Please excuse me in advance for how nondescript and fast-paced this story seems. I already know that I’m doing it a disservice. Each paragraph deserves it’s own chapter (while some their own book!) as the story is truly as beautiful as it could have possibly been. But I know that time is of the essence and I’ve only slept for about ten minutes in the last 30 hours so I must tell the end of his beautiful story as quickly as I can before I forget.
Because I haven’t talked about this much here, let me get you up to date with the CliffsNotes version of what’s been going on with my life in 2017.
On December 31st, my father was admitted to a Tacoma General Hospital with something serious. We didn’t know exactly what it was, but we most definitely knew it was neurological. He couldn’t speak, he couldn’t write, and he was quickly losing use of the right side of his body. When they asked him who they should contact, his response was (quite reluctantly, as he’s a very private man) “Bobbi.”
“Funny how life can change. It’s a rough hit. However, I have survived a double [parachute] malfunction. So all is not lost.” -Michael Sheridan
So the doctor did just that. First I was worried. Then I was stumped. Why did he ask that I’m his point of contact? He has four other kids all who live within 30 minutes of him, meanwhile I live 2500 miles away, why did he ask for me?
I now know it’s because he knew something that no one else did: that he was dying, and soon. We thought he had found out his diagnosis and prognosis that week. I now know he knew a month before the rest of us knew. What was he told then? Neuroendocrine Pancreatic Cancer. He most likely knew nothing more than that because I’m guessing he refused to allow more tests. What did we know of it a month later? Neuroendocrine Pancreatic Cancer that had metastasized and two lung tumors and four brain tumors… and one of those brain tumors had ruptured. Holy shit. This is real.
“Everything is going to be different. I can’t tell you how excited I am. I haven’t been happy in years. Death has a funny way of giving you something worth living for. I’m looking forward tomorrow; and tomorrow is promised to no one.” -Michael Sheridan
Dad knew that I was the only one who was capable of caring for him emotionally, physically and financially.
This is the part where I hit a serious fast forward. (I’ll tell the in-between stories in the future, I promise. They’re way too good not to!).
I flew from Indianapolis to Seattle, WA on January 17th to drive my father from Tacoma to Indianapolis. This part of the story is epic. This is the that part deserves it’s own book! So to be continued.
We were home by January 22nd.
The Indianapolis hospital found out that he didn’t have only 4 brain tumors… no no no, that wasn’t nearly bad ass enough.
“You got a number doc?” -Dad
“A number?” -Doctor Payton, Radiation
“He wants to know how many brain tumors he has.” -Me.
“Oh. Umm. Well… eighteen.” -Doctor Payton
“Whoa! Wow! Badass! Tell me doc, have you ever met a guy with eighteen brain tumors that looked like me, talked like me, walked like me sitting across the room from you?” -Dad
“Ummm… well… maybe… you know… I don’t think so…” -Doctor Payton
“BAM! Yeah! Eighteen!” -Dad
“Wow dad. Eighteen? Wow.” -Bobbi
::BIG MISCHIEVOUS SMILE:: -Dad
::scared sh**less, but chooses to let dad dictate how he wants me to feel about this::
Intense brain radiation is scheduled. He quite proudly doesn’t lose all of his hair. “I think I look like an old guy with a cool hair cut!” Rather, he does lose a lot of weight.
“As far as my brain tumors go, I do not have 4 as I was originally told. In fact I have 18! A year ago they never would have seen all the other little gangsters. Now they can. The doctor gave the impression he had never seen so many! I had a cosmic mask of my head made that will strap my coco-nut down and immovable while the zippy zapper swings around precisely radiating the tumors. It will take ten days to complete this treatment. Today is day one. It’s kinda cool. They’re not going to do anything about the body until the brain is squared away. They don’t seem to be too antsy about having to wait. And for extra bonus points, I’ll lose my hair for a while; but not my new cool beard! Wait and see.” -Michael Sheridan
Super serious fast forward again (WAY too much in between the last part and the next part to even include silly anecdotes!)
