I Called Because He’s Dying

Monday night, while hanging out at a town festival in an effort to recover from the emotional roller coaster we’d ridden earlier, my mom got a text on her cell phone that knocked me to my knees.

“Dad is dying. He has lung cancer.”

The message came from a woman who, like me, calls a man Dad who had nothing to do with creating her. He was once involved with – not even married to – her mom, and he took care of her when she was a kid. They lost track after he and her mother broke up, but reunited years later. She still called him Dad and he referred to her as his daughter.

That almost makes her my sister, I guess.

You see, that same man raised me. He married my mom when I was about 12, an age any mother will tell you is the absolute worst for girls. I wasn’t sure what to call him, until the day we had a talk about the fact that he loved me and wasn’t going anywhere, no matter what happened between him and my mother. From that day forward, he was my dad.

He was the dad that grounded me and made me keep my bedroom door open when my boyfriend was over. He was the dad that chased that same boyfriend out of our driveway days after he’d broken my heart. He was the dad that listened to me cry and demanded to know how many more times the rest of the family was going to have to hear John Michael Montgomery’s “I Can Love You Like That” on repeat. When I found out I was pregnant a few years later, he was the first one to cry over the loss of what might have been, and the only one to pull my teenaged boyfriend aside for a man-to-man talk. He was the first person we told when we decided to get married a few months later.

He, along with the dad that helped give me life, walked me down the aisle on my wedding day. It couldn’t have happened any other way.

He adored me, and I him.

And then somehow it all went to shit.

He and my mom got divorced, and it was messy and painful for everyone involved. My youngest brother still lived at home with his now-ex wife, and their once intimate relationship vanished overnight. Ours shriveled up over several months.

I don’t even remember exactly how or who stopped calling.

He was moving around a lot. He seemed to be drinking more. He didn’t look like the man who’d been the rock through my teenage years and I didn’t know how to move forward. I moved to Florida instead. We may have exchanged one or two phone calls shortly afterward, but that was it.

I hadn’t spoken to him in five years when my mom showed me the text message on her phone, but in an instant I was 16 and hearing that my dad was dying. My already sore heart dropped, taking the rest of my body down with it. My arms tingled with some psychic longing of a past embrace. I went to Jared.

“My dad, Rick, he has lung cancer. He’s dying,” I whispered into his chest as the music of carnival rides played on around us. “I have to get out of here. My mom is taking me. I’ll text you.”

Jared seemed to understand everything in that instant. He squeezed me, started to ask a question, and then nodded. “OK. Call me.”

It’s no wonder my dad always liked him.

My mom walked me to her car and listened to me sob. She listened to me beat myself up and tried to convince me that it wasn’t my fault that our relationship had deteriorated.

It didn’t really matter anymore whose fault it was, I suppose.

Mom got me his home phone number, which was busy or unavailable for two days. Tuesday night, she sent me his cell phone number. Wednesday morning, for the first time in five years, I heard his voice.

“Is this Rick?”

“Yeah, this is Rick.”

“It’s Britt.”

“Yes. This is Rick.”

“Dad, it’s Britt. B-R-I-T-T.”

“Oh. Oh. Well. It’s been a long time.”

“I know, I’m sorry. I heard you were sick.”

“Yeah. You still in Florida?”

“No, actually, we sold our house and our stuff and went around the country in an RV for a while. We just got back a little bit ago and we’re in Parkersburg now. We’re moving to Pittsburgh this summer.”


“Yeah, like in Pennsylvania.”

He laughed. “Yeah, I know where it is. What’s up there?”

I explained a little about why were moving there. He asked me how the babies were and I explained that they weren’t babies anymore. We made plans for us to go visit him on Monday; we couldn’t go Wednesday night because he wasn’t feeling well.

“How do you know you’ll be feeling better next week?” I asked.

“I just… I’ll be fine. I know it will,” he said. “Man, I’ve missed you so much.”

“I’m sorry it’s been so long, Dad.”

“Oh, well, you know, shit happens.”

“I know but, I’m really sorry.”

“It’s OK.”

“I love you.”

He went quiet and his breathing changed.


“Yeah. It’s OK.” He sounded incredibly old all of a sudden.

“OK, we’ll see you Monday then. I love you,” I repeated.

“I love you, too.” I’m pretty sure he was crying, or trying very hard not to, when I hung up.

