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5 years

It was five years ago today that my dad passed away. I remember that day as though it were yesterday. He was only 68 years old, and it all happened so fast.

First, let me give you some background on my relationship with my dad. My parents divorced when I was six, so my sister and I spent the weekends with him. I honestly dreaded the weekends, because he had such a bad temper. He never laid a hand on either of us, but he was scary when he was mad and he got mad easily. I felt like I had to walk on egg shells when I was around him. Now that I'm an adult with anxiety, I recognize his anger as a response to his own anxiety. As a kid though, all I saw was a daddy who got angry at the littlest things I did. Don't get me wrong, I loved him very much and miss him every day, but he and I butted heads a lot.

I do have a lot of good memories though. Such as:

* Dancing with him at the dances after rodeos. He loved to dance, and he passed that love on to me.

* He was an antique car enthusiast and owned many over his lifetime. He dragged us to car shows so often, and as much as I didn't like the shows, he was like a kid in a candy store.

* He was a great friend and had many. His funeral was over-flowing with all of the people who loved him.

* He had a great laugh that lit up his face. It was loud and contagious.

* My dad wasn't much of a reader, but he was one of the first to read my books, and made sure to tell everybody about his daughter the author.

At the beginning of May of 2014, I got a call from my step-mom that she was taking my dad to the hospital because he was coughing up blood and having shortness of breath. He'd had untreated pneumonia for months, so we figured it was catching up to him. My sister and I met them at the hospital, and the doctors were surprised he was even upright since his oxygen level was only at 70%. Therefore, he was admitted and put on oxygen. I thought that he would be in there for maybe a day, get his oxygen levels up, and then be on his way. But three weeks went by and he was still in the hospital. He couldn't get his oxygen levels up on his own.

I was teaching at the time, so I would go to the hospital after school every few days to see him, and he was always in good spirits. During the last week of his life, I went to see him every day. My favorite last memory is when I read to him. He'd been reading one of my books, but he'd been so tired he couldn't keep his eyes open to finish. So I offered to read it aloud. He closed his eyes, leaned his head back, and listened as I finished my book. I called my sister after that visit and asked her if he was going to die. She said that it was a strong possibility, but I didn't want to believe it.

He must have known he was dying, because he wanted to discuss with us his will and what he wanted his funeral to be like just in case. It was one of the weirdest and hardest conversations I've ever had. The next day when I visited, he wasn't his normal chipper self. He could hardly keep his head up and barely spoke. In the middle of the night, my sister called to say that we needed to get to the hospital. I sobbed as my husband held me. I knew this was it.

When my husband and I arrived at the hospital, my step-mom, sister and brother-in-law were there. Dad had a C-PAP mask on, but he kept ripping it off. He was delirious, kept trying to get out of bed, and saying strange things. One thing he said multiple times was "I'm ready." The doctor said there wasn't much else they could do, but since he didn't want the C-PAP on she could put him on a cannula oxygen mask. Once we agreed to that, Dad relaxed, but his breathing slowed immensely. We all gathered around him to say our goodbyes. I grabbed his hand and told him I loved him. He whispered, "I know," and within 15 minutes he was gone.

Apparently, he had interstitial lung disease, which is irreversible scarring of lung tissue. It's caused by long-term exposure to hazardous material. We think it was caused by exposure to Agent Orange when he was in the military when he was younger, but we're not really sure. It's strange though, because about five years before he died he had major heart surgery and made it through that just fine. It makes me mad that somehow the lung disease wasn't seen in the midst of all of his medical tests and procedures. But, I suppose there's nothing that could have been done about it anyway since it was irreversible.

One of the most tragic things about it all was that my sister was almost 9 months pregnant and I was 5 months pregnant. My sister went into labor the day before the funeral and gave birth to her son on the day of. She obviously didn't get to attend the funeral. I still hurt for her because of that. I also still hurt that he never got to meet his grandkids and they won't get to meet him until they go to heaven. But I like to think that he is their protector.

To this day I have dreams about my dad, and they feel like it's his way of visiting me. The dreams are different than my normal ones. Most of the time he's not the subject of the dream, but rather in the background watching. Then occasionally I'll have one where he says nothing and simply hugs me. A couple times he's said "Are you doing okay?" as though he's checking up on me. The dreams only occur every few months, but I love it when they do.

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