His weight takes a serious turn for the worst. We made a deal in the very beginning of this journey that we weren’t allowed to lie to each other. And up to this point I believe we stayed true to that. However, I knew that he had taken a turn for the worst when his weight drops even more and he begins to lie to me about it. I finally call him on it when he’s all drugged up on morphine one night. “Dad, how much do you weigh?”
“I’m holding steady at ___ lbs” -Dad
“Are you telling me the truth? Because I happen to have two eyes that work impressively well.” -Bobbi
“No, not really. But I don’t want you to know.” -Dad
“I respect that. In the future, please tell me that.”
Then a week later Toni, his assigned (and incredible) hospice nurse, notices that dad’s pain meds are disappearing in record amounts. She’s seen these signs before. A veteran who doesn’t admit pain.. not a new concept. This most certainly isn’t Toni’s first rodeo. Bottom line: he’s in pain, a lot of it, and he doesn’t want Bobbi Shell to know it.
The next morning (Friday) he starts his day by talking with his daughter Kelsey on FaceTime. He begins lashing out on both Kelsey and I. Dad is downright determined to do yard work. I ask that he doesn’t because that will require that I go out there and supervise him and quite frankly, I can’t do that. Did I mention that I was hosting a workshop at my house the next day and hardly anything had been done yet because we were worried about dad? He’s mad and wants to drive. He tries to but then realizes that he’s not being safe and leaves the car in the driveway (I’m sorry I didn’t hide the keys) and begins yelling at my mom some non-sensical stuff. He’s gone from needing to do yard work to needing to drive to needing the bucket because he needs to wash and wax his car. He washes it, tries to dry it, waxes 1/3rd of it before he says, “I can’t reach that, can you finish Bobbi?” Absolutely dad, I would be happy to wax Scarlett! (I bought him his dream car when we moved him here: a 2001 red Honda Prelude).
Frustrated with his weak body (he hasn’t eaten in 6 days), heads back downstairs and well… I don’t remember what was next. All I remember is Toni the nurse calling me and suggesting in-patient hospice care. My gut said yes. My heart said no. Then I remembered what his sister Cathy (who cared for Momzie, their mother, at the end) told me, “Inpatient hospice is a flat-out gift from God himself. If I’d known then what i’ve since learned, I would have never made that promise.”
Dad’s initial response to Toni suggesting it. “F**k no you’re not taking me.” She suggests it again, “Did I not make myself clear the first time? F**k. No. You’re. Not. Taking. Me. Just load me up with morphine and send me on my way.”
That’s when I broke down crying, “Dad, I’ve hit my limit. I’ve given you everything I am capable of. I am officially no longer capable. It has become too much and I cannot do it. I need for us to do this” Up to that point, I had never really told him, “no, I can’t do that.” My dad had this theory of me, “if it shall be done, then number one will do!” (I’m number one because I’m the oldest of his kids)
He stops, takes a second to process and reluctantly says, “Alright.”
Whoa. He just did that to protect me. He’s going to die somewhere he doesn’t want to die because he’s protecting me. This was big to me.
My dad loves music more than anyone I know. So I grab his cell phone and start playing dylanradio.com. What song comes on? “Open the Door, Homer” by Dylan. Dad and I both stop everything in our tracks and kind of collapse on his couch. We hold hands and sing it. Here’s the line that we both knew was coming, “Take care of all of your memories, for you cannot relive them. And remember when you’re out there trying to heal the sick that you must always first forgive them” —Bob Dylan Yeahhhh… whoa.
