Whilst travelling by train from my home in England to my native Netherlands, where my father was waiting for me, I noticed that the person sitting next to me on the train was reading "The Power of Now" by Eckhart Tolle. The book teaches people about the importance of living in the present. How appropriate, I thought, as I realised that the power of now was so relevant in my situation. The fact that this man was reading that particular book was a sign for me that made me realise the need to treasure every moment I had left with my father.
My youngest brother, Toon Jr, was to meet me off the train at the other end. When he met me at the station, he seemed very together and relatively optimistic. He lived walking distance away from my parents and had been there in person with them ever since my father had fallen ill. I felt as if I had been an outsider far away in England, with just a telephone connection. I was now just about to join this journey that perhaps seemed worse on the outside than it actually was on the inside. I have learned that if you are physically part of a difficult situation, rather than looking on from the outside, your “coping force” comes into action, and you are able to deal with emotionally difficult circumstances so much better. I knew that once I had seen my dad, I would be fine and would be able to cope with the problems of day-to-day life by purely being there in an active and useful way. It was just that first meeting with him on that particular day that I was overanalysing and was anxious about. Was I going to hug him? What would I say? Would we cry? All sorts of uncertainties were crossing my mind. I felt so nervous about that first meeting. How do you approach your father for the first time after just finding out that he has terminal cancer?
Despite the sad situation, it felt wonderful to be there, knowing I could finally feel involved and hands-on. It was the right place to be, and strangely enough, it felt better than ever to be home in The Netherlands.
It didn’t take long, however, before anxiety about meeting my dad overpowered my feelings again. I told my brother that I was ready to make the twenty-minute car journey to the hospital, where my dad was awaiting my arrival. My brother took me there in the car. I didn’t speak much on our journey over there because I was again visualising our meeting in my head. I was feeling more and more nervous as we got closer. I just wanted it over and done with. The hospital was situated on the edge of our local town, where we parked under the canopy of some trees on the edge of a big horticultural field. It felt very Dutch. I was happy to be in my fatherland.
When I entered the hospital, it looked more like a shopping centre. The building was beautiful, with big plants, shops, and cute places to drink coffees mixed in with the usual buzzing atmosphere that you see in all hospitals. I was aware, though, that it wasn’t a happy shopping trip. We were on our way to the oncology department, the one that everybody wants to walk past—the department where you certainly don’t want to have to visit a loved one.
We got into the lift and stopped on the second floor. This was as far as my brother would take me. He told me which room my father was in so I could spend time with him alone. Walking down that corridor towards his room, on my own, I seemed to walk forever. I felt nervous and would have happily turned back to the safety of my healthy brother, but that wasn’t an option. I knew he was waiting for me, and he was probably excited to see me. Did he have similar feelings of anxiety about seeing me, or did he just want to hug his little girl while he still had time to do so? I tried to put myself in his shoes, and I could only imagine the latter. If I didn’t have long to live, I would want to love and hug my children with even more intensity than I had before. I would want to sit next to their beds and watch them while they slept. I would want to put them in my pockets and carry them around, but most of all I would want to make sure they would be prepared and able to cope with their lives without me. I would tell them that our love goes far beyond the physical world.
My oldest son, Luke, was about eight years old, when he asked me, “Mummy, when I die after you do, how will I be able to find you?” I told him that our love is so strong that we would always be able to find each other, that our souls are always connected from anywhere in the universe.
I stopped just before I got to the door leading into Dad’s room to compose myself. In that split second, I decided I wanted to try and be strong for him, just like he would want to be strong for me. I took a big breath and walked in. I saw him, walked faster to get to his bed quickly, and hugged him while we both cried. I can still feel our cheeks touching and our arms embracing. I felt overcome by so much love for my dying father. We stayed in that embrace for at least a minute, and when we finally let go of each other and had our first real eye contact, I told him how sorry I was for the bad news. He agreed that things weren’t too good. He was very emotional and kept bursting into tears. He was clearly having to come to terms with the bad news. I sat down and took his hand, and we just looked at each other and cried for a minute or so longer. After a few minutes, we composed ourselves and were able to talk about what had happened to him. We talked about the technicalities of the operation, his wound, and the future. He told me he was determined to fight this cancer and have the maximum amount of “gifted time” allowed.
Suddenly life seemed so worthwhile, and the intensity of this meeting that had given me so much anxiety beforehand was powerful and life changing. Nothing about it was superficial, and from that moment on, I knew that my father was transforming the bad news of the terminal cancer by asking, “How can we make the most of this gifted time?” We didn’t know how the journey would evolve, but I knew then that whatever would happen, he would always try to have his glass half full. I was praying that the pain would be under control for the remaining time he had left because a glass can’t be half full if you have to deal with severe pain and the suffering it brings.