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To Borrow from Your Hero Sinatra: “Regrets, I have a few…” By Kristine Meldrum Denholm

Dear Dad,
You weren’t supposed to die. It wasn’t your time. It couldn’t have been. You were 58… and played racquetball almost every day. You were a happy, healthy person. Everyone–Mom, my brothers and me, and your friends–thought of you as their “best friend.” I can still see you toasting us at the Pope’s Table at Bucca. You went to all those Cavs, Indians and Browns games. You still had so much life in you, ahead of you.

 

Melanoma caught us all by surprise. That day I called to see how the doctor’s appointment went, Mom blurted out you had a brain tumor. I couldn’t stop crying for days. I don’t know how I took care of my toddlers, but I‘m sure it involved snacks (like you taught me). The next thing we knew, there was the surgery to find out about this brain tumor. The neurosurgeon told us in the waiting room it had metastasized from somewhere else. Several weeks later, we got the news: melanoma.

 

Skin cancer? It’s not like we lived in balmy Florida. We sit on frozen and brown Lake Erie! You had no marks on you. You went to the dermatologist. Did a doctor miss it or did it retract back into the skin? Or was it somewhere like your gastrointestinal tract or scalp or nose, somewhere impossible to see? I guess it doesn’t matter, only to help other people know their own skin can betray them.

 

The next six months were hell. Between radiation, chemotherapy and all those issues, you lapsed into a person you weren’t: sad. I never faulted you for that. I’m truly sorry I could never think of the right things to say, Dad. In my head, I’d hear friends’ advice: don’t dwell on it, be positive. But I wanted to validate your feelings, so I mumbled something about your feelings being “normal.” You liked hearing that.

 

I heard of a man in a news story who was dealing with melanoma and called the reporter and got his number for you. You called him; you talked. Dad, a few weeks after your death he left a message on your answering machine. He wanted to know how you were doing.

 

After severe seizures, you were hospitalized the last few weeks, and it was the level below hell. My brothers and Mom and I sat by your bedside, not knowing what to say. So we did what you taught us: use humor. We teased each other and avoided the horrible talk. You went in and out of consciousness, most of the time not knowing who we were. So, we came and went from your bedside: to the snack bar, to call our spouses, to go fight with the parking attendant.

 

Then when the calm oncologist said, “He’s not leaving the hospital,” we did what we “should.” (Our family was about shoulds.) We made plans for the funeral. My brother’s girlfriend found out what to do to get an obit in the paper. I, a writer, had to write my worst paragraph ever. I did it right in front of you. That was wrong. You lay there unconscious, and I was talking about you and your life like you were already dead. What if they’re right that patients can hear even when they’ve slipped away but are still alive? I didn’t know that then, but what if there was still some hope left in your heart? And I ruined it by talking about your death?

 

What if that whole time–the six months of the torturous cancer and the last two weeks in the hospital–I got it all wrong? What if I said nothing remotely comforting? Shouldn’t I have grabbed you, hugged you, thanked you for everything? Sure, in some small ways I did, but I never wanted to crush your hope so I didn’t want to acknowledge imminent death. So I said paltry, stupid words. To think you gave me college tuition so I could study the art of words and also psychology!

 

I wish I could’ve made it all better for you, like when I was ten and laden with the chicken pox, upset I couldn’t make the school fair. You made a fair in our basement, complete with contests and candy and prizes from Convenient Food Mart. You made it all better when I was sick, and I couldn’t do the same for you.

 

Dad, this is all wrong. Six years have now passed without you. There’s been an empty spot in the bleachers at your grandkids’ ball games. You would be so proud of them. Sweet Caroline has come along. We named her because of the last good memory of you and I watching Neil Diamond, high- fiving. That was just weeks before your diagnosis.

 

Mom seems to be happy now. She has a new husband, volunteer work and a church to keep her busy. Your sons are busy with their wives and lives and kids, too. Your sons and I don’t talk anymore, but that’s another letter. I know you wanted us to be close, but it didn’t work out that way. You were the glue, Dad. You were always the glue. Your close friend Bob died too. We couldn’t believe it either, but at least he’s keeping you company up there. You guys are probably running quite a tab at Heaven‘s Bar & Grille.

 

Dad, you weren’t supposed to die. I really never saw this one coming. I’m sorry for the things I didn’t say when you were dying. I’m sorry I couldn’t make it all better. I’ll remember that fair in our basement forever.

 

With love and gratitude for you,
Kristi
~~~
Most proud of being her father’s daughter, Kristine Meldrum Denholm is a freelance writer published in the anthology Chocolate for a Teen’s Soul as well as local, regional and national publications. She is donating proceeds from this story to the Melanoma Research Foundation, in memory of her dad Gordon Meldrum, who she calls “the best dad ever.” Visit her at www.kristinemeldrumdenholm.blogspot.com.
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10 Responses to “To Borrow from Your Hero Sinatra: “Regrets, I have a few…” By Kristine Meldrum Denholm”

  1. Bobbi Leder says:

    Kristi,

    You did a wonderful job with this letter. I imagine it was very difficult and emotionally draining for you to write, but writing is also cathartic. We never know what to do, how to feel or how to act during extremely stressful times. I have no doubt that your father knew you loved him.

  2. Crystal says:

    Kristine-

    I am so very sorry for the lost you have had. I am sorry you had to watch your father sick. :( What you wrote was very touching and I hope it allowed you to have a little comfort. Stay strong.

  3. Amy says:

    I was very touched by this letter, I cried. I can see/feel that you miss him so much. I do not have anything to say that will ease your pain. My dad came so close to this in the past few months so your letter touched me and showed me how lucky we are to still have dad beside us. many hugs from NEPA, due east of you on Lake Erie.

  4. Angel says:

    I am so sorry. My dad died from glioblastoma brain cancer a little over a year ago. This letter really hit home. I miss him so much, and it did seem to come from out of left field. I wish you and your family all the best.

  5. Cindy says:

    Kristi,
    What a beautiful letter and I’m certain that he remembers the fair too.
    What a wonderful tribute to your father!

  6. Connie Clark says:

    Kristi-
    I’ve been without my father over twenty-five years now. I still miss him and still wish I could have said things to make it better. He had faith, I didn’t.
    Your letter made me smile and I felt my father’s spirit near me.

  7. Kim says:

    I’m in tears. Be grateful that you had the best dad ever and know that he had the best daughter.

  8. Sorry for your loss, but what an excellent, dynamic letter of tribute you have written. You are indeed right about one thing; no matter how well we take care of ourselves and how meticulously we plan our futures, our Ace of Spades could be pulled any time! The takeaway could be summed up in one word: LIVE! PS, My wife is a stage 2 skin cancer survivor, so I know all too well the fear and anxiety involved with the loved ones of the victims of this awful affliction.

  9. Nicola says:

    Kristi
    I’m so proud of you for being able to write this. I lost my Dad in very similar circumstances last year – I was in floods of tears when reading your letter. It was like reading my own thoughts.
    Best wishes to you.

  10. Kristi says:

    Thank you all so much for your kind words of support! It really means a lot to me. Sometimes I think people want you to “hurry up and get over it” but you just get through it instead and always have that ache of missing them. I feel really grateful to have such kind people write such nice words of support!! My dad would be amazed at getting all this attention. He was a good guy who was content letting others shine and making people happy behind the scenes. It was such a loss. Thank you all for your words.

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