We both cry and he starts to get himself dressed. The energy that took from him was too much. He sits down in the rocking chair that was his mother’s mother’s rocking chair that I proudly inherited. I’ve never seen him actually sit in it until then. We sit there for a few minutes. He says he’s ready to go (the EMTs are standing there waiting to get him up the stairs in this fancy stair lifter) but then “City of New Orleans” by Arlo Guthrie comes on. And we both stand down. I look at the EMT guys and say, “after this song please.” We hold hands while he listens with tears in his eyes. Then again, ready. He gets in the fancy stair chair and they strap him in. I say, “Dad, you look like a combat controller right now strapped in to the side of an airplane!” He looks at me with all of his Mikey charm and a sly smile then gives me a big nod of approval. Thanks for that dad. I needed that. I can sleep at night because of that one motion. Thank you. Big time.
They go to roll him up the stairs and he looks at me with a panic, “Play Jimi! Bobbi, Jimi!” I ask them to stop so I can get Jimi going. But they don’t because they’re all talking too loudly and too much to hear me.
“STOP! EVERYTHING! NOW!” if you know me, you know exactly what that sounded like. I announce sternly: “This is important. We’re going to do this on his terms. We’re going to do this right. Give me just a second to make this perfect. Everyone put on your patient pants and chill the eff out.” Dad smiled again because he loved it when I got feisty with people in the same kind of way he is famous for ::proceeds to play Jimi’s cover of “All Along the Watchtower”:: Dad rests his head back, closes his eyes, and has the definition of a peaceful yet scared smile on his face and let’s them roll him up the stairs. We get to the top of the stairs when he asks for his beard comb. I’d already packed it for him because I knew he’d need it with him. He starts combing his beard as though it’s cathartic while they wheel him out of our home. Kelsey sees this happening on Snapchat and texts me, “Can I call dad?! Now?” I text her back, “YES! NOW!” The second he’s in the full sun and the weather is epicly epic, Kelsey is on speaker, dad is loving the sun, again I tell the guys wheeling him to stop so he can soak this up and talk to his daughter. At this point he was quite out of it but was loving the sun. They then loaded him into the ambulance and off he went. Phew. Phewwwww…
After the ambulance drove off on Friday I looked at my mom and Megan and said, “its going to happen on Monday. I just know it. He’s going to wait until I am done with these workshops. He knows I need him to wait for me.”
My mom looked at me, nodded and said, “well I’ll be there this weekend so you don’t need to worry about that.”
That Friday night I finally got to the hospice facility around 9pm after getting everything set up for the workshop. As soon as I arrive I was very quickly pulled aside and informed that he was making things “next level” difficult on the nurses. I knew exactly why he was fighting. I told them that I would talk to him.
“Dad I can promise you one thing: I will fight every tooth and effing nail to ensure you can hold on to every bit of dignity you can hold on to (and I must certainly held that promise!) but I need you to trust these nurses. I need you to let them help you.” He rolls over onto his side, and places one on his hands halfway over his face… and with the first sigh of relief I’ve seen since I got there, “I’m glad it’s just you and me again Bobbi.” [Me too dad, I love you]. “I love you” Those were the official last words he spoke. Be right back, need bourbon.
In that moment I realized I couldn’t leave him and was staying the night. I see a pillow without a cover in the corner, don’t think anything of it, and cozied up in the chair to his right, set my alarm so I wouldn’t be late to my own workshop and fell asleep by his side. Needless to say I hardly slept. Side note, halfway through the night I look at the pillow and it says “LEONARDS, 3/21/2017” and I realize that LEONARDS probably passed away on the 21st and that was his pillow. I think to myself, “Whoa! Oh well, I’m in too deep.”
The next morning mom came to my house and picked up some framed photos of his kids, blankets, my old CCT t-shirt that dad gave me yeeeears ago, and his robe. She spent the majority of her weekend with him while playing all of his favorite music. I wrapped up a most memorable workshop on Sunday at 7 pm and was at the hospice center by 7:20 pm. By the time I got there, things weren’t looking good.
