For quite some time Cole has been a tad bit obsessed with the San Diego Chargers. I could go into great detail here about the breadth of his obsession, but alas, this blog is not about him.
But I digress, because of said obsession, he has been hounding Tony and I to take him to see the Chargers play. I am sure if you were to ask Cole he would emphatically state that this is his biggest heart's desire.
A few weeks before Cole's birthday, my dad called and asked if it would be okay if he gave Cole Chargers tickets in honor of the big day. Admittedly, it took me a few days to call my dad back. My dad is always so very, very generous with us, and this gift seemed a bit extravagant. Finally, I relented and agreed that my dad could surprise Cole with tickets.
Last Tuesday, on Cole's birthday, I told him that I would check him out of school so that we could go to lunch with Grandpa and celebrate. As I was doing the morning dishes, Tony and I got to talking about how excited we were for Cole and how much fun it would be to see the look on his face when he opened the tickets.
"This will be a wonderful memory Cole will always have of your dad." Tony whispered in my ear as he kissed me goodbye.
And that is when it hit me. My dad is dying. I actually had to say it out loud, as if vocalizing it would somehow make it feel more real. I know the reality, my heart knows it's true, and yet, I tend to cope with it by trying not to think about it.
I cleaned and I cried. I mopped and I wept. And I wondered if this was possibly the last birthday Cole would have with my Dad.
The kids and I have a bit of a game we play that helps us deal with the ambiguity that is my dad's cancer. "Will Grandpa be here for Christmas?" Oh, yes.
"Will Grandpa be there for my wedding?" No. "When I get my Eagle?" I'm not sure. My dance recital? My mission? Easter? And so it goes. We mark the time in events rather than in days, and somehow the inevitable, the unthinkable, becomes easier to accept.
I had a difficult time maintaining my composure as Cole and I drove to Apollo Burger. Twice my dad called to confirm the location and directions. I recognized his "chemo brain" and patiently guided him to the correct spot. I grimaced as I witnessed his severe pain in walking only 20 feet to our seat. I pretended not to notice his trembling hands, his translucent skin, his puffy face. It saddened me to look at the card he had written for Cole, and see how his once beautiful penmanship had turned shaky and uncertain.
The moment came and he handed his gift to Cole explaining that he didn't know what to buy him, so he hoped that Cole liked gift cards. I saw the familiar twinkle in his eye as we both watched and waited for Cole's reaction.
It sounds so silly to write, but I can't remember a moment so beautiful. I watched as Cole squealed in delight and then began crying tears of joy. Not just a few courtesy tears, but streams and streams of happy tears. A real dream come true for my little boy.
Before long Dad and I also were crying happy tears...right there in the middle of Apollo Burger, over our onion rings and hamburgers. I watched Cole throw his arms around my dad, and marveled at how big he seemed against my Dad's thin frame. I smiled as sweet baby Miles climbed into my Dad's lap and alternated between patting at his cheeks and laying his head upon Dad's chest. I savored the moment.
Over the course of lunch, Dad told me that he had gone to get his "obituary picture" taken. We laughed a bit at the absurdity of it all, but his comment stayed with me. I thought about it the entire day and most days since then, and the conclusion I have come to is this: When the day comes that Cole and I look back on my dad's life, I hope we don't have to look at his picture and try to remember him. Rather, I hope that the memory we have of Apollo Burger and the Chargers tickets will be emblazoned on our hearts. I hope that Cole's 11th birthday with my Dad will be a memory that is imprinted in his mind forever. I hope he remembers his grandpa, an imperfect man, and yet someone who loved him beyond measure.
And I hope that my Dad can take the memory of this day with him as well.