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At exactly 00:00 today my father passed away after a long battle with Cancer. Back in 1995 my father was diagnosed with Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL) and at the time I was only 15 years old. I remember thinking that my dad was going to die but the beauty, I was told, was that we’d have between 15-20 years before that would happen due to the stage they caught the disease at.
Through out the last 15 years my dad has lived a pretty normal life. He never complained once about his illness, he never lost his hair from chemotherapy and he basically never missed a day of work either. For the last 15 years it was as if CLL never existed.
This all changed at the turn of the new year.
Back in August 2009 my dad started to develop a swollen head which made him look like the elephant man and this happened a number of times since then. He became chronically fatigued, his immune system was weak and he started to lose a lot of weight in the process.
At the end of January this year they finally diagnosed my dad with a secondary cancer in the form of tumours that had become widespread and consumed most of his body. At the time they felt treatment was still possible because the tumours hadn’t appeared to spread into any vital organs.
From January until today the cancer spread and grew at such a rapid pace that it was simply eating my dad’s body up. Three weeks ago they discovered three massive tumours on his brain and the prognosis wasn’t looking good for him. A series of radiation treatment ensued and this ended just before mother’s day where my family and I flew up to Johannesburg to have lunch with him.
When we left I knew that this moment was probably the last time I’d ever see him alive again and it made me sick. Sick, quite simply because there was so much I still wanted to tell my dad before he died and I knew that I probably wasn’t going to get a chance to do so. I felt unresolved.
On Sunday morning my mother phoned me to say that my dad’s really slipping away very quickly and that I mustn’t be shocked if she calls me to say he’s gone. I knew the time had come so on the early hours of Monday morning I wrote my father a letter. This was something I had thought about doing for a number of months but now the timing seemed right. I emailed the letter to her and asked her to please read it to him - it was my way of saying goodbye.
Late Monday afternoon my mom called me again, in tears, telling me that he has asked her and my 10 year-old sister for permission to die. He told them that physically and mentally he simply hasn’t got the strength to continue and they gave him their blessing.
I asked my mom if she received my letter and alas she hadn’t. I asked only one thing and that was to please read him the letter before he goes. Later that night I sat going through emails from my father and thinking of him as already dead and I had to stop myself because he wasn’t - yet. So, on Monday night I booked a 1-way ticket to Johannesburg so that I could hopefully spend the last moments of his life with him.
I arrived yesterday at 12:00 in Johannesburg and went pretty much direct to the hospital. I was very relieved to hear that my dad had read my letter to him and I was already feeling more peaceful knowing that he at least knew how I felt.
When I saw him though I simply wasn’t prepared. He could barely talk, couldn’t hear any more and was passing in and out of consciousness the whole time. He knew I was there and was very happy and surprised to see me but I knew the man was on deaths door.
My visit with him however was extremely special for me. I held his hand, which is something I haven’t done since I was a kid, I told him I loved him and he even asked me for a kiss when I left. I connected with my dad on a very different level and I felt like I had now finally said goodbye and I was ready for him to die.
We were told by Ali Bacher and the hospital that my dad wouldn’t make it through the night and at 00:07 we got the phone call that he had died. My first reaction was that I needed to go and see him and I convinced my reluctant mom to come with me.
Seeing my dad’s lifeless body was something that I wasn’t really prepared for. He had aged by about 20 years due to the lack of oxygen and blood supply, his skin colour had turned yellow/white, his body was warm but getting cold quickly and his facial features had already sunken in. He was not the dad that I had seen some 10 hours earlier.
The hardest part about seeing him was that he wasn’t moving. In theory we all understand that a dead person doesn’t move, breath, talk, etc. but I was fully expecting him to open his eyes and say something to us. This never happened and it was a harsh reminder of what had just happened.
I spoke freely to my dad like I’ve never done before, I touched him and held his hand and rubbed his leg and generally just looked at him in awe as a man who I regard as my hero.
I nearly didn’t book my plane ticket to Johannesburg on Monday night because I realised I was petrified of having to deal with his death but I am so grateful that I put my fears aside, got on a plane, and shared these immensely important final moments of his life.
To be honest his death has not sunken in yet but I can tell you I feel at peace with it. I did everything I needed to do with him and I’m so grateful that I don’t have any regrets around his death.
Today I remember my father as loving, dedicated and humble person who endured many hardships in his life to make our lives a little easier. The world has lost a great human being and I look forward to honouring him at his funeral.