I informed quite a few of his family members that they should call him asap. Each told him how uniquely special he was. He could hear them, I could tell. Though he was frustrated that he couldn’t say anything back. I’ve gotten to know him quite well very quickly these last two months so I tried to speak on his behalf. He seemed relieved that I could handle it.
The end was near. Very near. We both knew it. I then proceeded to pour my heart out, “Dad, I forgive you. You made things right with me. I know without a doubt that you love me and have always loved me. Please let this pain go. I give you permission to go in peace. Your Momzie is excited and ready to see you.”
I could feel it; he didn’t want me there when he passed. But I was incapable of leaving him. So… I compromised. At around 3:05am I looked at him and boldly announced, “dad, we both need to relax and take a nap. I’m not leaving your side but I am going to get some rest.” I curled up beside him in the reclining chair and the pillow I brought along and very quickly fell into an intensely deep sleep.
I was then awoken by the sweet voice of a hospice nurse named Connie.
“Bobbi, he’s gone.”
“Wait! What? How long have I been asleep?!”
“Only around 10-15 minutes.” She responded.
I woke up in a fog, looked over at him and said “You really did wait for me. Wow. This is big. Thank you for that.” I held his hand and thanked him for being my dad and told him how special and life altering these last few months had been.
I sent a text to my mom. “Call me.” She had already randomly woken up at 3am. I gave her the news and we cried together.
By around 6am the funeral home guy shows up. He refers to my dad as “Michael.”
I quickly correct him, “That’s Mikey.”
“Noted, I will comply.”
“Also, do you have a way to play Bob Dylan in your hearse?” I ask
“Of course.” He responds.
I didn’t want to see them wheel him off. I thought it would be too much for me. After all, I hadn’t yet shielded myself from anything, I thought maybe it was time to set some limits. I told them I would go sit in my car and come back in 15 minutes to gather his things.
So it was just me sitting in my car across the parking lot when I caught a glimpse out of the corner of my eye.
I quickly got out of my car to see it. I felt he deserved that. It occurred to me in that very moment that they were wheeling off the proudest veteran I will have ever known.
All of a sudden I felt strongly compelled to make sure that he left that building as the proud combat controller he was. Knowing I was the only vet around (as in, it was 6 in the morning and I was the only car in the parking lot so hey, take what you can get!), I stood at attention and popped up the best hand salute I had ever done in my entire life… while tears were pouring down my face. Once the hearse was out of my site I snapped into the position of attention and then melted into a parade rest and finally let myself full on ugly cry. This all sounds so over the top and dramatic but for me and for him, it was special. So quit judging. Thank you.
I was proud to have been given that honor. And I knew he was proud that he had a daughter that could. Knowing my dad was driven off with respect as the USAF paratrooper badass that he was felt right. Did I mention that he’s done nearly 800 jumps? He says he lost count after 750.
I went back in to gather his things and when I got back into my jeep to drive home, Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues” covered by the Lumineers comes on the radio. I shook my head and smiled big remembering when we sang that song (the original of course) on our epic aforementioned January road trip (for those who follow me on snapchat you may remember this) singing that song (all the while trying equally hard to impress the other with our knowledge of the complicated fast-paced lyrics) was the first time we were actually in sync. Serendipitous!
“I wouldn’t have all this, if I didn’t have [this cancer]. If today is my last on this planet, I would move on as a happy and content human. I could not have said that from 10 years ago until 3 months ago. As big as any other epiphany I’ve ever had. Although I always think of Jimi Hendrix’s line ‘If I don’t meet you no more in this world, Then I’ll meet you in the next one. And don’t be late. don’t be late.'” -Michael Sheridan
Ohhhh dad. You sure were something special to a lot of people. But for now I’m going to be selfish and thank you for what you gave to me these last two months. I will never be the same, and for that I am grateful.
Michael Francis Sheridan
October 23, 1957 – March 27, 2017
“May your hands always be busy, may your feet always be swift. May you have a strong foundation when the winds of changes shift.” –Bob Dylan
I love you dad.