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Love gets us through life's darkest days

One of the warmest memories I have as a child is blowing kisses out my bedroom window to my father as he left early for work. As I watched red lights disappear into the morning shadows, his smile was the start to each day.

I have heard many times that a parent should never experience the death of his child because it is the worst suffering a person can go through. However, as a college senior, watching my father be wheeled into a perilous surgery with the possibility I might never see him again will be a pain that will disturb me the rest of my life.

As I sat in the intensive care waiting room at Erie County Medical Center, I could not link up the term "pancreatic cancer" with my strong-bodied and spirited father. As he fought through the 13-hour operation, I lingered on the edge of his life-and-death situation.

Indifferent to the droning televisions, clamoring chitchat and the flipping of used magazines, numbness lured me to solitude as I watched the sun set over the city. Looking for answers in gray clouds as to how my father, my childhood crutch, deserved this disease, day turned night.

As I sat in silent contemplation, my mother's words played through my head: Life and death are not about punishment, but rather are part of our fate.

Walking through ivory halls, I thought back to my hairless and ivory father during my junior year in high school as he suffered through his first cancer. Memories flashed of chemotherapy saturating his veins as he tried to veil the pain he was in. We watched him wilt from the poison. Yet he was always grinning through his silent grief, reassuring my mother and me that everything would be all right. Now, five years later, my father's hopeful smile again comforted me that he would survive.

Noticing that it was a Thursday, I thought back to another Thursday sitting on the hood of dad's old truck, watching the stars and singing songs by the Beatles. Impressing upon me from an early age the importance of knowing every lyric by the group, my father would spend his Thursdays -- "Father and Daughter Day" -- making sure I was smiling.

Angry confusion flooded me as to how a loving person earned this suffering. If there was a thing called fate, what was the greater plan for my father?

I remembered asking dad days before the surgery if he would be upset to die. His words were simple, "I have all I have ever wanted in life: you and your mother. I am complete."

Sharing his kind character with friends and strangers, he has tried to find the best in people and situations that are out of his hands. "What else can you do?" he told me. "Life is too short to be angry or worried all the time."

Dad's strength could only last so long. He survived the surgery, but a week later a massive infection spread through his body. As the nurse stopped life support, she cried because his family and friends were with him for his last moments. "So many die alone," she whispered. I held my father's warm hand and smiled; we were loved and he was loved.

I still struggle with my own beliefs about fate. However, thinking about his kind spirit, I realize that love is an entity that people can use to get through the bad times, and to smile when there is nothing to smile about. I learned that from my father.

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