With Father's Day approaching, my thoughts drifted back to when I was 10 years old. At that time of my life I felt that I had everything a child my age would want. I remember the good times we had together as a family: the picnics, the amusement parks, the ponies, the dog, the cat, the pet calf, the pet crow, and the summer resort. Ohhhh that summer resort!! What wonderful memories I have of our 83 acre resort near Hayward Wisconsin. Each year, just before school ended, my dad would drive all the way up to the resort to open it up and make it ready for our summer guests. I couldn't wait till he came back to get me, my sister and my mom. The resort offered so many wonderful activities such as: swimming, water skiing, fishing, horseback riding, archery, skeet shooting, hunting and of course those scrumptious meals and the entertainment! Yes, I did believe that I was the luckiest kid in the world.
Then things began to change. After closing the resort for the winter and returning home, my dad woke up one morning all yellow and feeling very ill. He went to see his doctor and my sister and I were told that we would be selling our beautiful home where we grew up to move closer to the city. We were told that this was necessary because mom would now have to get a job and she wanted us to be close to the hospital that my dad would be staying in for a while. Being in the era of the 50's, my sister and I were not allowed to visit our dad in his hospital room because children were not allowed on the floors. My mother would take my sister and I into the hospital courtyard because my dad's room overlooked this area. She would then go to his room and help him to the window where he would wave at his girls and throw us kisses and we would do the same in return. When dad was finally allowed home after his first surgery, he sat with my sister and me and explained to us that he had cancer in his pancreas. He told us that he would require numerous surgeries to help him get better. My sister and I were afraid because we didn't understand and we saw how much pain our dad was experiencing. In addition to this, he was losing a lot of weight.
After 15 months had passed, my father became gravely ill and was hospitalized once again for a long period of time. My sister and I were taken to our aunt's home because our mom wanted to stay at the hospital with dad. Dad had one more surgery, but it didn't seem to do a lot of good. I remember one evening when my dad called us on the phone and asked me to bring my sister to the phone with me. I placed the phone between my sister and myself as requested and then dad told us he wanted to say the Lord's Prayer with us one more time. After we prayed, he told us how very much he loved us and that we were the light of his life. My sister and I still did not know that our father was terminally ill. We knew he was very sick and not getting better, but no one told us that in one month we would no longer have him here with us.
In December of 1957, my sister and I were taken to the hospital with my father's sister (our aunt) and we both thought it was strange that all of a sudden we were going to be allowed to visit at the hospital. In the elevator on the way up to the third floor, our uncle told us that our father had died that morning. When the elevator doors opened I saw my mom and other family members sitting on a couch weeping almost out of control. I was in shock and I ran to a corner, as if to hide. I didn't fully understand yet that I would never be with my father again and that all the good times with him were over.
In retrospect, I find myself pondering the question: "Would I have been better off knowing that my dad was terminally ill and that I was going to lose him soon?" Or perhaps, it was best that I did not know. I am not sure how differently I would have been or how differently I would have acted with my dad if I had known. I believe that, being so young, I probably would have tried to be with him more than I was but when he was home from the hospital, I took care of him as much as I could. The question that I am posing is this: "Do you think young children are capable of handling the truth about a terminally ill parent, or do you think it is best that they simply enjoy that parent everyday and then deal with the loss when it occurs?
I would appreciate any input or thoughts that you may have regarding this controversy. I do have to add that I do not feel "slighted" in any way for the way it was handled in my life. I know that my mom would have never been the one to tell my sister and me the truth about my father's illness because, in retrospect, I realize that my mother was in serious denial. Even after my dad died, my mother spoke of him as if he was still with us. I do not blame her.