“For where your treasure is,
there your heart will be also.”
I ran upstairs to my old bedroom and grabbed my things. As I walked down the steps, I saw dad sitting on the couch. He sighed as he looked around the room, relieved to be home from the hospital but his face heavy with sadness. Defeat maybe. My parents’ comfortable living room was filled with a hospital bed, a walker, and a portable toilet. I could tell he felt his independence slipping away from him. His emotions caught in my throat and welled in my eyes. I took a breath and shook it off before I walked down the rest of steps into the foyer.
It had been a long two weeks. Dad was always in and out of the hospital but this time was different. He was tired. Every other time he left the hospital with this ‘get me outta here’ attitude. He made the hospital attendant stop to say goodbye to the nurses and other patients he befriended during his stay, smiling from ear to ear. His energy was so bright, I swore the lights dimmed in the hallway as he left the unit, the elevator doors shutting before us. Despite his many ailments, he practically jumped from the wheelchair into the car at the pick-up area. Every time.
This time, he came home by ambulance. I spent the days before on the phone with social workers, nurses, and medical supply companies making sure the house was ready for him. The doctors said he would be weak for a while and might benefit from a wheelchair or scooter. My parents’ wonderful neighbors stopped by that morning, making plans to build the ramp off the front porch. It was going to be a hard and long recovery, but Dad was home. He was so loved by everyone, and we made sure he had what he needed.
Away from home so much over the last couple of weeks, I was going home that evening. Tomorrow, I planned to run some errands, clean the house, and spend some time with my husband. I would come back to sit with Dad the following day. I made sure my parents didn’t need anything, said my goodbyes, threw my bag over my shoulder, and walked out the front door. The cold February air made me shiver but rejuvenated my tired soul.
I took a deep breath as I started the car. Dad was home. Life was back to normal, as normal as it could be for now. The last two weeks I spent sitting at his bedside, scrambling for information from doctors and nurses, traveling the 45-minute drive between my house and my parents’ house, putting on a brave front for everyone but inside, barely holding it together. Finally. No more hospital parking lot and elevators and food trays. No more calling into the nurses’ desk and updating family members. I looked forward to getting things organized at home, sleeping in my own bed, and settling back into a routine. I didn’t even listen to the radio on the way home. I needed the quiet, the time to decompress. Tears of relief ran down my face. I had just left but I looked forward to seeing Dad too, assuming after another day of rest, he might be more himself. I missed that sparkle in his eyes.
I went home that night, had dinner with Mike, and went to sleep in my own bed. The next day, I did laundry, ran some errands, even took a nap on the couch that afternoon. I didn’t realize how exhausted I was. When I called to check in with mom, Dad was visiting with my cousin and her husband. I would have called back later but dad was tired. He had visitors all day and needed to rest. I would see him tomorrow.
But I wouldn’t see him tomorrow.
That night, he died.
It was sixteen years ago, but saying those words out loud was still hard.
Dad was sick for a long time. After one particularly difficult time, his doctors told him he wouldn’t live to walk me down the aisle at my wedding. They were wrong.
We thought he would live forever. We were wrong.
I was so grateful to have spent so much time with him those last few years. I put many miles on my Jeep traveling back and forth from Virginia to Pennsylvania. In the summertime, we sat on the porch eating raspberries from the bushes in the back yard. In the colder months, we sat at the table and had long talks over the food he so lovingly prepared. I told him everything. He knew all about my work and my friends. He gave me advice. He made me laugh. We spent time together and logged many hours on the phone when we could not. When Mike and I moved back to Pennsylvania, I was excited to be able to spend more time with him.
Back then I was young and driven and caught up in my career. I worked in the early childhood field, directing child care centers and early head start programs. I often worked from open to close and more at home after hours. I was my father’s daughter. I watched him do the same thing when I was a little girl. In fact, I told mom I was never going to be like dad. I was never going to work that much. I believed the long hours, the stressful environment, and the pressure he put on himself contributed to his health problems. Looking back, despite my early declarations, I followed his example and walked the same path.
