When you get an email telling you that a loved one is truly ill....

ELLE (Canada) - - Contents - By Lana Pesch

But this email was dif­fer­ent. A sink­ing feel­ing came over me as I stared at the words on the com­puter screen. My MacBook Pro, which had been a tool for so many pro­duc­tive things—writ­ing and edit­ing, TED talks and Jon Stewart—be­came a harbinger of dev­as­tat­ing news. My body had a phys­i­cal re­ac­tion, like the wind had been knocked out of me. I felt sick. I also felt an un­ex­pected re­lief. My dad had been suf­fer­ing more than I knew, and I sensed that this was the be­gin­ning of the end.

Watch­ing a loved one suf­fer is a painful—and in­di­vid­ual—ex­pe­ri­ence. He was my mom’s hus­band for 50 years, my nephew Adam’s grandpa, my cousin Mike’s un­cle, but he was my dad. I was an­gry and frus­trated, but I was also com­forted by the buf­fer zone the elec­tronic com­mu­ni­ca­tion pro­vided.

A trip from Toronto to Melville, my home­town in Saskatchewan, fol­lowed that “Dad Up­date” mes­sage. There were dif­fi­cult con­ver­sa­tions with my mom, the doc­tor and my nephew and his girl­friend, Kelsey, who had made the trip from Al­berta. We sat at his bed­side watch­ing the Cana­dian curl­ing cham­pi­onships on a crappy lit­tle TV while I texted my sib­lings with up­dates on his lack of im­prove­ment. When Adam and I re­turned to our re­spec­tive homes, the emails con­tin­ued. The mes­sages got heav­ier as my dad got sicker, un­til he passed away—16 days af­ter that ini­tial note.

Our fam­ily spans the coun­try from On­tario to Bri­tish Columbia. We text, email, phone and Skype. Our com­mu­ni­ca­tion is of­ten con­densed, abridged and elec­tronic. There is a strange power in vir­tual com­mu­ni­ca­tion that some­times makes dif­fi­cult things eas­ier to say. Or type, rather. And even though we are miles apart, it’s tech­nol­ogy that al­lows us to be con­nected so that we can be to­gether, alone.

From: “Mom&Dad” To: “Lana”

Sent: Tues­day, Fe­bru­ary 14, 2012, at 3:59 P.M.

Sub­ject: Dad Up­date Hi, Just a heads-up that Dad isn’t do­ing as well as we ex­pected. He’s in a lot of pain, and the Dr. or­dered a higher level of mor­phine for him. I’ll be go­ing back to see him in about a half hr & check if that helped any. In the mean­time, he or­dered a dozen roses to be sent to me for Valen­tine’s Day through Mike K., who picked them up & de­liv­ered them from the florists, as a sur­prise. The card says “Happy Valen­tine’s Day, Marg. From Ted & the fam­ily.” So thank you for the roses, via your dad, the sweet & lov­able man that he is. I took pic­tures of them to show him when I get to the hos­pi­tal tonight. Lots of love, Mom

From: “Lana” To: “Mom&Dad”

Sent: Tues­day, Fe­bru­ary 14, 2012, at 5:05 P.M.

Sub­ject: re: Dad Up­date Well, Happy Valen­tine’s Day! And thanks for the up­date. I know Adam is plan­ning to come and visit, but I’m go­ing to look into flights too. Talk soon. Love, Lana xo

From: “Lana” To: “Adam”

Sent: Tues­day, Fe­bru­ary 21, 2012, at 6:22 P.M.

Sub­ject: En route­most Flight is de­layed. Oh well. More time to sit and that’s what I need. :-p It sucks to have to go through this, but I am so glad you were there. At least we can share this shitty ex­pe­ri­ence. You are one of my favourite peo­ple. Let me know what else you find out from Doc Eskwichawa­tezch.

Big hugs. Aun­tie L h Each month, we ask a Cana­dian writer to share a story about a sig­nif­i­cant “first” in his or her life. Lana Pesch chose to write about the first time she re­al­ized, via email, that her fa­ther was se­ri­ously ill. Pesch’s de­but short-story col­lec­tion, Mov­ing Parts,

was re­leased in Oc­to­ber 2015.

From: “Adam” To: “Lana”

Sent: Tues­day, Fe­bru­ary 21, 2012, at 6:22 P.M. No con­di­tion change to speak of since you left. Dr. Eschewk­shep­ants didn’t come back, but I’ll talk to him to­mor­row. Kelsey and I are about to read Grandpa one of your sto­ries for a bed­time story. How’s that for sen­ti­men­tal!

Love, A

From: “Lana” To: “Adam”

Sent: Tues­day, Fe­bru­ary 21, 2012, at 8:22 P.M. Make sure you get some alone time with Grampa. It helped me a lot. Just to tell him how much I love him and that he’s the best dad any­one could ask for and that it’s hard to see him in pain. He just smiled. He said the pain wasn’t too bad. And he said I was do­ing a good job! Sim­ple. Ba­sic. Mean­ing­ful. Mo­ments. That’s all that life is, re­ally.

From: “Adam” To: “Lana”

Sent: Tues­day, Fe­bru­ary 21, 2012, at 11:36 P.M.