I cannot believe it took cancer for me to pick up the phone.

Do not wait for death to remind you of what matters. Please.

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  1. Nyt says:

    I’m sorry for your impending loss. One of the things that helped me tremendously when my Mom died (suddenly) was that there was nothing left unsaid between us. Go and see him on Monday. Go and say everything. The thank-you’s, the I love you’s, the I learned so much from this, I really needed that’s and of course, the I’m sorry’s. Honor him with those gifts. Give yourself a bit of peace knowing that you said all there is to say. If you can’t say it then write it. But don’t let it go… I promise it will take some of the sting out of the pain.

  2. Kathy says:

    So, I’m thinking that what i just wrote is going to show up on Facebook…but, I really wanted to leave my message to you here on your blog. So. Here it is again:

    You have a brave heart to be able to write “in the moment” when that moment is painful to the bone, gut wrenching and just really hard. And, you are surely having more than your share of moments these days. Hold on to what you know is true. Hold on to family because as hard as all of these moments are and will be, that’s where you’ll find strength. Who was it who said: there are days when it’s not a step at a time, it’s one breath at a time. Then just one more. Keep breathing one breath at a time, Britt.
    Kathy’s most recent post: Basset Hound Silliness And Love.

  3. Hockeymandad says:

    I’m very sorry to hear about your Dad. However, it is a blessing in disguise because it has given you a chance to reconnect. Just make sure you take advantage. You cannot do anything about the five year gap but you can make sure there are no gaps in whatever time is left. I lost my dad 6 years ago and I miss him very much, terribly at times. We had just started to be friends again in my adult years so I wasn’t ready to see him go. After all, his second granddaughter had just been born a few hours before and he had to meet her. He never did as you know, but I look back now and I am glad I had some good time at the end. Like your Dad says, shit happens. It all comes down to what you do today, yesterday is final. Extra long hugs to all of you.

  4. Oh my heart. Yes, don’t wait, reach out now.
    Jill of All Trades’s most recent post: Fortune Cookie Friday

  5. Suebob says:

    Aw, Britt. I’m so sorry.
    Suebob’s most recent post: Last Night I Dreamed I Went to Manderley Again

  6. This post brought tears to my eyes.

    As unfortunate as it is, I’m glad that you called him. You’re going to get a chance to say goodbye (and maybe some other things you’ve wanted to say)

    My dad and I were close. 7 years ago, my father died suddenly and I didn’t get to say goodbye. Or I love you.

    As hard as it will be, enjoy these last moments with your Dad.
    Wendy [mapsgirl]‘s most recent post: gearing up for camp — teddy bears and all

  7. Marta says:

    Britt I am so sorry. My heart aches for you. I’m glad you got this chance to pick up the phone and talk to him.
    Marta’s most recent post: I Try.

  8. Christina says:

    Oh wow … I had a totally normal relationship with my parents – birth parents – and they did not divorce. A brain tumor ended their marriage. So my situation is different, but what I know is the ice cold rush in the veins when a message like this arrives. The world inside just falls silent.

    The only recommendation I have is to use this time now. As painful as it is saying good bye has a special magic and opens the way for a special way of communication that is not open under “normal” circumstances.

    For this it is not too late. It is not too late to say how much he means to you, how much you love him and how important he has been for you to become the person you are now.

    I wish you wonderful days ahead – even if they may be very few.
    Christina’s most recent post: My book in April and May

  9. Nanna says:

    I love you.
    Nanna’s most recent post: Suicide – It Touches Us All

  10. Liz says:

    Aw, Britt… I don’t think it’s your fault. Sometimes people just drift. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you don’t care any less. I think it’s just a natural part of life.

    I agree with what Nyt said: tell him everything you felt and are feeling now. I wish I’d done that with my grandfather. I was in denial until the morning I woke up and my parents told me he was gone. I think it’s really amazing that you’ve been able to reconnect.

    Hugs and love to you.
    Liz’s most recent post: Review | Absolution, by Louis Corsair

  11. Megan says:

    I’m so sorry, sweetheart.

    I hope you don’t beat yourself up about not connecting for so long. You don’t bear 100% of the responsibility and what’s past is past and cannot be undone. All you can do is move forward and let him know how much he means to you and say those things that you want and need to say.