Work, work, work. Get ahead. Crush that goal and move on to the next.
When dad got sick, he completely changed. He enjoyed the sunshine and flowers. He slowed down. He sat on the porch swing in the afternoons. He spent hours in the kitchen making his tomato sauce and cooking family meals he was too sick to eat. He valued family and friends and spending time together.
Watching my dad handle his illness and his dismal prognosis helped me when I suffered the same fate. I looked at things differently now. I didn’t want to live with regret. I lived life to the fullest. I didn’t want to jump out of airplanes or go on exotic vacations. I wanted to do what my dad did. I wanted to watch sunsets and make chocolate chip cookies. I wanted to get together with friends and family. I spent many years working and worrying about things that didn’t matter. Once I was diagnosed with terminal cancer, I promised myself to live with no regret. And I kept that promise … since then.
But I still lived with regret.
When I came home for the weekends to visit my parents, I often got in very late on Friday night, sometimes the very early hours of Saturday morning. Dad always asked me to go to breakfast. Those from the Pittsburgh area were familiar with Eat n’ Park, a local restaurant with a popular breakfast buffet. Dad asked so many times to go to breakfast but I always declined. Always. My excuse? I got up so early every day and the weekends were my only days to sleep in past 5am. I didn’t want to get up and go anywhere especially breakfast. Not a fan of breakfast food, I offered to go to lunch or dinner, anywhere he wanted. I just didn’t want to go to breakfast early in the morning.
Ugh. Just thinking about that made me cringe and filled my heart with deep regret.
How selfish. How terribly selfish. I was a good daughter. I had a loving relationship with my dad, one envied by many. Still, I couldn’t do that one simple thing?
I thought there would be time. Another weekend, perhaps?
Well, there wasn’t.
What I wouldn’t give to sit across from dad at a booth at Eat n’ Park, eating breakfast together.
But I said, “No,” because I didn’t want to get up early.
I also regretted not being with him on that last day.
Because I went home to do errands. I went home to pay bills, do laundry, and take a nap on the couch! It was my dad’s last day here on this earth and that was how I spent it. I should have been there. I should have stayed one more day.
One more day.
What I wouldn’t give for one more day.
I knew I didn’t know that it would be his last day. I knew I needed to rest. I knew that the way it worked out was the way God intended. Dad spent that last day with family and friends. Maybe God didn’t want me there. Maybe Dad chose to go when I wasn’t there. I didn’t know the reason for any of it other than it was God’s Will.
But I knew life was short. I knew it was important to spend time with family and friends, to have meaningful conversations, to share in their lives and in their days.
I knew better now.
The rest of the world didn’t.
They thought there would be time. They thought there would be another weekend.
Maybe I was too aware. Maybe that was why it bothered me so much when friends and family didn’t understand. I couldn’t help but be aware. I lived it every day. Tomorrow wasn’t guaranteed for anyone, and my tomorrows were limited. I accepted that, and I lived accordingly.
Life was busy. Life was chaotic. Life was demanding.
Still, life was about choices. A million and one daily decisions. What I focused on was my choice, and I chose to invest in my people. I didn’t want to live with regret, to always say ‘no’, to put unimportant things before the people I loved. When schedules were tight, I sent a card. I texted. I made it my mission to let people know they were loved. I didn’t always live up to it, but I did my best.
My greatest regret was missing out on that special time with my dad. My greatest fear was that my loved ones wouldn’t know how much they were loved.
Whatever that meant, whatever I had to do, I would do it. Laundry could wait. Schedules could be rearranged. Cards could be written, and texts could be sent. I learned so much from my dad, his wise words forever etched on my heart and engraved on my soul. I carried him with me always. I felt his love for me still today. One of the most important lessons he taught was learned after he was gone.
When I left this earth, if I wanted my people to feel my love long after I was gone, I had to wrap them in as much love as I could while I was still here.
Tomorrow never came, but today was right in front of you.
Get up and go to breakfast.