How does one go about saying goodbye to a dying parent? Having an older parent who is terminal with cancer is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to deal with. This is harder than finding out that my son Joey was going to be born with Down syndrome or when Joey got diagnosed with Autism as well. I mean, this sucks, this truly sucks. The doctors have said he has between 3-6 months left but they can’t say for sure. I want more than anything to take his suffering away.

For the past two years since he’s been fighting Chronic Myelomonocytic Leukemia (CMML), I’ve watched him go from 210 pounds down to 150 pounds. I’ve watched him suffer through severe dehydration, sepsis, severe depression, and a few bouts of influenza. I’ve watched him suffer both physically and mentally. Although I’m typically twelve hours away, I’ve spoken to him on the phone almost on a daily basis, sometimes multiple times a day, and I’ve traveled from Connecticut to Ohio to see him as often as I can.

I’ve explained to the kids that their beloved Pah-Paw has cancer and is very sick. My almost 9-year-old daughter, Leah seems to understand more than the boys. She knows he’s dying and she appears to be coming to terms with it. My son, Aiden, who is 7, seems to halfway understand and my 10 1/2-year-old son Joey, who has a dual diagnosis of Down syndrome and Autism doesn’t seem to understand at all. 

 I would give anything to have one more day fishing at the lake with him and my children, to spend a day going out to yard sales or to an auction, to go to the car races again, to go camping at our favorite campground in West Virginia one last time, to work on refinishing one more piece of antique furniture with him, or him to be healthy enough to travel to Connecticut to visit us. 

Instead the kids and I have been in Ohio for the past three weeks. My brother and I had to become my father’s power of attorney and now we’re in the process of either putting him in a nursing home or hospice. I’ve been cleaning out his house and it’s being put on the market this week. I’ve been packing up all his belongings and making trips to Goodwill. I’ve gone through his personal belongings (seen a few things I didn’t want to see…) and some things that brought a smile to my face. I’ve sorted more NASCAR memorabilia, fishing reels and tackle to last me a lifetime. I’ve been thumbing through old pictures and remembering fun times with him and our family.

You see, I’m the only girl and youngest in my family, and even though I’m 35, I’m Daddy’s Little Girl and he always made sure I had (almost) everything I wanted within reason. He worked for General Motors for 33 years and would work 16 hour days just to make ends meet. We also had an antique shop so on his days off from GM he would either be out picking antiques or at auctions getting goodies for the shop or he would be in the garage repairing furniture to sell in the shop. He worked his butt off to provide for his family. 

I’ve been fighting back tears and have had a few moments and broken down sobbing. Some days I’m fine, other days I’m a basket case. Even though he’s not perfect by any means, he is my Daddy and means the world to me and I will do anything in my power to make his last days the best I can. 

He keeps telling me that he loves me and I tell him I love him too. He also keeps apologizing for past mistakes. I keep telling him that you can’t change the past and not to hold grudges. It’s just not healthy for your mind and soul. I’ve been reminding him of part of the Lord’s prayer, “forgive us of our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” 

Over the past month, my dad has found God and isn’t afraid to die. He says he’s ready. He wants to be in Heaven with his brother, sister, and parents. I’ve even caught him praying and talking to God when he thinks no one is watching. I watched him sit and talk with Chaplains at the hospital last week. The look of peace on his face as they prayed with him was so serene. It’s me that’s afraid….

I’m terrified of going back to Connecticut and getting “the call.” I’m terrified of him dying alone. I’m terrified of not having my Daddy being a phone call away. I’m terrified of not being able to hold my Daddy’s hand or not being able to get a hug from him ever again. And I’m angry, I’m just so angry. I don’t want to say good-bye. I know I’m being selfish in not wanting to let him go. He deserves to be at peace but it’s just so hard.

And when his time is done here on Earth, I know I will have one amazing guardian angel up in Heaven looking down on our family. We don’t know exactly how much time we have left with him but I intend to fill that time full of my love for my Daddy and live one day at a time. 

Jessica Heeran

I'm a stay at home mom to three energetic children: Joey (11 years old), Leah (9 years old), and Aiden (7 years old). Joey is chromosomally enhanced with Down syndrome and also has Autism & is non-verbal. I was born and raised in Ohio and moved to Connecticut 11 years ago, so I'm a Midwest girl living in New England.