    Megan’s most recent post: 20 Questions (Or More)

  12. So sorry for your sadness. May you find peace at this difficult time.
    Rachel Reynolds’s most recent post: Ms. Reynolds, please report to the principal’s office!

  13. Little Miss Sunshine State says:

    You will never regret that call. My dad died very suddenly. I had talked to him on the phone earlier in the day and then he had a fatal heart attack 4 hours later.I didn’t get the chance to say goodbye.

  14. Laura says:

    The honesty and heart felt message in what you have written here has brought me to tears. It takes such courage to put what is really happening in your life out there like this and I can’t say how much it means to me. I am so sorry to hear about your dad. I’m so sorry to hear about your brother. And, I am so sorry that burden was heaped upon burden. What a sad day. At the same time I am so glad that in the midst of the worst thing imaginable you were able to find some good and reconnect with a man who seems to have made such an impact on your life. Good luck and keep smiling.

  15. I’m so sorry. And I believe very strongly in the message. My mom died suddenly and there was so much left unsaid. I never want that to happen again.
    Corey Feldman’s most recent post: Follow Friday # 6 Jessica McFadden

  16. daniel says:

    I’m sorry.
    daniel’s most recent post: Parenting Is Weird

  17. Sheila says:


    I’m so glad you get a chance to reconnect, even if it’s because of a terrible situation.

    I don’t know what else to say except I’m so sorry and I love you bunches.
    Sheila’s most recent post: The Long Road Home

  18. Lisa says:

    Oh honey. I’m so sorry. It’s been almost a year since my Dad died and this brought all those feelings back. I’m glad for you that you have a chance to say the things you want to say. XOXO

  19. SuzanneG says:

    This is my first visit here, but your post and the previous posts I just read have touched me deeply.

    You have a wonderful gift in the opportunity to say goodbye to your Dad. When you are with him, concentrate on the wonderful memories the two of you made. The connection of love won’t disappear, but will shine all the more brightly when he is gone.

    I am sorry for the loss and pain you will move through.

  20. Amanda says:

    I have tears in my eyes. I am so sorry, Britt. You called; that’s what matters.
    Amanda’s most recent post: happy friday!

  21. Becca says:

    I’m so sorry you are having to go through this. Three years ago this month when my erstwhile mother called me and said ‘slowly, but surely you need to come on’ you offered me your prayers. I am offering you my prayers for strength and peace during this time. My Daddy would expect no less of me.

    Somehow this month always brings pain and sadness for me and for those I care about. I’m so sorry.

  22. Shanon says:

    I am just catching up with all the shit that is going on in your life right now. Britt, I am so so sorry. You are in my thoughts and prayers.

  23. Darla says:

    I’m sorry, Britt.

  24. martymankins says:

    Sometimes we have those months and years that go by with ones that we love and care about until the bad news comes down like a ton of bricks. I’ve never experienced that and feel bad that you have. But it’s good to break the silence, even if it’s not a good news phone call. Hugs to you at this time.
    martymankins’s most recent post: Happy World Gin Day

  25. the muskrat says:

    I’m sorry to hear this…very sad.
    the muskrat’s most recent post: 37 years!

  26. Dammit. I’m so sorry. Cancer sucks ass. Just went through it with my own dad. I hated it.
    The Domestic Goddess’s most recent post: Collecting Collections

  27. Carmen says:

    I’m so sorry, Britt. So incredibly sorry for all of you.

  28. Britt~ I cried as I read this entire post. Sending you all kinds of love and strength. I’m so glad you called. So glad. xoxo
    Danielle Smith’s most recent post: Why I Resolve To Create Offline Time With My Family

  29. Zak says:

    I’m so sorry. And I’m glad you called him. I bet he’s going to be very glad to see you.
    Zak’s most recent post: Let’s Discuss Dishcloths And Sit Back And Watch As I Slowly Turn Into My Grandmother.

  30. Britt, I’m so sorry. I’m glad you picked up the phone too. Thinking of you as you remember…

  31. Kristin says:

    For the second time this week, this message has found me (I wrote about the first time on my blog). Thank you.
    Kristin’s most recent post: Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow…

  32. [...] with them and you can salvage one, please do it. I’m so terribly proud for my friend Britt, who picked up the phone. I know it was the right [...]

  33. [...] five years, I saw my stepdad again. He looked sick, thin, and old – but he smiled and laughed just the same. I asked if he knew [...]

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