As a travel blogger, it is my duty to talk about the wonderful and strange adventures that accompany time on the road. However, for the last nine months, I have written nothing of my travels. This is not for a lack of material- in that time, I logged tens of thousands of miles, so many that my local TSA agents knew me by name.
Although running on all cylinders, traveling the world, working a full-time job and writing, I was keeping it together. I went to the Bahamas with the full intention of coming back and producing a piece about my revitalizing three days on the beach.
But, we all know that sometimes life gets in the way of best laid plans. In late summer, I received word that my father was in the hospital. My father, though a regular sufferer of stomach ailments, slight agoraphobia, and chronic pain from a motorcycle accident nearly forty years before, had never spent much time in the doctor's office. He was a tall, thin man with a long-distance runner's physique. And indeed, my dad was the only family member who ever could, or would, enjoy running distances. He was a bicycle commuter before bike commuting was cool. He may not have been the epitome of wellness, but he was always healthy enough.
That first hospital stay turned into two stays, which turned into an extended residence in the ICU, amplified by a severe hospital contracted infection. I flew home to visit during one of his brief reprieves at home, but my presence did no good. By late autumn, my father, who one year before had built a new deck with his bare hands, was the newest resident in the local nursing home. His always thin 6'3" frame had withered down to a terrifying 140 pounds. He was too weak to walk, too weak to eat. I spent every day and night with my phone frantically near at hand- dreading whatever news may come, but even more terrified to miss a call.
While worry has been my constant companion these many months, I tried to push it from my mind with anything to distract myself. In November, I wrote ¾ of a novel. I have yet to return to finish or edit it, though I have hopes the inspiration will strike again. I worked like a fiend, and continued traveling, though the trips had lost much of their joy.
Christmas came, and I flew home for a visit. Historically, I have been a Christmas fiend, a sucker for Bing Crosby, twinkle lights and pine boughs. This past December, I was instead greeted with a terrible Ghost of Christmas Present- an emaciated shell of my father who looked no better than a Holocaust victim, who could no longer speak or walk or eat- any of those simple activities that render a person quintessentially human. There were no Christmas lights, no carols, no joy.
We tried a feeding tube, a last resort to get some restorative nutrition into his skeletal frame. The tube lasted exactly one night and about 800 calories, before he pulled it out in his sleep, and refused to have it reinserted. On Christmas Eve, from my childhood living room, I met with a hospice nurse and a social worker, and signed those dreaded forms. The ones that would now allow pain prescriptions to be doled out like so much candy, the ones that would allow a nurse to at last come assist my exhausted family. The ones that officially acknowledged that medical treatment had failed my father, and that he was soon to be lost to us.
I left my father on Christmas night, knowing full well that it was the last time I was going to see him. It is strange having the time to plan in advance the final words that you will say to someone- to have the opportunity to deliver them, exactly as you'd rehearsed, and yet to still find them so wholly inadequate to convey what you feel. You cannot relay the full extent of the sadness, the fear, the anger that you feel towards that person for not fighting enough, not caring enough to stay with you.
Instead, you tell them you love them, and you hope that it will be enough.
Several days later, my father lapsed into periods of sustained unconsciousness. My family was there to hold his hand as he drew his last breath. They said it was very peaceful.
This was in January. On the surface, my life has returned to normal. The ache in my heart has lessened a bit every day. I don't cry so often anymore. As this never-ending winter has begun to give way to spring, I've ventured back into social activities. I found a new job. I sought normalcy.
One of my father's greatest desires was always to travel and see the world, and yet he could never master his fear of the unknown. Many of the qualities that make travel one of the great loves of my life were the very things that filled him with dread. I find myself wondering if I travel so much as a direct rebellion against his own fears and worries?
Last week, I took myself to Norway, my father's ancestral land. He had always wanted to meet his family in Lillehammer. I didn't have time this trip, but I hope to return soon and explore beyond Oslo. I visited Berlin and Prague, where I partied with strangers and friends alike, biked a strange city like a madwoman, ate at a group table with a bunch of foreign strangers, and toured the history of hundreds of years of empires, wars and atrocities. It is all ample fodder for new posts. And though I will continue to write my adventures, for my readers, and for myself, the real tribute of these trips will be the very fact that I am experiencing them.
As I wish my dad could have.