To my Dad with love

Columnist Kita Szpak shares a poignant portrait of her beloved father

Edwin and Irena Szpak. Photo Courtesy Kita Szpak

My father had been operated on to remove a cancerous tumour in his hip and was still in hospital recovering.  He knew he had to gain weight to stay strong.  When I was visiting him one of many such days, I watched as he made his way down the hallway, gripping the handrail with his right hand while navigating the wheelchair with his left.  Though there are footrests affixed to the chair, the heel of his right leg dragged stubbornly along the floor, making enough of a muffling sound to be heard, but not to interrupt the slow, steady trip to the destination.  Finally around the corner and past the common room, Dad saw the weigh scale set into the wall on his right.  I watched as he slowly got to it.  Directly facing the grey station in his wheeled chariot, he pressed the start button, immediately readying himself to stand up and step onto the platform, as he had only moments to do this before the machine forgot he was there.  He mounted, steadied himself and hoped he’d be fast enough.

Luckily this time he was; the machine remembered him and began to do its job.  First the number zero and then the now familiar word ran across the screen.  Dad watched intently while gripping the sidebars with a shaky balance but determined anticipation: the numbers came up.  A smile crossed his lips as he read 129.5 lbs.  He wheeled back to his hospital room in triumph, content with having gained three pounds since last week’s weigh-in.  Dad knew he’d need more than just extra weight to handle the radiation treatments ahead.  But for now, it was enough – a small taste of victory for this wise warrior.  The battle had been won.     

The following summer was one of the most glorious ever. Brothers, sister- and daughters-in-law and sons gathered on Mom and Dad’s backyard deck just outside of Kingston. The view facing the St. Lawrence was achingly beautiful: crystal clear water covered by a brilliant blue sky with swaying trees providing intermittent shade, and the occasional cry of seagulls proclaimed, “This is heaven,” as if we didn’t already know.  We had a mean game of Scrabble going – content in the fact that Dad was with us, albeit in a portable hospital bed that was stationed alongside the huge panorama window of my parents’ bedroom.  I know he could see heaven, too, despite prolonged periods of unconsciousness.  He so loved his home and family. Dad must have sensed the joy on that deck because no other prompting followed.

I smile wistfully as I read these words. Dad slipped away later the same day – September 3, 2011.  My middle son had gone back into the house through the patio doors and down the hall to check on his Dziadek.  As with the hotly contested game, everyone was taking their turn here, too – playing together and participating in the most poignant game of life during this dazzling afternoon.  This was enough for Dad – the final taste of sweet victory for this wise warrior.  His war was over.