Monday, September 12, 2011

I wish I could make it not real



My father is dying. He is 73 years old and has been battling cancer for the last three years. It's now official, there is nothing left that the doctor's can do. He's being moved from the hospital to hospice care as I write this. But that's his story, not mine. All I have is my perception, my reaction. This is really and truly all about me, in the most egocentric and self-centered way.


I don't want my dad to die. Or let me change that to I don't want my dad to have cancer. But he does. And now what I don't want is for my dad to linger in pain and wither away and suffer the indignities of a slow death. I don't want that for him. I don't want that for me. I don't want that for my family.


I flew to New Orleans last week, thinking that the end was happening RIGHT NOW and that the chance to say goodbye was gone. When I booked my flight, my dad was in the hospital, he was incoherent, he was irrational, he was in restraints because he was fighting his oxygen and IV lines. By the time I arrived in New Orleans, he was stable. He knew who I was, he knew where he was. We spent time together, talking, visiting, even laughing. I spoon fed him his jello and mashed potatoes and wiped his mouth. And I tried to remember that once upon a time, I was a little girl, and he spoon fed me and wiped my mouth. But that's not a memory. That's a fantasy. The reality is, he wasn't a great dad. He is a good man. I love him. But he's not present in a lot of my childhood memories. I do remember my mom making excuses for his absence at dance recitals and the like. I have good memories of my dad, of good times as a family, of parties and outings and vacations. But I don't have one single memory of my dad as part of my day-to-day childhood existence, the homework and dinners and mundane family shit that goes on. That was my mom and us kids. Always.


I'm glad I got to see my dad, spend that time with him. I don't want to go back home and sit by his bedside and watch him die. I have a family and a job and a life with responsibilities thousands of miles away from New Orleans. I feel guilty for prioritizing that life over my dad's deathbed, but it is what it is.


***

When I was in high school someone that I was very close to lost his younger sister. He was my age, which was 15 at the time, and his sister was 10 or 11. She was murdered by another 15 year old boy, a neighbor and friend. But that's their story, not mine. All I have is my perception, my memories of what happened.


It was inconceivable that she was dead. It was even more inconceivable that she had died at the hand of someone she knew and liked. I had no idea what to do to help my friend through this loss. I loved him, and I still love him. His heartbreak broke my heart, and it still does. I don't remember thinking about his parents at the time. We were teenagers, we had no way of knowing what this could do to an adult, to a mother, losing her child.


His mom never recovered. Never. She was never the same. She went on and led her life and did incredible things to help other victims of loss. But she never recovered. She just recently died, which is probably why she's been on my mind. It's just a sad reality, I'm getting older and the generation before me, the parents of my peers, are old and dying. When I became a mother, it finally hit me, what this woman had to deal with, and I could not wrap my brain around it. She never recovered, and I didn't blame her. I hope she is resting in peace.


***

I flew home from New Orleans, thinking about my dying father, thinking about my friend's recently deceased mother, thinking about her life after losing her child. I'd just spent several days in the hospital where mortality is just a giant bitch slap of reality. HELLO, DYING, DEATH, IT'S HAPPENING, RIGHT HERE, RIGHT NOW, WHILE YOU WATCH. I felt guilty about flying home, about feeling so happy to be going home. And on my layover, I turned on my phone and got the news that Anna had lost her son.


That's not my story to tell. But this is about me, and I barely have words to describe my reaction. Disbelief. No, that can't be right. Stupid internet rumors and stories. But it was real. It was a real thing that happened to someone I care about, to a child the same age as my child. I cried for a boy that I'd never actually met. But my real heartbreak is for his mother. This is unimaginable. I cannot wrap my head around it. And then the guilt... how dare I even think that I have problems. How dare I be morose and sad about my situation. I have no right.


This is all about me. I own that. But I swear, if there were some way that I could help ease this loss for Anna and her family, I would do it without hesitation.


I have no idea where I was going with this post. It's all just words, but my brain hurts from carrying them around inside. My heart hurts. I needed some perspective, but this is too much. I wish I could make it not real.

7 comments:

Cat said...

Shana - what a very sad, but also very beautiful post. I've been thinking about you a lot the past few days. I know it's a tough time and there is nothing I can say to make it better, but you are in my thoughts.

Jen on the Edge said...

I understand. I really do. My father is 64 and in the final stages of his five-year battle with cancer. It sucks to be him and it sucks to be the people around him watching him die.

I hope your father's final days/weeks are pain-free. Good luck.

Amy said...

Ugh. I am so sorry Shana...I hope you're finding some comfort and peace about everything happening right now. I am a safe place to vent/cry/talk/drink with if you want/need me!!!

Love you!!!
Amy

dkuroiwa said...

i have so many words in my heart that i really want to share with you, but...they keep getting stuck somewhere between there and my fingers....my step-father(much like yours, not a great dad, but way better than my real one) passed away a few years ago after being sick for a long time...being a gazillion miles away, i felt guilty for a bit for not being there with my family, watching him fade away...but, i had to put my family and my life first...the last moments i had with him will always be in my memory (along with some other not so good stuff, but...such is life, huh?).
my heart breaks for Anna and her family....to lose someone so young...no. i can't imagine it. i try and it makes me cry. sob. i pray for her that God helps her somehow in dealing with this....no, can't imagine.
Shana....my thoughts are with you...my prayers include you...

Anna See said...

me too. i love you.

Margy said...

What a beautiful post. My Dad was/is a raging alcoholic and I guess he did the best he could but still...not really enough. I friend told me - he did the best he could. I guess I always struggle to find peace or comfort in that. I hope you do the same..

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