I went in December 2014, in June 2015, and even squeezed another in November 2015. All those times he seemed to have been doing more or less well - getting weaker bit by bit (what was hard to watch, the man on a high ladder of a Soviet Air-force, The Boss in the family, was now slow and a little less loud and rowdy), but still eating some, and even putting down a shot of vodka at night as a ritual. Only after I left last time had he stopped that ritual - and slowly but surely his body was not accepting food coming in. I urged my sister to take a ski trip to re-charge and re-vitalize before the final push - we knew it was coming, yet for odd reasons, we all kept not believing it will actually happen.
Skiing is something we both love, either cross-country, or downhill. She booked her trip for the beginning of February, and Larry and I booked ours - for the end of the month.
Tanya (my sister) came back home from her 7-day skiing in Caucasus mountains on February 10th - 2 days prior, according to my conversation with my father, he stopped eating altogether. We still didn't believe, even though the saying goes: for cancer patients, this is the final stretch, and it takes 2 weeks "to go".
I called. I called every other day, and "witnessed" his voice getting weaker each time. He fought, as it was the only way he knew how to live his life - he wasn't ready to go yet. Shortly he couldn't drink, even with a straw. The IV came in, the injections of medications he used to swallow. We still thought we have longer to go. A few days ago he couldn't make it to the bathroom on his feet even with the help of my sister and my mom (who, in her own right, is 85 lbs "wet"), requiring diaper wearing (Father, The Boss!), and I struggled. My sister kept insisting to go do my own "re-charge" before the hit comes, because she was fully embracing the work now that she did hers - and we both knew the way I work, I needed it - not to mention Larry deserved a break and was looking forward to it as well.
I spoke TO my dad, in voice, last Friday, on the 19th. He didn't really talk beyond "hi", I did. I told him how much I loved him - something I was angry at him for never hearing back my whole life before, and now I didn't care, I wanted HIM to hear that. I fought tears, unsuccessfully, as I told him how much he taught me - as a parent, you raise your children more by example then words, and he was never around, an Air-Force pilot since he was 14 all the way on active duty until 50's, when shortly after I left the country - so we didn't spend time together. Yet he taught me - to be honest, frank, straight-talking into the face regardless of the outcome. Taught me hard work, non-stop, never arms down. Be physical and strong. Be wise. Think deeply and never give up. I told him all that - I may have been angry at him more often than not, but I am HIS daughter, forever, and nobody can take it away from me. And then I promised to call him on Tuesday, February 23rd.
February 23rd is his favorite holiday. It is a Russian Army day (Soviet Army, Red Army, now Defender's day...). We always made fun of him for insisting on making it biggest day for him, and he was always - always, well into his 79th year of life and many decades past active duty - getting up to a hundred of phone calls and cards via mail with congratulations. The man of honor, who never bent.
And as I hung up, I broke up in tears and sobbing like never before. The next 2 days at work went in a haze, as I wept in the dark on my clients, trying not to drip and pretending to fight allergies I never had, battling whether I should fly now and say final "I love you" (and may be, just may be, hear it back?) or hope he will hang on, and fly as soon as we come back from our little 3 days New Mexico ski trip. Neither Larry nor I cared at that moment about paid reservations, but my sister pushed the hope - he will wait, he is not ready to let go. And so I arranged a week after the trip at my work place to be an extra time off, and we drove to NM all day Sunday, cell phone in hands...
Sleeping at night was non-existent in await and anxiety, yet on Monday morning I got an email from my sister - still breathing, go ski, get an extra run for me, please.
Santa Fe met us with a gorgeous sunshine. Larry and I embraced each other and vowed to live this day, just one day at a time, to its fullest, and enjoy it like never before - because one never knows if the next day comes.
It was Monday, and the slopes were so empty, they belonged to us, and only us. We took every line we could find, starting from the green run to warm up the legs, then blue, then venturing to black diamonds...And we smiled, and ever time we were on the lift, I looked up and said a prayer: Thank you, God, for giving us this beautiful day, thank you, Pop, for living this one extra day so we can make this dream trip happen, a minute at a time...
The evening we spent in frantic calls to arrange my airfare for Wednesday, my work time off, my clients re-scheduling, notifying friends, and then silently raising a drink. The night came and left, and the morning brought more snow storms, proving for a difficult 11 hrs of driving home - and a sober one.
My Father gave me a gift of one day - one day on the ski slopes, in the mountains I love and long for so much - by living that day before letting go.
My Father gave me a gift of Life - a gift I will never be able to thank him for anymore, but one I will cherish forever.