Paul McAleer

The cancer

Paul McAleer

When I hear of death due to cancer, or illness due to it, I of course think of my dad. Roger Ebert's death hit me hard yesterday; it was difficult to be at a conference and get that news and deal with it and move on.

I remember the day dad died but moreso I remember the couple of days before that, when his health was in serious decline. He was able to be at home with us. And one afternoon, basically, the doctor said that we should say our goodbyes. Each of us got a turn - my sister, me, and my mom. My dad was laying in his bed, his frail and gaunt body ravaged by the chemo (the fucking chemo) and down one lung. He was so weak. It was the opposite of him really.

I don't know what my sister said to him, or my mom, but through the closed bedroom door I heard a lot of crying and sobbing. I know what I said to him when I was with him. He laid in the bed on his back, looking straight up - the least painful position for him - and I laid next to him, facing him, in a fetal position. We talked about my life and his and all that he did for me, all he did for us, in the fifty short years he was there with us.

I told him that if I were to have a child one day, if I could be half the father he was, I'd be OK. We cried, a lot.

Dad held on for a couple more days, and then on that Tuesday we really got word that this was it. I was at work so my coworker rushed me home as soon as I got the call. Family was there, some in the kitchen, some in the bedroom. We all gathered in the bedroom, and my dad started having difficulty breathing after a short while. We cried a lot. We held each other a lot. He said something about seeing a light, weakly, and we told him we loved him. So much. My mother told him to go into the light.

His breathing stopped. He looked up, and he was gone.

50 years old, and this was nearly 15 years ago, and when I hear of cancer I carry these two memories with me. I always will.

A part of me is very angry, very very, that my father hasn't seen so much. He didn't see me graduate college - first in our family. He didn't see me get married, adopt a son, any of that. I am angry at cancer for that. I probably always will be.

But there is a part of me that holds on to the good stuff, the good memories, and that is the place I return to as much as I can. He was a good man, a really hard fucking worker, and a good dad.

I will miss him for the rest of my days. He is a part of me and who I am.