Sadly, Lisa’s father passed away 5 years before Kellisa was born. That left my dad, Jeff as the only grandfather Kellisa would ever know. My dad desperately wanted to be surprised about the sex of our twins and wanted to wait until their birth. We shared the same feelings, but once the pregnancy started to go into life and death circumstances, Lisa and I decided to find out, so we could start calling our little lime sized babies by their names instead of Baby A and Baby B. Since we were faced with losing one, we wanted to call her by her name for as long as possible. It’s wasn't the first time we didn’t honor my dad’s wishes as we told him Lisa was pregnant with Kirsten and Kellisa.
Shortly after losing Kirsten, while Kellisa was fighting for her life in the NICU, my dad started calling Kellisa his Special K. He would kiss his index and middle finger before gently touching them to some part of exposed skin on Kellisa while she lay in her incubator. He would talk softly to his Special K. When he would get updates over the phone, he always used his nickname for Kellisa. For my dad, Special K stuck, but it didn’t catch on with anyone else and that was OK.
I believe losing the love of his life, my mom, in March 1998 made our move to Florida the following year extra hard on my dad. Kellisa was barely 6-months-old when we overloaded our Mitsubishi Eclipse and drove to the Sunshine State. I just hope he understood that we were making the best decision for Kellisa's fragile health. Looking back 18-years later, I can definitely say it worked out for the best and don't have any doubts.
My dad even drove down from Chicago to visit us for a week during our first summer in Florida. He had a great time. We kept him busy by hiking, visiting the beach, swimming in a spring, and even surprised him with NASCAR tickets to a race at the famous Daytona International Speedway. His favorite driver, Awesome Bill Elliott was well past his prime, but led an unlikely 42 laps. I could see my dad was having fun on his vacation and was impressed with how much time he was spending just holding his Special K. What I didn’t know was my father was dying inside and he knew it.
Less than 5 months after his visit, we got a call from my dad. It was the Monday after Thanksgiving and he was in the hospital. He would be diagnosed with Stage 5 Lung Cancer. There was nothing the doctors could do except try and keep him comfortable. He had 7 months at most to live. I asked his doctor how it was possible to be OK and then all of a sudden be diagnosed with end stage cancer. His reply, "You're dad has been sick for a very long time."
We went back to Chicago for Christmas and it was devastating. My tough-guy, very proud dad was a fraction of the man he was just a few months earlier. He was skin and bones and most of his thick hair was gone in uneven clumps. He spent most of our visit in bed sleeping.
Except for our first Christmas together as a married couple, Lisa and I
didn’t put up a tree. My dad wanted to make sure Kellisa had a tree and gave us
his fiber optics tree because she was drawn to the changing colors of the lights. We had no
choice but to return to our lives in Florida after a few days and leave my dad to suffer through
with the rest of our family.
|Kellisa and her tree from grandpa|
Two weeks later, my dad’s mother called me and told us that we needed to get back to Chicago. My dad was near the end. We knew this was coming, but didn’t think it would happen so fast. We weren’t ready, but did our best to pack some stuff so we could leave early the following morning. It took us almost two days to drive back to Chicago. When we arrived at my dad’s place, he had been unresponsive in his bed for 3 days.
Most of our family was gathered in his living room waiting for us and hoping we would arrive in time to say our good-byes. We were rushed to his bedside. My grandmother leaned to his ear and whispered, “Jeff. Chris, Lisa, and Kellisa are here”.
He immediately opened his eyes and tilted his head, so he could see Kellisa. My dad lifted his hand to Kellisa’s face. He rubbed her cheek. It wasn’t the gentlest touch, but Kellisa did not mind which was a huge step for her because after 4 months in the NICU of being touched, pulled, and poked, she was very sensitive and did not like being touched. Kellisa would let you know by crying. I thought for sure she would scream at my dad. I was pleasantly wrong.
After only a few seconds, the encounter was over. My dad was back asleep and would not wake again. He saved his last ounce of energy for his Special K.