Kristina Ibitayo, RN, MSN, is a PhD nursing student and graduate research assistant in the Center for Nursing Research at the University of Texas at Arlington. She is also an editorial assistant at the Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Nursing. She writes that her father died in March, “after relocating to the United States to live with us while fighting his stage 4 colorectal cancer for two and a half years. He underwent multiple radiation and chemotherapy treatments, as well as three surgeries, until experimental chemotherapy was all that could be offered him. He said, no, that was enough.
“This poetry piece is something I wrote a year before he died, as I observed continual status changes and reflected on how different he was, in actions and speech. It was written before he had entered hospice and became reconciled to death. Yet, even when bedridden, he never gave up hope. He would say he was just waiting, one day at a time…. He approached death much like he approached life: ‘I'll just wait and see what today brings.’”
Looking at my dad, I see him, but not the man with today's trappings
Of diseased frailty, gray skin and spindly legs.
Instead, I see the man of yesterday's youthful exuberance.
I see the man who woke at dawn, eager to challenge the day's tasks.
With a loud blast my dad would kick start his trail motorbike,
Leaving dusty clouds lingering on the veranda as he roared down the village trail,
Heading out to check on a distant farmer's green bean project,
On the progress of the agricultural cooperative he brought to being.
Last year, my dad's powers were limited to encouraging the self-propelled lawn mower
To venture over thick brambles and overgrown weeds. His challenge became where
To next guide the red lawn mower. In an oily haze he commanded the mower
To chop down, run over, totally eliminate baby oak saplings.
Several months ago my dad's strength was reduced to walking the acre
Around our property, investigating weed overgrowth. His power is restricted
To occasionally sweeping the guest house lawn with an electric blower,
Conquering wayward leaves, beating them back to the fence line.
Back then, the only engine my dad roared to life was an electric saw,
A partner purchased to attack dead tree limbs from last year's storm.
He'd swipe at branches and leave them lie, with only energy enough to play.
We watched, happy that he was pleased. It took him weeks. No rush. His therapy.
It's been a few months since I've heard the blower's whine or the saw's grind.
Instead, I see my dad walking, just walking, trying to ease his constant back pain
And enjoy outdoor's small pleasures. I see my dad feeding his adopted squirrels and
Neighborhood birds, refilling the three feeders strung in sight of his kitchen window.
No longer will my dad roar off on his motorbike.
Instead, he bundles up in the early dawn, prepares a simple breakfast,
And with tray in hand my dad sits outside at his green porch table,
Communing with God, trying to understand God's purpose for cancer.
I see my dad sitting quietly, in even tempered reflection,
Missing the active life yanked away from him twenty months ago,
With his diagnosis of stage 4 cancer.
Multiple radiation treatments, chemotherapy regimens, and surgeries
Have changed my dad from the giant of a man, the farmer boy from Iowa,
The vision seeker from Guatemala, the countryside Don Tano,
Into the father figure of today, the man who lives trying to please his God.
I see my dad, a man who no longer rages or runs to escape,
But the man who loves and yearns to tentatively give gentle words of encouragement.
Now, in a quiet voice my dad gives to those around.
Self-seeking days are gone, buried with his terminal cancer.
Today, I see my dad without strength of arm but mighty of heart.
I see the man God has always loved, the man He is calling home.
I see my dad, and know I am loved.
He is God's, and I am at peace, knowing I come from a mighty man,
One who dared to live, blessing others with his courage of heart.