”I’m dying, aren’t I?” he whispered. “It’s really happening.”

“Yes,” she answered, barely able to speak as she drew him close as if to shield him from what was to come.

It was the moment we had dreaded.

Three years of battling cancer was a long climb up a steep roller coaster. Now the cancer was back and, despite his valiant, unrelenting battle to get better, we were staring down at the plunge. This time we were powerless to stop the fall.

My stepmother shared with me the details of the moment they finally knew his life was coming to an end when we met for lunch a few weeks after my father passed away. We were both still raw from the pain of losing him. As she told me about that conversation, my mind flashed back to the night he passed away. I was next to him, holding his hand, knowing his death was imminent. And yet, it was still a shock when the homecare nurse checked his pulse again and told us that he was “gone.”

Walking to lunch that day, I braced myself for the bolt of pain that shoots through me when I remember the night he died. My father was my titan; his determination and self-confidence allowed him to pursue his passions, undeterred by the ignorance of the times that he grew up in. The thought of this tough, spirited man having to face his mortality left me shattered.

“Do you think he watches over us?” I asked my stepmother, my mind snapping back to our conversation. It was a brisk October day, the air had a coolness that was evocative of late autumn. We walked past the patio at the restaurant and took a table inside. “Can’t he just send us a sign that he’s around?” I said to her, my voice trailing off. I knew I was asking something that she could never really answer.

Just a little gesture I thought. Just something. I yearned to fill the emptiness of loss with something else. I longed to know that my father was still with us in some kind of way, that we were not left without any connection to him.

After lunch, we headed to the dog run at Carl Schurz Park with our puppy, Chloe, for what would be our last visit of the year. The bitter cold would be here soon and the dog run in the dead of winter becomes a ghost town. Chloe came into our lives at an intense time, just a few weeks before my father passed away—a black-and-white speckled dog who was adorably rambunctious and never stopped moving.

Except the day of my father’s death.

She sat motionless at his feet, refusing to leave his side until paramedics came to take his body away. Chloe’s intense loyalty to her new owner, whom she had only known for a short time, endeared her to me even more.

At the park, Chloe ran in circles enjoying the company of the other dogs as we watched nearby from a bench. The sun began to set on the beautiful fall day signaling it would soon be time to head home. Before we left, an older dog with a sweet disposition wandered over to us. I noticed his calm demeanor compared to the younger dogs frantically running around. “Hi there,” I said, petting his head as he lay down next to us.

A few minutes later, his owner, a tall woman who sat on a nearby bench, stood up and began packing up her things. “Murray” she called out to the dog. “Come on, time to go, Murray.” The dog began to walk back to her and my stepmother and I looked at each other and exchanged a warm smile. Murray. That was my father’s name.

And for that moment, he was still here.


Illustration by JING WEI