By Guy Chapman – Navarro County Gazette
Yes We Can
Certain days are harder to manage than others. Today is one of the top days for me to struggle through.
Today marks the day my father, Jim Chapman, passed away.
It was 2008, rather. 15 years ago. Sometimes it feels not all that long ago. Other years, it feels like another lifetime.
It was January when he called me to have “the talk.” I was just two weeks into moving to Las Vegas, the Missus and I still settling into our apartment and me a new job. I was torn with my feelings. Certainly he could beat this. He hadn’t seemed ill when we saw him over the holidays. But I also remember how fast cancer had taken my mother. Six weeks. The fear set into me, but in such situations, you had to “be strong.”
The week before those last days, I flew over to Texas to spend a weekend with Dad. For Stage IV cancer, he was surprisingly mobile. Active. He regulated the pain well. It was a “good” weekend. We shared stories, some from my youth to which he said he would have grounded me for most of them had he known about them, but found them hilarious now. We spent a few days at my sister’s so he could do his treatments.
I broke being “strong” only once and cried in my sister’s arms once I knew he had fallen asleep.
When it was time for me to leave, and it I had been dropped at the airport, I remember him looking at me like he never wanted to stop looking at me.
I flew home.
I had one full day to recover, go back to my work, when my sister called me and told me it was time. Time…. The idea felt immeasurable, and the minutes were their own separate entities.
Friends helped me get another ticket. I flew out immediately. I remember the flight was awful, mostly due to delays, and the airline being unhelpful to where the passengers and I had to clear a baggage carousel to speed up our transfer. I begged, then raged to an indifferent customer service representative, but I got there that night.
Within two days time, Dad’s health had deteriorated significantly. Whatever held the cancer back just a few days ago had decided to come in full force. I’ve often wondered if perhaps Dad held back to have that last “good” weekend with me.
I stayed up with him that night, reading to him passages from Lord of the Rings, a bedtime story he read to me as a child. We said our good-byes, but hoped for more. My sister relieved my shirt to let me sleep, then woke me shortly after to say good-bye.
I’m still saying good-bye, in many ways.
“Does it get any easier each year,” the Missus asked me. I thought for a moment, and my answer is “No.” You learn how to manage it better. You learn how to compartmentalize. I went from a life where Dad and I spoke about everything nearly every day to a void. We were more than father and son. We were best friends. And he “got” me. I was reminded of this sorting through my things in closing up the house. He kept every single one of my childhood Star Wars toys. I kept some of his trains.
I didn’t really think I’d ever come back to Corsicana after that. I felt my time had passed. And now, nearly four years later, I’ve once again, made my hometown a home. I still frequent and cover Navarro College events where he taught for over 40 years. It’s a place where I can still “feel” his presence. I think about those days where he used SimCity to show how to manage a city and showed more political episodes of Star Trek in class to make government more contemporary. He delivered an impassioned retelling of the path how Texas became a state.
I’ll be going to the cemetery after this writing to visit my parents. I’d prefer to think they’re out exploring the universe, having finally gained answers to mortality’s unknowable questions. But I have to accept that some of my questions will stay unanswered for now as part of that trade-off.
In a world full of noise, I hear so much more silence in these last 15 years.
This year, I simply find gratitude in the time that came before.
But I still have so many questions left to ask.
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