All right, friends. Imagine me inviting you to plop down on my worn out couch in front of the Christmas tree. You’ve got your blanket. You’ve got your coffee. Make yourself at home. Are you imagining it? Good. Because we need to have a chat. It’s going to feel a little like ripping a band-aid on my end, but for as long as I’ve been blogging I’ve had strong convictions about transparency. That hasn’t changed. I need to put all of this out there, shunning the temptation to keep secrets, because there is no way I can move forward until I’ve done it.
Monday, November 27th, after driving 18 hours straight, we arrived in Tampa to be with Dad. I knew time was short, but I had no idea when we showed up at the hospice house that night that he would be with Jesus just about 28 hours later. He was in rough shape and completely non-verbal, but the kids still got to see Grandpa one last time. I will forever be grateful God gave them that moment. I told him I was there. He had his girls all together just like he liked it. I told him we were going to Gynny’s to sleep and would be back in the morning.
Tuesday, November 28th we got a text from Mom. She let us know the nurse said it was a “Call into work sick.” Kind of day. She couldn’t give a timeline, but it was certainly time to call in the family. Gynafer ran to work to let them know what was going on and Kevin dropped me off at the hospice house while he entertained the kids. I walked in the door wearing my Incredible Hulk shirt. The one so many of us wore 32 months before, the day of dad’s brain surgery. Mom was wearing hers, too. I’ll always think it was so fitting that we wore those shirts when Dad went to surgery and then again when he went to heaven. I sat down and grabbed Daddy’s hand.
“You did everything right by your Dad, Jesika,” Mom said to me, “But we didn’t do everything right by you. He’s not your biological father.”
I tried to catch my breath. She began to explain missing puzzle pieces of my life that I didn’t even know were missing. I tried to take it all in, but there was no time to really process. What I knew was that my Daddy was dying. That he needed to know I would be okay. So I told him. I told him I wasn’t mad and that I love him. I told him that he was the best Daddy. I told him that I loved him even more knowing that he chose me when he didn’t have to. That he signed my birth certificate, and gave me a last name. That he showered me with the kind of love that only the very best dads give, and that it all meant that much more knowing he didn’t have any obligation to. We just knew that’s why he had been holding on. Fighting. He just needed the truth to come out. But he didn’t die, friends. He got worse.
The day continued and people filtered in and out. I whispered words to my husband that I hadn’t even yet accepted for myself. I told him we would deal with it later. I needed to stay put. But, oh, my sister. I can’t begin to explain the anxiousness I felt wanting her to know what was going on. The heavy burden I felt that day, knowing something she needed to know, was brutal. And that was one day. I can’t imagine the weight my parents felt keeping that secret for so many years. Day turned into night and Daddy’s condition continued to deteriorate. It was so hard to watch. He just kept fighting. He would not let go. Even the nurses were baffled. “Are you sure he doesn’t have ANY unfinished business?” They asked us over and over again. We thought the hard thing had been done and we couldn’t figure out why he wouldn’t rest.
Late in the evening as the hospice house quieted the nurse asked us if we would consider stepping out. She said sometimes people don’t want to die in front of their loved ones. They want privacy. Off to the common area we went. Still nothing. We were broken. Of course we didn’t want to ever let Dad go. But we didn’t want him to be in the condition he was in either. And we knew a place with no more cancer and no more pain awaited him.
Mom went back in to be with Dad. Later I followed. Mom’s entire outlook had changed. She said she felt hope that this could still turn out beautiful. We could still have a good ending. She had big faith. We talked a little about Gynny still not knowing the whole truth. Mom said, “Go get her.” So I did. I can’t tell you Gynny’s story in all of this because it’s Gynny’s story to tell. But I can tell you the admiration I had for her as we sat around Dad’s bedside and mom told her the hardest truths. She had so much grace to give. And finally together, no secrets kept, we sat around Daddy, the whole feeling in the room having changed. Gynafer grabbed one of his hands, I grabbed another, Mom sat at his feet rubbing his legs. And everything suddenly became beautiful. We said to Dad, “You did it, Daddy. You did a good job. You go get your healing now.” We told him he was the best, and he just really, really was. I told Dad that we’ve got this. We can take it from here. But it’s only because of everything he instilled in us. I thanked him for changing my life. Mom told him that even if it was less time than she wanted, the love they shared was more than some ever experience and she was grateful. Gynny told him that she was afraid to do life without him, but she was going to do it afraid. Because that’s what he would want. We sang to the Lord. We thanked God for Daddy’s life and the legacy he would leave behind. Daddy’s color changed. His face changed. His breathing changed from frantic to slow. Slower and slower. And then no more. And friends, I’m so sorry if this sounds morbid, but it was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. The nurse was right, he did have unfinished business. In true Pete fashion, Daddy needed to know all three of his girls would really be okay before he let go. Always, always taking care of us. What a privilege to be loved that way.
In an effort to prepare myself, I had imagined a lot of scenarios for how all of this would play out. I imagined a scenario in which I felt inconsolable. I imagined a scenario in which I felt afraid. I imagined a scenario in which I felt peace. But it never occurred to me that in my Daddy’s going home I would feel joy. Since Dad got sick I struggled with the scripture that said, “Oh death where is your sting?” Because Daddy’s decline was devastating. But I get it now. No sting. None. There was nothing more true in that moment than the fact that my Dad was in heaven. Cancer free. Rejoicing. Even the nurse commented on the feeling in the room when she walked in.
This is where I’m at now. Daddy is irreplaceable and he is gone from this earth. I am grieving that. A lot. Especially at Christmas. I will never again experience the type of relationship I had with my dad. I will have to wait until we reunite in heaven. There has not been a day since November that I have gone a full day without crying because I miss him so much. If you have adopted, or have been adopted, then you know that DNA differences didn’t make Pete Ortiz not enough. I have no Daddy-shaped voids in my heart that need filling. My heart is full. He was more than sufficient and there is nothing I would change. I am so thankful God let me be his daughter. That being said, there is a biological family out there who I have been in contact with. To my surprise, they have all known about me, all wondered about me, and they have been incredibly patient and kind in riding this roller coaster with me these past few days. I am going to find space in my heart and in my life for them. I don’t know exactly what that will look like yet. That’s okay, too. We’ll get there.
As time has gone on, I’ve had more opportunity to process all of this. It has been hard. I’m nowhere near okay yet. But I have great confidence that God will make it beautiful because He always, always does. And that great faith is the reason why I didn’t want to wait and share all of this until after I’ve come out okay on the other end. I wanted to share this while I still don’t have it all figured out so that people can watch God do what only He can do. I have a lot of questions, a lot of things I need to work out. In a lot of ways I’m unsure of who I am. But I know exactly WHOSE I am. I know that none of this surprises God. I know that He is good and so whatever He allows is also good.
Thank you for sticking it out with me and letting me share my truth. I want to continue to be transparent, open, and honest about what is happening. But I also hope you’ll be patient with me as I continue to process and move forward. Our family covets your prayers and appreciates your support!