Cleaning out closets and drawers is a necessary evil. Especially when you are preparing to move. I make notes on scraps of paper and stick them in drawers and forget about them. Some are mundane: an address or phone number; a note about work or a household chore.
These notes stopped me cold. Seeing them again nearly two years later made the tears flow. I had jotted them down in a tiny notebook I carry in my purse, a habit from many years as a journalist. They were made in May of 2015 at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Lexington, Ky. while talking to a very honest and somber doctor who tended to my father when he came into the ER for shortness of breath. Fluid. Infection. Cancer cells. An oncologist. Neurologist. MRI.
“I can’t tell you it’s cancer, but all signs point to it,” he told us.
At that moment, all our lives shifted to focus on our patriarch. When the official diagnosis came a few days later it confirmed the early suspicions: stage 4 lung cancer. The kind that strikes non smokers. Non-small-cell lung cancer that had spread to the bone.
My father did not want to know the prognosis in terms of time. The doctors respected his wishes. They ran tests, treated a mass on his spine with radiation and developed a treatment plan that included Tarceva, an oral medication taken by some patients if they are fortunate enough to be a genetic match. Thankfully, my father was a match. As a result, he was spared the suffering and side effects that often accompany chemo.
Watching my father died was like witnessing faith in action. For decades, he’d been a Sunday School teacher, a deacon in his church and an attentive husband and father. He prayed daily and studied the Bible often. He openly shared his faith with anyone who would listen, including a chaplain who came to his hospital bedside to offer words of comfort the day before he died.
As he dealt with cancer, he continued to be the leader of our family — constantly calling or texting to check on how we were doing. After he and my mother settled into their routine of doctor visits and monthly treatments and tests, they slowly resumed their normal activities: dinner at Red Lobster; church; visiting family and friends, and tending to their grandchildren.
Daddy was not interested in all the internet research my siblings and I were doing about innovative therapies and alternative medicine. He agreed to come to Emory’s Winship Cancer Institute in Atlanta for a second opinion but was opposed to any experimental treatments or trials. In his case, none were offered because he was responding well to the Tarceva.
Fred Duerson simply wanted to live the remaining days of his life as fully as possible. He took great joy in seeing his youngest granddaughter become a pharmacist, the first doctor in our immediate family. He relished being able to attend my retirement party and one last family reunion in July of last year.
Then one August eveing a few weeks after his 80th birthday — in the same hospital where we received that initial news — he died peacefully with his family by his side.
Not a day goes by that we don’t think about him, talk about him, miss him deeply. Grief is funny that way. Many days you feel fine. On other days it’s all you can do to get through. Faith-based grief counseling helped put my father’s life and death in perspective. Our loved ones are not our own. I like to picture Daddy in heaven, reunited with his parents and siblings. Free of all pain.
The notes I found in the drawer the other day reminded me of the short, sweet text messages he sent to me during the year after his diagnosis. Hello Angela, how are you doing today? On some days, the message was a passage of scripture meant to encourage me. His favorite was Psalm 27.
“The Lord is my light and my salvation. Whom shall I fear?”
This Psalm of comfort is a great reminder of God’s love for us. We can rest on his promise that no matter what happens, his presence is a blessed assurance.
For more information on grieving and for a list of classes in your area, go to www.griefshare.org