Blessings Recounted: Driveway Time

When we got the call in April that my dad had been diagnosed with cancer, we knew that our time with him was limited.  We just didn’t know what that limit was and it took some time for the doctors to sort that all out to the degree that they could.

That is something we all know, isn’t it?  That our time with the people we love is limited.  But most of us don’t live that way until the day we get that call.

Why is that?  Do we not live in the full light of that knowledge because we get so caught up in getting day-to-day life done; lunches packed, bills paid, laundry folded?  Or is it because living in the full light of that knowledge would be so paralyzing that we couldn’t go about the business of getting day-to-day life done?

Either way, a cancer diagnosis, is just that — it’s a blinding flash that seers the retina with that awful truth, that we are fragile and limited beings.  And it leaves you squinting, stumbling and disoriented, like walking out of dark movie theater into the mid-day sun. And the only way to move forward is to look down at your feet, looking no further ahead than the next safe place to step.

Sean’s second-grade year ended late in May and the very next day, the three of us left for Illinois not knowing what to expect when we got there.

Steroid therapy and radiation had shrunk the brain tumor enough to restore his cognitive and speech abilities, so by the time we got home that first week in June, he was more or less like his old self, albeit a bit more tired and a lot more cold.

We spent our time together that week mostly out on the drive way, just as we often did in my growing up years in that house.  Only this time instead of fixing stuff, mowing or working on a car, he sat in a lawn chair in the gentle June sun, wearing a hat and coat, trying to absorb the heat from the concrete, and watching the earth awaken to another season.  I wore shorts and a t-shirt and tried to amuse him like I was seven again. “Hey Dad! Watch this! Watch me jump rope! Hey Dad watch me do a cartwheel!  Hey Dad!…”  Until he would nod off.  Then I would sit beside him and watch the cars go past and his chest rise and fall until he stirred again.


That week was as unremarkable as any other week I might have come home in the past 32 years.  We hung out together on the driveway, not doing anything in particular, just happy to occupy the same space. That’s the way it’s always been with us, that’s the way we like it.

We didn’t really talk about the cancer, we talked around it.  We didn’t deny it, but at the same time, we didn’t acknowledge it.  We are not a people who cry and hug and pour out our feelings.  We know how we feel about each other, so pointing it out with words isn’t necessary.

At the end of the week, I stood beside our packed car.  We had said our goodbyes and now it was time to head back to Texas.  AD was behind the wheel with the engine running, Sean, in the backseat, having done several rounds of hugs and waves and had settled in for the long drive.  But I stood there beside the car, with the door open, paralyzed, unable to make myself get in.

My dad stood away from the car on the driveway, just as he did 32 years earlier, the day I got in a car and left for Texas, where I would make my life.  On that day, long ago, I was but 21-years-old and did not yet fully understand that time was limited. But I did take note of something about him on that day, something about his posture or the tensing of his mouth that told me that this day had come too soon for him, that it was snatching something he loved and treasured, right out of his hand and out of his house and out of his life.  And I never needed him to say that.

On this day, he held the same posture of 32 years before, only now he leaned on a cane, the same tensing of the mouth, only now he looked tired and small and his fragility was beginning to show.

I dropped my chin to my chest and began to sob.  “I don’t want to leave, I don’t want to leave…” was all I could say.  My mother hugged me.  My dad stood away and looked down.

I took a deep breath and got in the car and we backed out of the driveway.  AD patted my leg because what else is there to do?

I would make two more trips home to spend time with my dad but Sean would not.  As we  pulled out of the driveway, he hung out the window and waved and yelled, “Goodbye Papa Ed! See ya later alligator!”

It was time to get time to get back to getting day-to-day life done for awhile, until the next phone call.

I cried all the way to St. Louis.

18 thoughts on “Blessings Recounted: Driveway Time

  1. Oh, Antique Mommy, I haven’t read your blog in AGES, and today I thought of the word ‘Farkles’. I can’t even remember if it’s a word you made up, or another blogger, but I suddenly wondered how you were keeping. So sad to hear about your dad and your difficult year since, there are tears in my eyes reading this. My condolences to you and your lovely family.


  2. Tina,

    I have been absent from your blog (and most blogs) until Sarah posted a link to this the other day. I have walked this path you walk. I have woken up feeling as though the day were a normal day, then having something trigger in me the realization that my Daddy is gone. I remember telling someone that his death was so huge that I could only touch parts of it at a time–then I had to back away, because the pain was overwhelming and more than I could wrap my brain around. Five years on he is still gone. I am the lucky one who lives “away”–not in the same house or same town as my mother and siblings where they have to face his absence head on every day. And as amazing as it seems–he doesn’t really feel gone. He’s not far away. I know it. Love you.

    * * *

    Was just thinking about you the other day and wondering how you were. Thanks for the sweet and encouraging words….


  3. “But I did take note of something about him on that day, something about his posture or the tensing of his mouth that told me that this day had come too soon for him, that it was snatching something he loved and treasured, right out of his hand and out of his house and out of his life.”

    Oh, my. What an amazingly written sentence. Encapsulating so much of what a parent must feel on any given occasion.


  4. Oh sweetie i’m so sorry and of course i’m in tears.

    I know this story so well. The day was a perfect sunny blue sky day. Then the call of a massive heart attack that left me little time to make it to the hospital to say good-bye. Hearing my dad tell me how much he loved me and my sisters through gasping breaths is a blessing and a curse. It was like your standing at the car door. I didn’t want to leave, they wouldn’t let me stay and I didn’t think my own heart would hold out for the next 15-mins. he lived. Gosh. How I loved that dad of mine. He was beautiful.
    We are big huggers in my family and the I love you’s are bountiful.

    I’m going to finish reading this story even if it drains every tear. I believe no greater gift can be given than my heart breaking for someone else.


  5. I read this earlier today & could not respond because I was crying…

    My dad died in 2010. We learned of his cancer in May that year. I had been thinking how next month is May, again… he died 4 months after his diagnosis.

    God Bless you & yours, AM… knowing how hard it is….


  6. I keep coming and reading your post. Especially the ending. I wish I had something wonderful to say other than I break down in tears at every reading. I know “the long good-bye” and it’s heartbreaking. Thank you for writing your story and perhaps helping us understand ours a little better. Hugs and love to you, my friend.


  7. I lost my father 10 years ago, when I was 25. I will always miss him. I am so sorry for your loss. I know how hard it is.


  8. I know that driveway time, where life happens, memories are made and words really are unnecessary.

    Your recreation of seven-year-old antics were probably the best medicine he could have gotten!


  9. I lost my daddy on Aug. 22, 2005 after just 3 months from the day he was diagnosed with cancer. We were privileged enough to be there in his last days. Being a family that says what needs to be said, that is what we did. He had one on one talks with my two kids, late at night when he was coherent, about the life they should live. They were barely ready to become teenagers.

    It was perfect timing.

    Those words still resonate with each of them. What Grandpa said to me ….

    I was in the living room when my mom, his wife of 42 years, came out and cried out that he had gone. Gone to meet the Savior who had meant the world to him from age 21.


  10. I was my daddy’s baby girl, and I was so privileged to be with him for his last days after a stroke. It was not easy, and we did just take one day at a time, but he was able to pass on at home as he wished.
    Thanks for sharing these memories.


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