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hey there, I'm Sarah
This is one of the most vulnerable blog posts I believe I will ever do. Letting others into your grief is a difficult thing to do no matter the amount and that “letting in” looks different for each person for what the Lord is nudging them to share. Whether that is in a small capacity or on a larger scale, or what specifically to share within that grief – there is no “wrong” way. You don’t owe anyone with what you choose to share.
It brings me here. I have felt nudges from the Holy Spirit to open up about “losing” my father to cancer at 24 years old. I know some of you have, maybe will or currently are walking a road similar to this one…know that I will be praying for you and I get it. I get the frustration, the anger, the deep sadness, the confusion – you do not have to walk this road alone.
It only feels right to start at the beginning.
Growing up my parents gave me the most priceless gift of a love for the Catholic Church while instilling in me “lifelines” back to Her through showing me the beauty of the sacraments, the Saints, you name it. My father’s battle with a terminal illness was one of those times Christ was preparing me for when my parents gave me those lifelines.
When my father was given the diagnosis in mid-December of this past year, I distinctly recall every detail of the call from my mother in the doctor’s office. I remember where I was standing in the house, second trimester pregnant, as I dropped to my knees sobbing because it was terminal at that point and if we we were lucky, we’d get a year. I remember Mason walking through the door as I uttered the words “My dad has stage four cancer and he’s dying.” I had never felt so small in a single moment like I did in that moment with the weight of that news. So I ran. I ran to Christ and I told Him I know you will carry us through this cross. This new weight felt so heavy amidst carrying our sweet George in my womb, caring for two kids two years and under, Mason’s medical schooling schedule and so many other aspects I’ll spare you from.
For the next four and a half, almost five, months my parents traveled between North Dakota and Illinois for his treatment. I knew Dad’s diagnosis was very real and scan after scan the cancer kept spreading. The news seemed to get worse each time with the biggest hurdle being keeping my his pain under control. I struggled to balance being a present daughter while being a wife and mother in this season. I didn’t know what that looked like at first and how to navigate, but I quickly learned that it was a day by day task most of the time. Maybe it was spending the evenings at my parents just to be present, maybe it was cooking a meal, or closing my parents carwash that night. It looked different each day. February we discovered it had spread to his brain, but the biggest turning point was on April 21st. My parents were in Illinois for my dad’s fifth treatment and a scan to see if the cancer had progressed or if his body was responding to his current treatment plan.
The doctors told us that the cancer wasn’t responding and it had progressed quite rapidly. We pivoted and dad chose to do an alternative treatment while his time in Illinois. Later that night after dad’s treatment, he needed to be put on oxygen as he was having trouble breathing. We were praying for the next day when scan’s would take place giving us one of two outcomes: 1.) pulmonary embolism or 2.) cancer spreading to the lungs. We were praying it was the more manageable option. Unfortunately, it wasn’t.
That is one phone call I will never forget while present with all of my siblings. Dad’s options were slim with the cancer spreading to his lungs and no options provided hopeful outcomes. I vividly remember laying on my bed, holding George with Mason, and telling him: “Dad is dying and I’m not ready to lose him yet,” while crying to Mason.
Dad took a ground ambulance home with my mom on the day of their 47th wedding anniversary to be put on hospice care.
I knew my parents marriage was never perfect (no one’s is) because it’s two imperfect people vowing to aide the other to heaven to the best of their ability with the grace from God. It was an eye opening to witness my parents wedding vows come to flesh in a very real and raw way like I had never seen before, especially on a huge turning point the day of their wedding anniversary.
During the next handful of months I carried much anxiety with me as I carried George in my womb. I became so worried that this little life was going to be so anxious and fussy himself because of me. So I prayed for him to be a joyful babe and that he wouldn’t carry the anxiety I did and sure enough my prayer, three months into his life, is continually answered as he is our most smiley little one by far.
Looking back, I realized the Lord was intentional. I had continuously prayed for dad to have a peaceful and holy death and the Lord delivered one hundredfold and in ways I couldn’t of imagined.
Divine providence allowed Mason’s medical school’s only ND rotation to be in Minot, our hometown, letting us + the kid’s get one year with my parents a few blocks from us.
Divine providence nudged us to conceive George when we did so that my father was able to meet him just in time. Saint George’s, whom is one of his four namesake’s, feast day falls right on my parents’ wedding anniversary.
Divine providence lead a friend encouraging me to pray the Divine Mercy chaplet with my siblings and Dad everyday for him (while trying our best to always pray at the 3 o’clock hour).
Divine providence lead to Dad receiving his last rites in the 3 o’clock hour.
Divine providence lead to my father passing away on my late uncle George’s, who passed away tragically when my mom was 24, birthday. My parents had three children at that time (same age I am now and number of children Mason and I have). Mom was sure that Georgie came and met dad with Jesus that day.
Divine providence lead to my father passing away just before the hour of Jesus’ passion.
Divine providence lead to his funeral being on the Solemnity of the Sacred heart of Jesus since the funeral home was booked with spring burials until later the next week.
Divine providence lead to getting the perfect spot for dad’s resting place. For those that may not know, my parents farm. We have a field and a farmstead quonset just beyond the trees of the cemetery and when looking for his plot we found the perfect opening in the trees from the cemetery property leading to my parents land. It was like the spot was made for him and had providentially just opened up for sale the very day my mother inquired.
The list of how intentional and intricate the Lord was is beyond my own capacity of understanding how good he was to me through this process of grief even when it was difficult.
The day before my father had passed, I knew. I just knew the Holy Spirit was telling me something. I had been in and out of my parents house about three or four times that day. When I left for the last time, I gave dad a kiss, a hug and said I love him, knowing he was at a state he no longer could verbally or physically reciprocate it…
But he raised his hand searching for mine like he has never done before and when I grabbed it he just squeezed it so tightly. I asked him to squeeze it again if he wanted me to pray a rosary for him to listen to and sure enough he did, so I played one before I took off home to be with my babies.
The drive to my house from my parents is approximately two minutes or less but I bawled when I got into the car and I distinctly telling the Lord that He could bring him home and I know He’d take care of us no matter how hard this cross is to bear.
That next morning I woke up to my brother coming into our house at 4 in the morning with several missed calls and a voicemail from my mother telling me to give her a call when I got the message. So I got dressed, buckled in George to his carseat to head over and say a goodbye to dad one last time before the hospital came to take him.
My father, who worked on the railroad for fifty years, had just retired last July in 2022. As they loaded my father onto the gurney to load him into the ambulance, one of the EMT gals asked “John, are you ready to go?” Sure enough, as I stood on the front porch stairs looking out as they carried dad away, the train whistle blew three times. It was 8:15am and it was the loudest and most clear I have ever heard those whistles in all my years of living and visiting home.
There is so much more to this story. So much more I’d love to share in time. So many intentional details that came together and that had been revealed to me looking back at it all from even years past. There is simply not enough words and space to share it all, but I am grateful to give you a small glimpse into my story of my father’s illness. I never thought I would be in this position or a part of this “statistic” of losing a parent at a young age to cancer. It’s funny how sometimes it takes situations like this to put things into perspective. To remind you to say “I love you” or hug more often, that at the end of it all it will never seem like enough.
Grief begins far before losing that person. Grief has no boundaries, statute of limitations, restrictions for other life circumstances, and no one is the exception. Grief is not linear. This is just the start to a lifelong process.
I know the majority of you did not have the privilege to meet my father in person and my heart aches for you not getting that privilege, because the man left a legacy. Here is his obituary for you to see just a small glimpse into his life.
July 21, 2023