In my dad’s last year, we traveled twice to Vegas. Once for the Super Bowl, a tradition dating back four years. And once in May, to celebrate Dad feeling well.
His health was surprisingly steady. He recovered from Whipple surgery. His cancer threats remained low. And the doctor cleared him another month from chemo. We were ecstatic. We zipped back to Vegas to celebrate.
I anticipated the same fun, the same tone, the same routine as our Super Bowl trip. After all, we were together. We were happy.
However, this trip was different. Whether I was naive or desperate to deny it, this trip was always going to be different. It came cloaked in a shadow impenetrable by desert sun.
We might never do this again.
Regardless, I cast that shadow aside and focused on the present. We strolled. We shopped. We gambled. We ate.
But on our last day, the shadow returned. We stopped at a Starbucks in our hotel for breakfast. Mom, Alejandro, and I sat at the far end of the lobby, and for some reason, Dad took to a couch a few feet away. There, his body sat limp. His arms bereft of muscle. His mouth solemn. His face carved in shadow. All warmth in his eyes, gone.
I saw all this. And I didn’t go to him.
I ask myself why I stayed. I even later apologized for it. Dad was a private person. When he was glum, he retreated behind a newspaper. I assumed this was one of those times. Let him be. He’ll be fine. But it wasn’t. It was different and none of us wanted to admit why.
He rallied that day. He smiled; we laughed. And the rest of the trip was spent roaming through hotel lobbies and placing chips on green tables.
I will never forget the way his body sat sunken on that couch. How his face revealed frown lines too deep to reverse. Today, I realize how embattled he was. How crippling that moment was. To us, it was the end of a trip. To him, it was the end.
When I asked him later if he wanted comforting, and he said yes, heat and nausea collided in my stomach. He had a need and I didn’t respond.
Today, my dad is whole and happy in heaven. I am confident he knew how much I loved him. The bond we shared throughout our lives overshadows that fleeting moment in Vegas. However, it taught me something. People are hurting and craving the comfort of others.
It’s hard to meet someone in their pain, isn’t it? We’re afraid to say the wrong thing. Or do the wrong thing. But the worst we can do? Is stay where we are. To comfort someone is dirty and confusing and scary. But it’s nectar to a hurting soul. It's as simple as a text. A call. A card. A meal. A hug. No matter your experiences, no matter your weaknesses, you have something to offer.
Whatever you do, don't stay seated.