a grandmother, Jade is the joy of all of our lives. But she seems to have a special bond with dad. One day we left Jade inside with mom while Kirsta and I went out to the garage to get some things out of the deep freezer. Jade was not even 2 months old yet, we came back inside and heard dad talking, but we didn't see mom anywhere, then we heard Jade babbling back to dad. She had never babbled before just cried when she needed something. And here she was doing it for the first time with Dad. She looked so small in his hands, but she was looking straight at him smiling and babbling. From that day on she looked for him as soon as we walked in to the house. He is her PawPaw, and she calls him that now. She takes great joy in showing him her accomplishments. About 4 months ago he got sick, pneumonia two rounds of antibiotics, and he still seemed to not be getting better, but he refused to spend the money to go to the doctor. He started losing weight fast. About 70lbs in a 3 month span. We all started to worry. Something was wrong and we knew it. Mom and I started to think cancer. Dad had worked for the railroad and retired from there, so he started to think it was the mesothelioma. But he still wasn't willing to go to a doctor. Things got worse he was falling due to one of the antibiotics he was on for pneumonia so when Mom was at work people would stop by to visit more and check on him. My daughter Kirsta took Jade to spend a few hours with him about a month and a half ago. He sat and played and played with Jade. He talked and laughed with her and told her to never forget how much PawPaw loved her and that he was the first one to ever give her ice cream. After Kirsta went home Ethan stopped by to check on him for my oldest daughter Tricia who now lives in Maine since getting out of the army. When he left he talked to Tricia and told her no matter what she needed to come home soon before it was too late. See we all could see Dad was wasting away. He could only able to eat soft things or liquids without risk of choking. 

This same day, Dad's friend Larry called to say hi. He and Dad talked a long time and Dad told him everything. That night Dad talked to Mom and then informed me that he didn't want to die, so he was going to a doctor in Ellenwood that his friend Larry knew. It took sometime to get him in to see the doctor but a little over a month ago they saw this doctor he ran tests and did x-rays, before they came home they found out he had a softball size tumor/growth in his upper right lung and it was pushing into his esophagus which was why he wasn't able to eat right without choking. A biopsy was scheduled soon after. But all didn't go as planned. Dad was turning gray, so we all feared he would not make it through the biopsy. Dad walked into the hospital for it on his own, but doing the prep for the biopsy found his blood pressure was way too low, so low he shouldn't have been able to walk in there on his own. There were other things wrong as well, so he was admitted for treatment. Medicine and IVs. He became well enough to come home after spending the night there. But we were back to trying to get the biopsy done differently and being the holidays we had to wait. Boy waiting was hell on everyone, but Dad seemed calm about it. Kept saying I'm not dead yet. Which made mom and I leave the room to hold each other and cry. Tricia made it home just after Christmas and the biopsy was done on January 3rd. Tricia was here for it, mom, Ethan, Tricia and I were all there. Because of the blood pressure and too much calcium in his system (because his body couldn't break it down anymore) they had to keep him awake while doing it. So dad was able to see everything and even saw the mass on the ultrasound. It had grown a lot, they took 9 biopsies hoping not to have to go back in again.

The results came back Tuesday January 10th 2017. Squamous cell Carcinoma, which confused me at first because when you look it up it says skin cancer, but this is in his lungs. As you read on it says it is possible to get in the lungs.... there are different types and all treatable if found early. Dads spread fast by the time we found it he was already non treatable. By the time we had the biopsy and a diagnosis he was in the end stages.

Now we spend as much time as possible with him. He is at home and wishes us all to live our lives like normal, but how do we do that? He says go to work and do your everyday things. So we try, and some days are harder than others. We try to see him daily but when that isn't possible. We call Mom and ask how his day was and have her tell him we love him. Our extended family (family of the heart) take turns checking on him during the day when Mom and I both work. We all worry this is too much for Mom but also try to respect her private time with dad. This is her soulmate she is losing, and as much as we love him, we know she needs that time with him. The hardest part for me is watching this man wither away physically but his mind is still sharp as ever. Watching him with Jade and the love they have for each other. He is too weak to hold her now, but she stands on the floor by the couch he lies on and holds his finger or touches his face and kisses him. She can not understand why PawPaw can not pick her up anymore or why she can not sit on his lap and play and talk with him. She knows something is wrong and for a couple weeks now she wakes up at night screaming, or even just screaming in her sleep. I believe she knows her PawPaw will be going away soon.

Talking is hard for him now because it is so hard to breathe, but he makes sure to say I love you to us all. It's funny, when Dad first came into our lives we never heard him say I love you. It was always OK you too kiddo. But over the years he started saying it back and now he says it every day. So as much as he has changed our lives I like to think we have changed his and showed him what real love is, unconditional love. We all fear it will be soon, he jokes he is turning into a White man, which in actuality he is turning yellow, we believe his liver is failing, but he will never admit that.

So each day we get up and try to live our lives as a little more of our hearts break but everyday we make sure that this wonderful and amazing man knows how much we love him and how much he will be missed. But for now we will see him daily and remind him we love him, because when he passes we want him to know he was loved and cherished by this family we have chosen to become together. And to know that I for one will always be grateful that he chose us to be his family of the heart.

February 2017 he passed at home with those he loved. I had left long enough to get food and received a call saying to come back that he had passed shortly after I left. My Aunt Trudy had arrived and Dad took his last breath, it was as if he was waiting for Mom not to be alone. I miss him every day and sometimes swear I can hear him telling me to stop and listen. This will be our first Thanksgiving and Christmas without him. It won’t be easy, the holidays were always a huge deal with him, always a special time. Dad will be missed so much, but this year will be the hardest of them all.

Theresa Harrington
Theresa Harrington

I am a single mom with four children I gave birth to. I have 50+ children/adults who call me mom. These are not my blood children but the children of my heart. I am also  grandmother. My family is my life all of them blood or not.

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