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This is an updated version of the original post which I wrote hours after my father’s death. You can read the original post by clicking here.

At around midnight on 18 May 2010 my father passed away after a long battle with Cancer. I was 15 years old when he was first diagnosed with Chronic Lymphocytic Leukaemia (CLL).

I remember the fear I had of my dad dying but they caught it early and he had a life expectancy of fifteen years.

Throughout those fifteen years, my dad lived a pretty normal life. He never complained about his illness, he never lost his hair from chemotherapy nor did he miss a day of work. During that time it was as if CLL never existed.

This all changed at the turn of the new year in 2010.

Me with my Dad. Photo by Gregor Rohrig
Me with my Dad. Photo by Gregor Rohrig.

In August 2009 my dad developed a swollen head. It made him look like the elephant man and this happened many times since then. He became chronically fatigued, his immune system was weak and he started to lose a lot of weight.

At the end of January 2010 doctors finally diagnosed my dad with a secondary melanoma cancer. It came in the form of tumours that became widespread and engulfed most of his body. Doctors felt treatment was possible as the tumours hadn’t spread to any of his vital organs.

From January until his death the cancer spread and grew at such a rapid pace that it was devouring his body. Three weeks prior they found three massive tumours on his brain and his prognosis was poor.

A Fitting Tribute

A series of radiation treatments ensued and ended shortly before Mother’s Day. My then wife and children flew up to Johannesburg to have lunch with him. When we left I knew that this moment was likely the last time I would ever see my father alive and it made me sick. There was so much I still wanted to tell my dad before he died and I knew that it was unlikely I would get a chance to do so. I felt unresolved.

On Sunday 16 May 2010, my mother phoned me to say “dad is slipping away very quick” and I must not get shocked if the next call I get is to tell me he is gone. Any denial I may have had about him dying was gone. I knew the time had come so in the early hours of Monday morning I wrote my father a letter. This was something I had thought about doing for many months but now the timing seemed right. I emailed the letter to my mom and asked her to please read it to him as it was my way of saying goodbye.

Permission To Die

Late Monday afternoon my mom called me, in tears. She said that my dad had asked her and my then 10-year-old sister for permission to die. He told them that physically and mentally he has not got the strength to continue fighting.

They gave him their blessing.

I asked my mom if she received my letter but alas she hadn’t. I asked only one thing and that was to please read him the letter before he goes.

That evening I sat reading emails from my father and thinking of him as if he was dead. I had to stop myself because he wasn’t, yet. I sprang to action and booked a one-way flight to Johannesburg. I wanted to spend the last moments of his life with him, assuming he didn’t die before I got there.

My Final Goodbye

I arrived midday on 18th May 2010 in Johannesburg and went directly to the hospital. I was ecstatic to hear that my dad had read my letter. I was already feeling peaceful knowing that he at least knew how I felt.

When I saw him I wasn’t prepared. He could hardly talk, couldn’t hear anymore 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 this man was on death’s door.

My visit with him was deeply spiritual and special for me. I held his hand, something I hadn’t done since I was a child, I told him I loved him and he even asked me for a kiss when I left. I connected with my father on a very different level and I felt like I had now finally said goodbye to him. I was ready for him to die.

Doctor’s at the hospital told us my dad wouldn’t make it through the night and at 00:07 we got the phone call that he was gone. My first reaction was that I needed to go and see him and I convinced my reluctant mom to come with me.

Death Is Haunting

Seeing my dad’s lifeless body was something I wasn’t prepared for. He had aged 20 years due to the lack of oxygen and blood supply and his skin colour had turned a yellow-grey. His body was warm but getting colder and his facial features had already sunken in. He was not the dad that I had seen some 10 hours earlier.

The most difficult part about seeing him was that he wasn’t moving. I know dead people don’t move, breath or talk yet I waited expectantly for him to open his eyes and say something. This never happened and it was a harsh realisation that my dad was dead.

I spoke openly with my lifeless father like I’d never done before. I touched him, held his hand, rubbed his leg, felt his grey perfect hair and looked at him in awe as the man who I regarded as my hero.

My Gratitude

I almost didn’t book my plane ticket to Johannesburg that Monday night. I realise I was petrified of having to deal with his death. It was overwhelming but I am grateful I put my fears aside and got on a plane. I got to share these invaluable final moments of his life with him. I got to be there with my family.

Seven years on and I am at peace with my dad’s death. It still hurts, I miss him and I have my tattoo on my wrist in memory of him but I know I did everything I needed to do before I lost him forever. I have no regret.

Today I remember my father as a loving, dedicated and humble man. He endured many hardships in his life to make our lives a little easier. The world lost a great man but I look forward to honouring his life as I grow and heal into my role of being a hero for my children.