When I was a toddler, my parents divorced, and because my mother was then a hardcore active alcoholic (she has been in recovery now for 30 years), my father was granted custody of my older sister and myself, something almost unheard of in 1966.
Being a single parent in the 60's had to be difficult, particularly a single father, and most particularly a single father who also happened to be a hippie. Dad had to be both mother and father to my sister and I, teach us to respect ourselves and those around us, nurture us, guide us, spank us when necessary, and be there for us through thick and thin. Never easy in the best of circumstances, my father's job was made all the more difficult by the fact that he worked nights, and just try finding an all night babysitter even today!
Dad's job was doing the light shows so commonly seen at concerts in the 60's. He worked with special dyes that made bright splashes of color when projected onto a screen behind the rock band of the week (anybody ranging from a little known local Boston band called J. Geils, to headline acts like Janis Joplin and The Who). He loved his work, and would run fingertips through the dyes he worked with in order to create swirling effects that were mindboggling. Little did he know that those same dyes were carcenogenic. Nobody paid much attention to such things back then, heck, nobody really knew what carcenogens were.
In 1976, five or six years after he had stopped doing light shows, Dad started noticing difficulty holding his bladder. On occasion this would result in embarrassing accidents, and he attributed this to his own alcholism. He ceased drinking, but the problem continued, and in 1979 he finally sought medical advice.
He went into the hospital, and was diagnosed with the very early stages of bladder cancer. His urologist told him he had two choices, one was to have his bladder completely removed, the other was chemotherapy. He was told that chemotherapy would be his best choice, because his disease was still in what they called 'atypia', pre-cancerous. Rather than have a catheter and urine bag strapped to his leg for the rest of his life, and rather than have his prostate gland removed along with his bladder, he opted for the chemotherapy, trusting in his doctors to some degree.
In addition to the chemotherapy (which was directly injected into his bladder and held there, then released a few hours later when he emptied his bladder), my father went on a health food and exercise kick, feeling that getting his body into excellent shape would strengthen it for the fight it was engaged in.
For two years, everything went well. In October of 1981 he had more tests, with great news. From the entire inner surface of his bladder being filled with the bad cells, the nasty bit had shrunk to a spot the size of a dime. We were all ecstatic, he was doing so well! Then all hell broke loose. Chemotherapy continued, the health kick continued, Dad fell in love and became engaged to be married, started a new career, and the future looked bright, but there was a really dark cloud looming over all of our futures, and we couldn't see it coming.
In December of 1981, Dad came down with severe muscle aches. He assumed that it was a flu that he hadn't completely shaken, but as the pain increased, he finally went to his doctor. The doctor ran a few tests and came back with the news that the cancer had metastasized, and was throughout his body, in all of his major organs, as well as his bone marrow. With intensive chemotherapy, maybe they could fight him into a remission. Dad asked one question. "If I just say 'the heck with it' and go off to the beach and smoke a big cigar, how long will I have?" and his doctor's reply was "Roger, make it a very short cigar." Dad decided to fight, and the final battle began. By all research and opinions, unless Dad went into remission, he had less than three months to live.
Intensive chemotherapy and radiation treatments, nothing but totally natural foods, pain management medications that started with Tylenol and codeine and ended with morphine. The pain was so bad that he could no longer walk or care for himself. I think that the cruelest thing about cancer that resides in the bones is that it makes even a light caress of love into an excruciatingly painful event. My father spent the last few months of his life without being embraced or caressed by the people that he loved and who loved him.
At the time, I was living on my own, and unable to be with Dad as much as I wanted. I'd recently been severely hurt in an accident and was so busy trying to keep my own head above water that I wasn't able to do much for Dad, and could only see him sporadically. I didn't see him for the entire month of June, and when I saw him in July, I was horrified. This previously healthy and vibrant man was a skeleton. His eyes were enormous in his gaunt face, he couldn't even go to the bathroom without assistance, and he was still fighting, still swearing he would beat this thing. A week later, a major crisis struck and he went into the hospital. Family and friends converged, because the doctor had told us all to expect the end to come within a matter of hours. Arriving at the hospital, I saw my frail grandmother sitting by Dad's bed, holding his hand, wiping his forehead with a cloth, talking to him and telling him how very much she loved him. My sister was in the hall, in shock, unable to speak or cry or react. My father's brother was trying to look after the emotional needs of my sister and I, as well as his mother, and all of our other relatives, from both Dad's side and Ma's, as well as our family friends, were milling around in a state of disbelief.
I remember sitting beside Dad that night, and him in tears from the pain, and the nurse bringing him an oral dose of morphine that he refused to take, because he was already so doped up he didn't know what it was, and thinking the nurse was trying to poison him, he demanded that she drink it first, which, of course, she could not do.
I remember morning coming, my father having survived the night, and rallied more strength from out of thin air. I remember a few weeks later, all of his old friends from the 1960's re-organizing the Boston Tea Party Light Show for a benefit concert to help pay Dad's hospital bills, the now famous J. Geils band showing up to headline, as well as many of the local acts that had once played to the lightshows my father created with such joy. I remember Dad's best friend Ron pushing Dad into the concert hall in his wheelchair, and my sister and I walking on either side of the chair, and a crowd of people with their backs turned somehow parting like the Red Sea before Moses, as if they felt some kind of energy radiating, telling them to please move aside, here comes a special man. I remember Dad's friends up in the loft, working with the lights and dyes (different, safe dyes). I remember my father's face, shining with sheer joy, so happy to be so loved by so many that they would recreate something he had loved so very much. And I remember the organizer of the benefit concert pulling my sister and I aside and telling us that they had decided that the money wouldn't be going to hospital bills, that it would be put into a trust fund for she and I, so that we would have a foundation for our futures instead.
Two weeks later, I was walking in Harvard Square in Cambridge at dawn, and a very brief rainshower struck. As it ended, I looked straight ahead down Massachusetts Avenue, and I saw the only perfect rainbow that I've ever seen in my now 42 years of life. As I looked at it in wonder, a feeling of peace came over me, and I experienced a few moments of sheer joy. As it faded, I said out loud, "Thank you Daddy", and this surprised me, I didn't know why I had said it. About an hour later, my friend Paul drove up, and told me to get into the car. I did, and he turned and looked at me soberly and said, "Your sister needs to see you". I said "He just died, didn't he?" and Paul said yes, five minutes before the rainstorm.
We got to the hospital, and there was my grandmother, sitting there in silent dignity, still holding my father's hand. My father's face was turned towards the window, and as I hadn't been there for three days, I was told that he had entered a coma the day before, then at dawn he woke up, smiled at Gramma, and turning his face toward the light, he left us.
Dealing with the loss of the man who had been everything to me, a gentle, loving person, has been the hardest thing I have ever had to cope with, and I've coped with my fair share of difficulty. I still miss him, every day, it doesn't get any easier for me as time goes by. But he left me a legacy of love, and I have tried my best to make my life a monument to him. I hope that I've succeeded, I hope that I am the sort of person that if he were still with me, he would be proud to point me out as his little girl. I know that I will never forget him, and never stop grieving his loss, and I treasure each tear that I shed when I remember him and all that he gave me. He was a father like no other, and there will never be another like him.
Nine years after his passing, I gave birth to a healthy baby girl. Eighteen months later, she spoke her first sentence. "See the LIGHT!"
In loving memory of Roger Lee Thomas, September 15 1940 - August 13, 1982