You Have a Really Nice Family

My step-mom died recently.

Of cancer. The really bad one. Although I know there are no good versions of cancer.

Pancreatic. The survival rate is almost zero.

I learned that after I googled. No one would say it out loud.

It ate her alive right before our eyes.

She went from a larger-than-life, loud, happy, busy woman to a shell. To a 67 year old woman in a nursing home bed.

14 months is all it took. 14 months to eat someone alive.

Sawyer recently asked me why it did that.

‘Why are there just bones left mama? Where does everything else go?’

I didn’t know what to say to him.

Because I don’t know the answer actually.

I think a lot about her dying.

Partially because I was there. But also because it was just so life changing.

One day she was here. And the next she wasn’t.

Although we weren’t always that close, she was a very nice woman.

And she loved my dad, her grandchildren and family very much.

At 76 years old, my dad has had to start over.

I can’t even imagine actually.

He’s cleaning, making more than just toast, looking for a new house, and going for walks in the afternoon.

He still cries a lot.

He recently told me the hardest part is going home alone.

The man who is very stoic and quiet said, ‘I dread going home to an empty house before I even leave.’

I have seen him more since she died than I did for many years prior.

It’s been nice. Having him in my life…again.

I guess you could say I’ve missed him. But that’s not phrasing it right.

He’s always been my dad. Just not always available.

My dad was more involved with my step-mom’s family. I think that’s the way it goes sometimes.

Her family. It wasn’t always easy. I was even angry at times. But I was always thankful my dad had someone. That he wasn’t alone.

It’s different now.

He’s starting to get to know my boys.

He loves the baby. Holding him. He laughs at his hair.

I think because they have the same style.

He marvels at Sawyer and his love for fishing. He laughs at how busy he is.

He has a soft spot for Cooper. He always has.

And now he’s getting to know him. And his love for his iPad and trains.

He’s seeing severe autism. And learning what nonverbal really means.

He’s also learning about our fears as parents. Our ups and downs on the unique rollercoaster of grief.

I told him last night that back-to-school time is a really hard time of year for me. It signifies the start of a new year for some. And for some not.

I told him I was sorry I hadn’t called in a few days. I’d been in a funk. That at this time every year I get sad. But I was back now.

And he said, ‘I didn’t know Katie. I can’t believe I didn’t know.’

And then we talked about football. And the weather.

And that was that.

We recently spent a few days with him. The boys overtaking his house in a way they never could before.

Sawyer tangling fishing poles and catching minnows in the lake. Harbor crawling all over and into everything. And Cooper snatching up photos of our family from my dad’s dresser and treasuring them with pure joy.

It felt like home.

As we were packing up, after what I thought was a trip of pure chaos, which is our normal, my dad broke down crying.

Right in front of me.

He hunched over and put his face in his hands and said…’You have a real nice family Katie. I am so happy for you.’

I hugged him and said, ‘Dad, this is your family too.’

I can’t stop thinking about that exchange. While I know that I have a nice family, the best really, no one has ever said that to me before.

Sadly, I think because of autism. It’s like some people only see the sad and hard parts. They miss the joy.

My dad saw the beauty in it. For the first time. And he loved it.

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Finding Cooper's Voice is a safe, humorous, caring and honest place where you can celebrate the unique challenges of parenting a special needs child. Because you're never alone in the struggles you face. And once you find your people, your allies, your village....all the challenges and struggles will seem just a little bit easier. Welcome to my page!

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