When I was eleven my family and I took a trip to Florida. On our last day there the waves appeared tsunami-esque to my sisters and I. Every time one of these monstrous waves crashed we would be sucked under, tumbling around with the ever feared sea-weed and sand. Tired of hearing our girlish shrieks my wise and all knowing surfer dude dad sternly instructed us to hold each other’s hands. Him being the center and strongest link we formed one indestructible Sullivan wall.
My dad taught me that day that even when all odds are up against you, and the waves appear two stories high if you persevere and strategize you can pull through, unscratched, even if you end up with a bit of sea weed in your hair. I remember looking up at my dad that day, through salt water stinging eyes and thinking he was invincible.
In January of 2005 my dad was diagnosed with Lymphoma cancer. For the next months I lived with syringes in my refrigerator, a constant knot in my stomach and the insessant feel of blinking back tears. But the worst part was when our usual light hearted, goofy, story telling at dinner changed to talk of dialysis and chemo, and of course the ever feared, and constantly avoided looming feel of an expiration date, on our dear old dad. Mr. invincible was now emaciated and worn, black circles creased deep under his eyes. The once green and glowing eyes that my dad and I shared no longer twinkled with that slight bit of mischief and mystery.
I clearly remember watching my sickly dad hobble up the stairs, pausing to catch his breath, huffing with exhaustion. I awkwardly offered to help him climb up, he denied as expected. Shielding his “bear cubs”, as he always called us, from how this terrible disease was tearing him apart was always my dad’s top priority. I watched as my dad fought that staircase, acting as though it was the most important thing in the world. Once his eyes had narrowed to slits and his knuckles were clinched so tight they were white, my dad finally reached the top of the staircase. I suppose in that moment, just by reaching the top my dad regained some of his dignity and pride that had been stripped of him over the past few months.
As his illness worsened it gravely became clear that my dad had surfed his last wave. Walking through the intensive care unit to give our last Farwell to our superman my mom, sisters and I held hands. Grasping on to each other for any shred of hope or support we could offer, yet another Sullivan Wall was formed.
The beeps of respirators and heart monitors in the unit could not drown out the sobs of four women who were losing someone they always relied on to be there forever. Our eyes were stinging, but this time not from salt water, but from overwhelming tears of grief. I remember my mom looking at me, her face seeming to have aged ten years in the past ten minutes and asking, “How will we ever get through this?” I just shook my head, that same question looming in my mind as well. But the one thing that no disease can strip you of, are the lessons that those who are no longer with us have pounded into our minds time after time. My dad always proved to me that if you tried hard enough, and gave it your absolute all you really could be invincible. My dad taught me to persevere. I hold perserverance close to my heart and remember it every day, and this I believe.
This essay is dedicated to my hero
David M. Sullivan
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