In a sea of metallic hued expensive cars, his faded green minivan sat. Alone. Out of place. Often in the front of the lot so it was hard to miss. I’m sure many a passerby wondered if it was accidentally parked in the wrong spot … after staring closely at its roof, only to realize the roof of the beat up ol’ Dodge had been replaced with a silver metal roof. Yes, it was a homemade convertible created by the man who proudly drove the natural gas “jallopy” that stood out like a sore thumb in a parking lot full of shiny rimmed cars that had “I am rich, I am a doctor” written all over them. You would have never known the old minivan belonged to a doctor too. A highly respected doctor at that.
There are those who make sure everyone knows they make a good living, have a fancy title to boast and could outsmart anyone in a round of Jeopardy. But you would have never known he was that and so much more when you met him. He was kind, humble, and down-to-earth with a sincere smile that stretched across his face, always making you feel welcomed. He never wanted the attention or to stand out because he “deserved it.” He’d much rather sit back with everyone else and simply live life, enjoying the simple things — good food, good family, and good times with good friends. And he was an incredibly good man that I have been honored to know for the past 12 years.
This past Sunday, Tommy and I received a call that we prayed would never come. After a courageously hard-fought 7-year battle with Stage IV cancer, Tommy’s father breathed his last breath and passed away …
He was the man who Tommy looked up to the most in his life … the radiologist who drove the beat up old minivan to work every day … the highly respected professional who preferred to sport Chuck Taylors over a pair of Roberto Cavalli shoes any day of the week … the man who graduated from high school at 16 and finished medical school at the age of 24 and served in the U.S. Navy … someone who selflessly dedicated more than 35 years helping people as physician … but most of all a kind soul who always thought of those he loved before ever thinking of himself …
I have lost grandparents and great grandparents in my life, but never a parent. And it is … painful. Unimaginably painful and frankly, it still doesn’t feel real. I really don’t know if it ever will.
I have been fortunate to have a wonderful dad in my life who combined with my mother have helped me to become the person I am today … a person who appreciates all the blessings that come my way. But to have an equally wonderful father in-law come into my life who cared for both me and Cheyenne like his own children, makes me feel spoiled and so grateful to have someone like him in my corner.
When Tommy’s Dad was diagnosed with Stage IV colon cancer almost seven years ago, it shook our world. Because he had dedicated his life to helping thousands of people over the course of his career, some of us questioned why such a bad thing would happen to such a good man. But in true Dr. Walden fashion, he said, “We never questioned our good fortune before, why should we question this now? We have been very blessed and fortunate.” And with that fighting spirit, he forged ahead for the next seven years dealing with whatever the disease threw his way … naseau, pain, discomfort, exhaustion. But never once did he complain, nor did he ever want anyone to worry or feel pity for him. To say he fought a courageous fight would be an understatement. My father in-law continued to work full-time, driving himself to work, then driving himself to chemotherapy and back home again. Then being on-call and ready to read x-rays from home since he knew he’d be recovering from his treatments that weekend. He never slowed down, he never gave up.
And even when the cancer spread to his spine a year ago, leaving him paralyzed from the chest down, his spirits remained high. His strength never wavered, he never became resentful of the cards he had been dealt and he continued to enjoy the presence of his family and all the love that surrounded him … though confined to a bed and chair. He lived his life to the fullest and embraced each moment of the journey he was given until his last breath on this earth.
It has only been a few days since his passing, but I miss him so much. I miss hearing his jovial laugh, hearing his witty doctor talk, and seeing the smile that always made me feel welcomed. I miss seing his eyes light up when Tommy and I would tell him we booked a new client or wedding, or hearing him say one of my readers “betta watch his back” when he or she would criticize something I wrote on the news site I managed. 😉 I miss hearing him scold me about not bringing “my girl” when I used to visit without Cheyenne. I miss how he was the perfect piece to my mom in-laws side, the answer to her question, the man who loved her for more than 40 years. I miss seeing the way he cared for my sister in-law Angela, who will always be his princess and the apple of his eye. And I miss hearing his playful banter with Tommy, who beams with pride every time someone says … he is … Just. Like. His. Father.
In his last year of life, he said the thing he missed the most in losing his mobility, was driving a car. Today there is an emptiness in our world from the spot he left behind. And I honestly don’t know if that void will ever feel whole again. But what I do know is that one of the kindest men I have ever known is now driving his old green jallopy up above bumping some old school West Coast rap (yes, he loved his old school rap!!!) … smiling down at us all, cancer-free and without pain. But most of all, knowing that he was loved by us all.
On July 10, 2011, the world lost an incredible man. Devoted husband and father, loving son and brother, loyal friend, selfless physician and medical teacher and brave and courageous cancer fighter. If you are fortunate to have your father in your life, make sure to enjoy every moment you have with him. I can say that I did. I have been blessed to be Thomas E. Walden, Jr. son of Dr. Thomas E. Walden, Sr., my father, my inspiration, my role model and my hero. Dad, I miss you and love you with all my heart. — By Tommy Walden