My Husband's Tumor

It's not a cancer story, it's a love story. With some cancer.
We took the risk of loving people — lots of them — and this is what happens.

Dave Gilmore, Jr., Best Friend, on the other side of the coin. 

It’s worth it. Every single ounce of pain is worth it.

We buried my father yesterday at Fort Snelling National Cemetery, but before we did that, we gave him a proper Irish wake, with as many laughs as there were tears. 

After my mother and my older sister spoke, I shared this. It’s really just notes for what I wanted to say, so I’d like to think that the real thing was better, but you’ll get the idea.

If you didn’t know my dad, some of these things might seem…weird? Harsh? Trust that we always knew when our father was joking, that all of his barbs were served with a wink and that we truly will miss his brand of love.


I’ve thought about this day a lot. Which is weird, but I was obsessed with death as a child. I actually believed that if I slept away from my home, both of my parents would die. I would spend the very rare sleepover I was allowed laying awake in the darkness planning my eulogy for my parents. I WAS A NORMAL CHILD.

I always worried that I wouldn’t have told people how much I loved them. That I would somehow leave something unsaid that must be said.

And that is probably why I talk a lot.

I spent the past few days reading my old letters and emails and even text messages, and trust me. My father knew how I felt about him.

I would always leave him with a big hug, a bit too long for his liking. I’d shower him with I love yous. My return rate was probably about 3%, which is pretty high if you ask my siblings, right?

As a child, that was hard for me. I wanted a sitcom dad. I wanted a dad who would sit at the edge of my bed after a trying day and say, “Nora. Let’s talk about your feelings.”

I didn’t want a dad who would send me to my bedroom after my brother broke my tailbone in a fight for the remote just because I said the f-word!

But that is the father I had, and as I grew up I learned that people give and receive love in many different ways. Mine is verbal and physical. It is, as my husband will tell you, almost irksome in it’s persistence. Aaron often laughs because when I end a phone call with “I love you” my father usually replies with “okay” before hanging up. Or, he just hangs up.

Our father’s love was different. It was quiet. But consistent. It was the kind of love that will rub your shins as you cry through growing pains that will make you a 5’8” middle schooler.

The kind of love that works in another city, away from the whole family, to make sure you have tuition to get through Catholic school.

It is the kind of love that doesn’t let you have sleepovers because you’re better off sleeping in your own bed. That doesn’t let you see Dirty Dancing because hello, the title.

The kind of love with rules and boundaries you don’t really understand are love until you’re a little bit older.

My dad was not our friend. He was our father. And sometimes our father would watch Stepbrothers or Dumb & Dumber with us. Sometimes he’d help us tickle a sibling to the point of peeing their pants. Sometimes he’d shoot us with a NERF bow and arrow until someone got hurt.

But even when I came home from college he’d had the cable company block MTV. Not appropriate viewing, ya know?

There are many, many things I will miss about our father. First, that he would hate this entire production. He’d have already put his jacket on and be signaling to our mother that he’d like to go home, put his bathrobe on over his pajamas, and read in bed.

I’ll miss that he kept track of treats, that he knew exactly how many bottles of coke there were in our house (a rare treat) and KNEW if you took one that wasn’t yours. There were six bottles in a pack, and six people in our family. And somehow, Steve was keeping track of who got more than one bottle.

I’ll miss how fastidious he was: how he’d wash his golf clubs after every use, how he always, always hung up his jackets. Steve had nice things because he deserved them. I do not.

I’ll miss how he held my son and how well he could zing me.

Honestly, I will miss his zings more than anything in the world, so I collected some of the best ones to share with you.

When I asked him how I looked before going to my first dance with my biggest high school crush, my face still flushed from basketball practice, wearing what I believe were nude pantyhose.

Without looking up from the TV: Ya look like a freak.

When I cried (and I did, immediately), he leapt from his seat in front of the TV and in a madcap turn of events ended up sending me off to the dance with one of his own shirts and ties insisting that any boy who took me out better damn well dress like a man.

When I wore something too tight/too short/too shiny (approximately all of 1999-2006).

Where the HELL do you think you’re going in that getup?!

When our little brother went through a chubby phase in middle school, my father and I would both sing:

Oooooh! Fatty Paddy two by four can’t get through the kitchen door!

We would then tickle Patrick mercilessly, which is cruel and I am sorry.

Dad is not.

In fact, he’d probably credit our teasing with giving you the growth spurt that turned you from a doughy little guy into a scrawny string bean.

When I told him to reply all to an email:

I know how to “reply all,” I simply choose not too, mainly because I come from an age where correspondence used to be a personal exchange between two people, not a conversation open to all. When I was a child we had a party line. To you that probably means a row of cocaine on a glass table, but back then it meant a phone line shared with neighbors who could stealthily listen in our your conversations. I hope you see the analogy to “reply all” I am drawing there.

Don’t bother trying to inform or educate Meg; somehow Fate has given me a classic knee-jerk liberal for a daughter.

When I sent an email about my 25th Birthday:

Since when is turning 25 a significant event? As far as I know the only thing it signifies is the threshold of Old Maid status.

When Austin corrected his grammar in an email:

Don’t you have a lawn to mow, landscaper?

When Meghan implied our family email chains were too distracting to her work:

Meg doesn’t have time for this! She gets over 3,000 tweets a minute and somewhere in the vicinity of 2.6 million emails a day!

On the day he died, my father spoke carefully from under his mask in the ICU.

“Nora, I’m glad you’re here. I have something I want to tell you.”

I stopped rubbing his feet for a moment, leaned in. This was the 80s sitcom moment I was waiting for. Even my mother looked encouraged by his sudden liveliness.

“It’s time for you to know…”

I’m salivating at this point. He is going to tell me so many things. This is the moment I’ve been waiting for my entire life.

“Nora,” he said, breathing heavily.

“You’re adopted.”


My parents were together 10x longer than purmort and I have been. They were married at 24, an age where I was a drunken, stumbling emotional trainwreck incapable of a productive relationship.

They raised four children, and put us all through Catholic school. We went to the same high school my father went to, the same school our grandfather had been booted out of.

They had highs and lows, but they had them together. For better or worse. Until death do us part. Last night during the final sacrament, the priest asked us to offer up our prayers. Shy and Midwestern at heart, I froze. I don’t know, how do you pray out loud? Is if just a wish list you read to God?

When the priest was gone, my siblings and I stood by our father and I knew how to pray. It’s a thank you. “Thank you for being a good father, for showing us what it means to be loved. For the love you shared with our mother and with us. That’s the love I want my children to have, and their children.I am so proud to be a McInerny.”

I know he heard us because his eyes were wide and he responded, his voice occluded by the respirator. He either said “you’ll always be a McInerny” or “but you’re not a McInerny.” One is a heartfelt, movie-worthy line and one is an ongoing joke about my being adopted and you know what? Either is perfect. Because either is perfectly our father.

That is my prayer, a thank you for my father and a wish for everyone to have and be that kind of love in the world.