My regular readers may have noticed that I have not posted a blog in seven weeks, which is fairly unusual for me. When I posted my last blog, I was in the midst of editing the final draft of my next novel, so I was planning to skip a week of blogging anyway. After that week, though, I got the call from my mom.
In October 2014, my father was diagnosed with stage IV esophageal cancer. Since then he has gone through a few rounds of radiation and four different types of chemo. In late June 2015, the final results showed that the cancer had metastasized faster than expected and had moved throughout his body. Western medicine had done all it could do.
Shortly after my mom and my dad found out that there was nothing left to do but wait, my mom called me about setting up a Christmas in August party. They had done everything else my dad had wanted to do, and the only thing left was that he wanted to be around for Christmas. My family got together for that Christmas party about a week after I posted my last blog, and the party was awesome. As you can tell from these pics, everyone was emotional, but my dad was still my dad.
I got really depressed after the party. Reality set in on how eminent my father’s departure would be. The depression got in the way of a lot of my daily activities and social commitments. I managed to find my way out of it, or at least I could distract myself with work, but then my mom called me up, because she needed me to come home and stay with them for a few days.
Before she could take her FMLA leave to be with my dad, she had to work a certain amount of hours, but when she wasn’t home, my dad just sat there in the darkness, waiting, so she asked if I would come out and stay with him on those days. Of course I agreed, and on two different occasions I stayed for two or three days at a time.
During those times my dad was still able to come out into the living room, lay on the couch, and talk to me. He would get tired and have to go back and lay down in the bedroom, but there were times when we would just sit on the couch for hours at a time, talking. We talked about his past, we talked about being angry at the cancer, and we just talked about random other things. I even started pulling up pictures on my phone of the places and things he was talking about, which he enjoyed. He kept telling me, “look up this,” or “can you find such-n-such place?” Those hours will do doubt be some of the best memories I will have after all of this.
I’d stayed with my parents on August 17 through the 18th, but three days later, on Friday the 21st, my mom called me. She wanted to prepare me, because she thought dad was going to go soon. I told mom I was coming out there. I went through all of my errands that needed to be done for the weekend, then I raced out to my parents’ home, fighting rush-hour traffic and freaking out the entire time that I would get to their house too late. Thankfully I did not miss him.
Instead, I have now been at my parents’ house for three weeks helping my mom take care of my dad. We have great support out here. My brother and his family live close by and check in on us regularly. They also make amazing meals. My partners back home text and call frequently and try to visit when they can.
Today was the first day in weeks that I felt like writing or working on some of my own projects. I thought it fitting to write out my thoughts and emotions about this entire ordeal. In part, it’s kind of like free therapy, but more than that I know there are so many people going through this nightmarish waiting game as the plague of cancer goes merrily on, so I hope my thoughts will help those individuals learn to cope.
Grief and Distractions
When I first got here three weeks ago, emotions were high, as my father had changed so quickly and we felt that he would pass at any moment. We waited and watched, fearful of what would happen. But nothing much did happen. So we did what most people do; we distracted ourselves with other tasks to avoid constantly obsessing about our grief.
My mom and I have found that cleaning and organizing certain parts of the house have proven a masterful way of passing the time. Unfortunately there are only so many places to clean, and some of the highly cluttered places are too closely connected to my dad. To organize these spaces, to remove the clutter, or to pack up the possessions would all be akin to admitting that he’s gone. He will be gone soon, and we know that, but he’s still here, and his things represent an extension of him. So we either find new places to clean, or we venture into dad-places that will wreck us emotionally.
Other distractions have included TV and movies, trying out new recipes, our phones and the internet, entertaining visitors, and of course work. I have client work that I can do from anywhere with an internet connection, and my hours are flexible, as my clients are amazing and understand my current situation. Mom has some work that she too can distract herself with, and she has several church obligations to keep her busy as well.
Despite the distractions, we can’t ignore the elephant in the room. We check on my dad every hour or so. We make sure he has water and milk, as he hasn’t had any solid food in over three weeks. We administer medication as needed, but have yet to give him any of the more powerful painkillers. Surprisingly, he has had very minimal pain for someone in his condition. Besides making him comfortable, we sit with him, talk about the past, and mom reads him scripture as well as funny jokes from her Facebook account.
I’ve prayed every night that I’ve been here, and almost every night I have asked for my father to find peace. If you saw him, you would understand my prayers. Since he has not eaten in almost a month, he has lost so much weight that you can see all the bones in his arms, his joints, his tendons, both shoulder blades, and the ribs on his back. His heart races at over 100 beats per minute, and his blood pressure drops a little day by day. He sleeps 22 hours a day, if not more, and he keeps becoming more confused.
Yet somehow he fights on and remains with us.
After three weeks of watching the man I’ve known and admired my entire life deteriorate into an shadow of himself, all I want is for him to pass quietly to the other side. Every night I go to sleep hoping my mom will wake me in the middle of the night to tell me that my father has passed. My mom and I grow impatient every day, hoping that my father will go. We both love him so much, and we feel guilty wishing for him to die, but he has no quality of life left, and he has nothing left to do but die.
Faith and Acceptance
There has been much religion in this house during the past three weeks. My parents are Christians and they are supported by a very strong religious community. I myself am not Christian, but I have my own private spiritual beliefs. My parents do not agree with my beliefs, but they have always respected my right to my beliefs, and I have tried to remain highly respectful to their beliefs as well.
I imagine every night there are two very different sets of prayers going on, but both prayers pray for the same thing.
As you contemplate death – and what else do you contemplate when you are waiting for someone to die — you begin to think about what will happen on the other side. As I am a solitary practitioner of my own spirituality, I do not have a dogmatic system dictating rules or a structure of the afterlife, so these weeks have given me the opportunity to determine what I personally believe. Though I’ve struggled with this concept for many nights, I finally came to my answer.
My answer is my own, and I will not elaborate on it here, but suffice it to say that my answer about life after death gives me a sense of calm, and through that calmness I can find acceptance. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still impatient, but having this faith takes the edge off. I accept that things will happen when they happen, and until then I can do nothing but keep my father comfortable and give my mother support.
I came upon this spiritual epiphany last night, and that was the first night I did not pray for my father to die. I asked if it was time that he would pass without pain, but I did not beg for his soul to be released. When the time is right, and no one knows when that time will be, but at that moment, Death’s scythe will cut my dad’s ties from this earth, and the waiting game will be over.