DIY is not all it’s cracked up to be.
It can be deceiving.
It can give you a false sense of security and safety.
DIY can let life sneak in the side door while you’re installing new locks on the front.
If you do it long enough, it can also lead you into a trap later on- the trap of complacency. You become so comfortable until eventually, you don’t see the threats, and the fragility of life fades into the back of your mind. Life begins to be taken for granted.
Over the years and projects, my confidence has been growing steadily. With each home repair, and every project built with reclaimed wood, a sense of invincibility was snowballing into something I didn’t see as a danger. It actually felt like a strength at the time. It was that misunderstanding that set me up to be completely thrown off course, and left me vulnerable to the ground changing under my feet. Suddenly, I looked down and didn’t recognize the path I was on. I was wearing someone else’s shoes…
He built the house I grew up in. He worked on cars for friends and neighbors. He wore steel toe boots with his jeans in the hot summers, and kept the same 5 cent comb in his back pocket for years. He is my dad, and he died last week.
He was an engineer, a carpenter, a metal worker, a mechanic, an artist… He was DIY personified. If there was a problem he wasn’t sure how to fix, he studied it until he knew it forwards, backwards, and inside out. The man achieved his level of genius, and he did so with the most humble personality you can imagine.
He dove head-first into other people’s dilemmas, and was fully invested to help anyone until the problem was fixed. You could pay him to weld your broken gate with some vegetables from your garden, or better yet, stop by and shoot the breeze. That was better than money.
My dad always measured his words, and often got a point across in a joke or a funny story. He loved puns. Sheep grazing in the field behind our house were called “raisin factories”, and he never, ever, spoke a bad word about anyone. Ever.
In my entire life, I never heard him raise his voice. He got more points across during moments of silence, than he did while speaking.
He was how I defined honorable things like work ethic, humility, and being grateful for every single stray nail in your coffee can full of stray nails.
My dad was my single defining example of true DIY. He built things, fixed things, modified things, and never acknowledged limitations. He just did things, and that made me feel safe. I grew up under his umbrella of security, and stacked my beliefs on the ground of his consistent example.
I hate cancer.
Small cell lung cancer is brutal. It’s a less common, but more aggressive type of lung cancer. It is basically clusters of cancer cells that mutate and spread on the cellular level, very rapidly. When it’s diagnosed, it’s staged as either non-extensive or extensive. Meaning, it’s either limited to one area in the lung, or it’s already spread outside the lung.
In August, 2013, after seeing a doctor for what he thought was a bad cold, my dad was told he had extensive small cell lung cancer. It had already spread to his lymph nodes and ribs, and it didn’t take long for it to invade his spine.
Life expectancy for SCLC without chemo is about 2 to 4 months. Life expectancy with successful chemo treatment is 6 to 12 months. There are only 4 combinations of chemotherapy drugs that are used in treatment. Each time chemo shrinks the cancer, it comes back faster. It’s a lose/lose situation. After fourth line chemo treatment, it’s over.
No… please, no.
My dad went through all four chemo drug combos. (Most extensive SCLC patients aren’t so fortunate to make it through to fourth line.)
It was this past December (2014), just over a year after diagnosis, that I sat and watched my dad’s face as the oncologist told him that death came next. I watched my dad, who was always ready for the next round, try to comprehend the fact that he wasn’t going to fix this.
I whined like a little girl inside my own head during those few minutes. “Dad?… Wait, Papa?… Tell them you can always fix anything! “
I witnessed my hero try to reconcile this terminal reality that day, while I simply didn’t have the capacity to. I waited for my dad to accept something that went against everything he stood for- everything I believed. This was happening. He couldn’t fix this…
A little over a month later, on January 26, 2015, my mom and I were with him when he slipped quietly from our lives, and into the next.
My heart is broken. I still need my papa.
He didn’t want to leave, and he fought until the very last breath. He left in medias res.
I will continue to write, because his story is bigger than his years here. There is more of my Dad to come.
He will start teaching me things again, and more than ever my projects will be inspired by the man who defined DIY.
I will carry on with a renewed resolve to honor him.
My life is altered from the way it was before, life will never be the same however, he is still with me.
So I will carry on in medias res.
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