My dad fought to live; I fight to keep memories of him alive

Published 12:15 am Saturday, October 25, 2008

As a returning guest writer for The Tidewater News, I would first like to thank all of those who took the time to read my piece about job shadowing.

As a shy newcomer, the pleasant response was unexpected and greatly appreciated.

As a change of pace, though, I would like to share with you a more serious aspect of my life.

This topic is one I have been trying to accurately describe on paper for months, and have yet to perfect it.

For those of you who know me or my family, this will only be an addition to your collection of memories of my father, Chris Gibbs.

For those of you who do not know me, this may serve as an insight into the life of a 17-year-old with a cancer victim as a father.

Oct. 2005. The month I was told my father had Stage 4 NSCLC (Non-small cell lung cancer) and only 6 months to 1 year left to live.

Jan. 14, 2008. The day my dad died.

My father and I were basically twins, in that we had all the same character traits and many physical similarities. But we never got along.

From the time I was a child, we struggled to maintain any sort of relationship, much less a good one.

The tension between us only heightened with the start of my teenage years.  Even after he was diagnosed with a terminal disease I still couldn’t stand to be around him for a minute (nor could he stand to be around me).

Though I spent most nights crying about the pain I felt about my dad, I rarely admitted that I had any problem accepting that he was dying.  It wasn’t until the doctors told him he had two weeks to live that I let myself openly mourn the loss of my father.

That night he called a family meeting.  My sisters came from Colonial Heights and my brother drove from Virginia Beach to attend this mandatory meeting.  My father was 90 pounds lighter, had colorless hair, couldn’t walk without help, and had trouble speaking.

The image of this near stranger was heartbreaking.  I had never seen my father cry before, but he did that night — we all did.  As he spoke to us, telling his three daughters and son that his time to live was coming to a quick end, he had tears streaming down his face.

Then he called me over to him.  I knelt in front of him, and as he leaned forward to hug me, he almost collapsed into my arms.  We stayed that way for minutes, holding on to each other with firm grasps and aching hearts.  When I could finally speak, I told him I loved him and that I was sorry we were never close.

He told me we were close, just in different ways.  That was the first, and only, time either of us admitted that we had a special bond. And that night, when I finally let him go, my heart broke.

How selfish I had been to wait until it was almost too late to tell him the truth. I cried for our equally stubborn minds and our quick tempers.  I cried because I would never get to go fishing with him again. I cried because he wouldn’t get to see me graduate from high school. I cried because I loved my father, and it had taken a terminal disease to force me to admit that.

My father beat all odds throughout his battle with cancer.  They gave him a year to live. He doubled that prediction, and then some.  They told him he had two weeks left to live at one point. He made it two months.  They told him the treatments would only slow it down and he went into remission for several months.

Though he relapsed eventually, the doctors didn’t predict their treatments would be so effective.

My father never asked God to cure him, only to give him more time to spend with his family.  And so God did.  Dad exceeded every expectation the doctors set for him.  Even though my dad didn’t survive his cancer, he gave it a run for its money.  I am proud of my father, because he fought until the end.

Though I had been preparing myself for his death for two years, the night my father passed away proved to be anything but what I had expected.  I wasn’t ready to say goodbye.

It has taken me months to open up about my father’s death, but now that I have, and I am slowly allowing this hurt to heal, I can’t find enough things to say about my father that will help me preserve his memory in my heart.