19 October 2015

Goodbye, Dad

I remember the day Curtis came home—early last year—with an ashen face. He told me he got some bad news. I thought he was going to say he lost his job. He only started a month before. But what he said was something that would never have crossed my mind. "My dad has cancer." That was a hard night. But we would carry that grief and uncertainty with us over the next year and a half.

Marty was in and out of the hospital, for what seemed like weeks at a time, for the rest of his life. One time his body reacted negatively to chemotherapy. That cost him almost a month. Then he had an invasive esophagectomy. Another few weeks. Blood count loss and dehydration cost him days and weeks, more than once. I think it goes without saying: Cancer is the worst.

After moving back from Germany, Curtis and I made it a priority to visit Boise as often as we could. That turned out to be almost every month this year. A few weeks ago, Tyler called Curtis and said, "I don't know if anyone is keeping you in the loop, but it's not looking good." We decided to come right away. We drove the seven hours on a Friday morning to spend General Conference weekend with the family.

Marty was actually feeling pretty good. He even threw out the idea of going out to milk cows that afternoon. That was a good sign. Milking a cow is one of the first items on my bucket list. Marty has always wanted to take me. In fact, he told me that one of the thoughts that kept him going through some of his weakest moments was that he still needed to teach me to milk a cow. We never got to.

After the Saturday morning session, we took a walk to the Village across the way and decided to have lunch out. We got fish tacos. He got to see his grandson show everyone how to ride a real bike. One without pedals. It couldn't have been a more beautiful day. Sunday was just as lovely. We drove home that afternoon with the irking feeling that we were saying goodbye for the last time.

Curtis went back to work, and I went to the dentist. But before the work day was even over, we got another call. We left that night and drove until four o'clock in the morning. Marty was losing blood quickly, and the nurse said it was just a matter of days. She was right.

On Thursday afternoon, about three o'clock, Eva Lu came downstairs to tell us all that it was time. We all, Eva Lu, the four children, and two children-in-law, gathered around the bed. Curtis, with his brother Tyler, laid their hands on their father's head while Curtis offered a blessing. As his dad was struggling for air, Curtis spoke the words that let his soul feel at peace. "He will watch over your children just as you have watched over His." We all felt that sacred moment when Marty took his last breath and was received by heaven.

The next few days left no time to rest for those of us left behind! We were all busy making preparations for a musical tribute on Sunday night, the viewing on Monday night, and the funeral on Tuesday morning. Although dozens of decisions needed to be made, the final result was a wonderful celebration of who Marty was—not just to us, his family—but to hundreds of people near and far.

So many beautiful things were said of Marty, our dad, but the thought that stuck out to me was said by Joe Quatrone:
"His hands were well lived. It wasn’t just all the wallpapering . . . plastering . . . home repair . . . pizza oven building . . . leatherwork, woodwork, boondoggle, and Eagle Scout projects. His hands defined him. The holding of . . . the lending of . . . the giving of . . . the sharing of."
The last few days Marty was with us, I didn't feel like I really deserved to be up in his room spending a lot of time with him. I wasn't his child or an old friend. I don't believe that I changed his life or that I was on his mind too terribly much. But when I did come up there, he gave me his hand. And he held mine. And he told me, "Don't ever feel like I don't love you . . . because I love you so much." With those last words to me, he gave me so much more than his hand. And I'll always love him for it.