The words do not seem real. It's been almost a week now and saying it out loud has been unbearable. Now I realize that writing it is not any easier. Doing either makes me cry, and right now it's hard to imagine the day that it won't.
At 1:21 AM on December 26, 2007 a concurrence of events changed things forever. My mother Amy whispered into his ear as she let go of her husband of 35 years. Charlie and I held our father's hand for the longest and final time of our lives. Linda said good-bye all too soon after saying hello to her new ba-ba. Friends unknowingly lost the most loyal person to enter their lives. And the world we all live in became a little less special of a place as Bill Fei took his final breath.
Dad was a unique person. In many ways he was unlike any person I've ever known. Truth be told, many of his actions were both puzzling and often times frustrating to me (and I'm sure to my mother and brother as well). Why did he insist on doing things a certain way even if it did not benefit him or his family? Why did he push and prod to the point of conflict until things were done his way? Why did he make up his mind on something and then not budge? Why couldn't he be more flexible and reasonable and be a bigger person in the process?
Unfortunately, it took nearly 33 years and a terminal illness for me to realize that it was precisely that inflexible nature that made my dad not only the bigger person, but a man of the highest quality of character. He did things a certain way NOT because it was HIS way, but rather because he genuinely believed it to be the RIGHT way. All too often we (and by "we" I mostly mean "I") are guided by a Machiavellian motivation to act in a manner that is most advantageous to our own cause. Dad, however, did not succumb to moral flexibility. To him, if it was right, it was right, and if it was wrong, it was wrong. He lived his life with a clear conscience and was at peace with his actions. No wonder he slept so well all the time.
Dad certainly had an uncanny sense of timing. It was on Friday the 13th of January 2006 that he was admitted to the hospital for the first time and the dreaded word "cholangiocarcinoma" entered our vocabulary. Then, it was late in the evening on Christmas day 2007 that Dad told Mom that he wanted to go to sleep and did not want her to wake him up. Along the way, he defied the "6 to 8 months" prediction and fought to maintain his strength up until the day of my wedding, 21 months after his diagnosis. There was a significant deterioration in his condition right after the wedding day, but Dad still made sure to be with us for another birthday for each of his sons, one more Thanksgiving, and of course a final Christmas. He also met Charlie's girlfriend Julie for the first time just 4 days before passing and left us the exact week of the annual memorial service at the Hsi Lai Temple. Personally, I also think that Dad held out until the 26th so that Christmas would not become a day of annual mourning going forward for his family and that he left us before the end of the year so that we could start 2008 as a truly new year. I guess this could all be coincidence, but once again when Dad believed something was the right thing to do, he definitely did it.
Mom, Charlie, and I decided early on that we wanted to protect Dad and not let him think about the fact that he had an incurable cancer with a life expectancy of less than a year. As such, we spent the last 23 and a half months shielding him from the sadness and depression of his condition and his impending death. We passed along a filtered, rosy picture of what doctors told us. We never allowed ourselves to shed a single tear in his presence. Even on Christmas day when he suffered a heart attack and vomitted blood, we told Dad that things were ok. We would carry the burden and sadness for him. We were being brave so that he would not be depressed and give up. We were the strong ones...
...Or so we thought. In hindsight, Dad knew all along - he had to. He was in the doctor's office when they talked about his cancer. He was there when they said his liver was failing. He could obviously see the deterioriation of his own physical appearance. We thought we were being brave for him when all along he was the one who was being brave for us. He refused to acknowledge his diagnosis and prognosis because he knew that our happiness or sadness were based on his outward emotion. He knew that if he became depressed we would be distraught. If he was sad we would be inconsolable. He willed himself to be strong up until September so that we could celebrate at my wedding. As usual, Dad did what he believed to be the right thing to do. In this case, it was deceving himself and his family so that we could enjoy and cherish our remaining time together instead of merely waiting around until his passing.
I miss my father very much. Little things make me think about him all the time. I am so thankful to him for who I am and the life I have. Whether I was 3, am 33, or will be 83, Dad will always be my dad. I love him so much. I wish I hugged him more when he was alive. He was a special person, and I didn't fully understand that until recently. I wanted to share this so people would know the person Dad was.
My mom is simply the best. I feel so bad for her that it literally hurts.