Sub­ject: re: En route­most Some­times I hate that you’re a writer! That email makes me well up—had to read it over and over again till it got eas­ier to re­ply.

Sent from my iPhone

From: “Lana” To: “Adam”

Sent: Tues­day, Fe­bru­ary 21, 2012, at 11:38 P.M. Board­ing now. I think we’re pretty numb to any shock­ing or scary news, but I still want an up­date from the good Dr. Eschanoolavetz be­fore you leave for Ed­mon­ton.

From: “Adam” To: “Lana”

Sent: Tues­day, Fe­bru­ary 21, 2012, at 11:42 P.M. Will do. And yes, not sure what would be new or shock­ing any­more. Dr. Esh­nuf­falu­pogus seems to know what he’s do­ing, as much as he (or any­one) can do.

Sent from my iPhone

From: “Adam” To: “Lana”

Sent: Wed­nes­day, Fe­bru­ary 22, 2012, at 10:55 P.M.

Sub­ject: Stage 4 Well Grandma and Kelsey went home ear­lier than I did, so I got to take care of him, which I thought was pretty awe­some in a weird way. Said a bunch of what needed to be said and he said some things that were just way too damn sweet, then I waited in the park­ing lot cry­ing un­con­trol­lably for my ride. (K is still quite awe­some.) Re: prog­no­sis. Dr. Eshawash­copepahyfe fi­nally said it. Stage 4. If you Google “un­dif­fer­en­ti­ated tran­si­tional cell car­ci­noma” (quo­ta­tion marks needed), there are a lot of case stud­ies. He says it’s prob­a­bly go­ing to spread (that’s kind of the def­i­ni­tion of can­cer, af­ter all), likely to a lung, but not life-end­ing since Grandpa “can live with one lung.”

Love you, A

From: “Lana” To: “Rami”

Sent: Fri­day, March 2, 2012, at 10:48 P.M.

Sub­ject: Some news Hey Rami,

Well. I am writ­ing with a bit of sad news. I won’t be able to at­tend next week’s writ­ing group as my dad passed away yesterday (March 1st) morn­ing. I’m head­ing back to SK on Satur­day. The fu­neral is Wed­nes­day. Very glad I took your ad­vice and was able to have a good visit, say good­bye. He was in very good spir­its con­sid­er­ing the cir­cum­stances. I feel like I’ve been deal­ing with this for the last while so the blow isn’t as bad as it could be. But still. Fuck­ing can­cer. I’ll be there for at least two weeks, maybe longer to help my mom sort things out. Please tell the group to meet with­out me on the 7th. It only seems ap­pro­pri­ate.

Lana xo

From: “Rami” To: “Lana”

Sent: Fri­day, March 2, 2012, at 10:55 P.M.

Sub­ject: re: Some news Oh Lana! So quickly! I am sorry. But glad that you got to be to­gether. It will be pretty sur­real for some time, I think. Of course don’t worry about the writ­ing group this month. I wish you smooth trav­els to­mor­row and peace­ful­ness through­out. There will be lots of dif­fer­ent feel­ings that come, I ex­pect, to be wel­comed and let go. Much care, Rami

From: “Lana” To: “Mike”

Sent: Fri­day, Septem­ber 21, 2012, at 3:06 P.M.

Sub­ject: Hi hello + a new story (con­test win­ner) Hope this finds you well and fall­ing head­first into fall. Send­ing this while it’s top of mind, be­fore I for­get. The at­tached pdf is some­thing I wrote for a class I took last spring. I think you might like it.

Death sure gives you a new per­spec­tive, don’t you think? Dad’s death is with me ev­ery sin­gle day. It’s his pass­ing that, I think, has had a lot to do with me fol­low­ing my heart. Life is change, and the loss of a par­ent is a strange and dif­fi­cult rite of pas­sage. But I also think I’ve lost some of that per­spec­tive since March and want to get it back. i.e., don’t sweat the small stuff, it’s just a ride, etc. Any ad­vice?

The chang­ing of the sea­sons seems to be the per­fect time to tell peo­ple how much they mean to you, so thank you for be­ing you. Corny but true! Was great to re­con­nect at the fu­neral...of all places. Also, we’ve been try­ing out a mostly veg­e­tar­ian diet since June. (Oys­ters ex­cepted.) A fun experiment.

Much love, Lana

From: “Mike” To: “Lana”

Sent: Satur­day, Septem­ber 22, 2012, at 5:06 P.M. Your story and email got here when I needed a breath of fresh air. Thank you. And con­grats. As far as rites of pas­sage go, you’ve summed that up well. Life is def­i­nitely change. Like both of our dads, we had the time to say good­bye. We had time to let them know how much we cared and how much we loved them. Some will say that can­cer (or other dis­eases) is slow and painful and a ter­ri­ble way to go, but it’s not a re­versible choice. Take the best of the last days with your dad, etch them in your brain and play them in your happy place when needed. Works for me, and that’s para­phrased from the shrink who worked me through my bumps.

You know...when you think about it...this cousin thing is nearly per­fect. You love to write and I love to read. Keep up the good work. Say, what wine does one pair with a veg­e­tar­ian diet? Red with mush­rooms, white with tofu, cham­pagne with Snicker Doo­dles? I’ll keep the rest of the chea­p­assed com­ments for a face-to-face.

Love, Mike n

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