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Friday, April 8, 2016


by Susan Moldaw

          My father was proud to be the patriarch of our family of four—my mother, my sister, and myself. When he was eighty and his cancer was diagnosed, it was a surprise, though I knew he would beat it.
          I sometimes drove him to the cancer center for treatments. He always walked in, unlike other patients, who came by wheelchair.
          One day, nine months after his diagnosis, my father finally requested a wheelchair when we got to the hospital. That morning, he asked his radiation oncologist how much longer he would live. “Five years?” he asked. Reluctantly, the oncologist said that his cancer was fatal, and would probably kill him within the year. My father’s face fell. I felt my heart drop, seeing his disappointment. Besides—my father was invincible. He couldn’t die. The oncologist didn’t say what the primary cancer doctor gently told me, later, in the brightly lit hallway outside the examining room—that my father had only a few months. Her compassion let loose my fear and sadness. My eyes widened; tears pooled. She gave me a heartfelt hug.
The author and her father
My father and I slowly drove home. Neither of us spoke. He winced with every bump in the road. After I helped him out of the car and we walked what felt like an interminable distance to the front door, he put his arm around my shoulder. I felt his arm’s weight and the welcome burden of his need as I helped him navigate the threshold, cross the hall, and get into bed. That was the first time, and the last, that he ever leaned on me. When I was young—and older too—I’d leaned on him, and wept—at times—into his kind, capacious chest.

Susan Moldaw works as a chaplain in San Francisco. Her writing has appeared in Brain, Child Magazine, Lilith, Literary Mama, Narrative, and other publications.

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