The day my life changed forever

Robert Marshall, Sports Editor

Five years, and the day still haunts me: Sept. 13, 2009. A day that will be etched in my mind for as long as I live.

My dad lived with multiple myeloma for five years. He was supposed to live only one. His last five years required more than a dozen hospital visits. This time it was different. He had always come home after a few days, at most a week, but this time he didn’t.

I was in my room watching TV when I heard my older sister walk into the dining room. I will never forget the words that came out of her mouth. “Papa died.”
Immediately, my little sister started bawling. I went numb. I was 16 and had just lost my dad.

Throughout the five years of my dad’s illness my mom told me to be prepared. But how can you?

No matter how much I tried to wrap my head around him being gone forever, I couldn’t imagine my dad not being there — the man I expected to see me graduate from high school and college, the guy I called “Papa.”

He was my foster dad — the only man I knew as a father. The man with whom I spent Saturday and Sunday mornings watching football, and hearing him yell at an Oakland Raider for running into the back of his own player as though they could hear him.

A former California Highway Patrol officer, he called himself an Okie, even though he was born in Arkansas.

After hearing the news, our sister-in-law, who was already at the hospital, came and picked us up and drove us there. It was a somber ride as my sister-in-law and older sister cried in the front seats, while sharing memories of Dad’s corny jokes and his false teeth that he loved to show off to people; and the time he ran into the screen door and got mad at it.

I entered the waiting room, where my family members cried and hugged. My niece stood and stared outside the window, while family members filtered in and out of the hospital room. My brother sat in the chair with his face expressionless.

I walked into the room where my father lay; my mom sat by his lifeless body. He had a bright purple sore on his lip from an infection. He was pale, but most of all he looked peaceful, something he hadn’t looked like in five years.

At that moment, I realized it’s OK he passed. I sat by his bedside and held his hand for a while, saying my last goodbyes. Surprisingly, I didn’t cry.

After leaving the hospital, we began preparing for the funeral. My brother, after coming home, stood by the gate; kicking it repeatedly. My mom was quiet and dealing with the loss of her husband of 25 years.

I didn’t go to school for the week before his funeral. I was confused, not knowing what to think or feel. The day we went to view his body was the day it hit me that Papa was really gone. The moment I walked up and saw his body, the tears finally began to flow. It all just came out. I cried, bawling into my lap. I had to walk outside to get some air after releasing all the hidden pain.

The day of his funeral, I didn’t cry like I thought I would. Everyone around me did but I couldn’t. I had no tears left to produce.

The funeral was a healing session for me. A weight was lifted off my shoulders. I felt like I could live life and not worry about how upset my mom would be or how I was going to laugh and be happy again. It was a reassuring moment that life goes on.

Would it be hard without him in my life? Yes. But would I be okay? Yes.

My dad gave me the tools to keep going and to stay strong when things went wrong.

It will be six years on Sept. 13 since my dad died. My loss has made me stronger; I love and care harder for people. I’m always there for them, not knowing if this will be the last time I ever talk to or see them again.

Although he’s gone, he’s still here if I need him. All I have to do is say his name.