Sunday, December 31, 2006
Roller coaster years
There is a line in Parenthood with Steve Martin and Diane Wiest about life. Grandma talks about roller coasters and merry-go-rounds and how she always loved the roller coaster because the merry-go-round just went around in a circle and didn't really do anything. It wasn't exciting. I love roller coasters but once in a while I'd like to rest on a merry-go-round because from time to time it's good to give the excitement a rest.
Mom was in the hospital for four days last week because her face and the right side of her neck were swollen. It got so bad at one point they put her in ICU because her airway was closing up and she was fighting for every breath. To make matters worse they had to do a CT scan and she got panicky because she couldn't breathe. Turned out to be an infection of her parotid gland. She walked out of the hospital on Friday because she could breathe and the swelling was going down somewhat because Dad needed help.
Dad started getting radiation treatments to the back of his neck to reduce the tumor growing at the base of his neck and into the spinal canal up against the spinal cord. At first he was tolerating things all right but he's going downhill fast. He's losing weight and can't eat and after the treatments he's worn to a nub and can do little more than fall onto the nearest bed or sofa.
On top of all this I have a long time friend telling me that it's all for the best and I wouldn't want my father in pain so just let go as if I'm some mindless drone who doesn't know all this ahead of time. Knowing it may be time to let go and not wanting my father to live in pain are things I thought I was ready to deal with. I'm not so sure any more. I wouldn't want my father to suffer. I don't want my father to suffer. I know where this is going and I thought I was ready for it but I'm not ready to let go. Would I tell my father to fight, to let the doctors rip away pieces of him a bit at a time just to have him around a little bit longer? Will I tell him to fight for a few more weeks or months just so I don't have to face losing him?
But I'm scared. Even at my age I don't want to be without my father. This is a difficult time for me and all I can think to do is bury myself in work so I don't have to think, don't have to feel, don't have to cry any more. I thought I was tougher than this, that I was ready to let him go. I guess there's still a little softness and frightened humanity inside me now. It's not any easier to be clear across the country instead of watching all this happen in person. I feel like I did when Mom told me Dad might leave us and go live somewhere else, not for a year or a few months like he had when he went overseas and we couldn't go or wouldn't go for a little while, but forever. I wanted to go with him. I wanted to beg him to stay with me and not leave me alone. Those feelings are back just below the surface and I can't say anything to my sisters or my mother because it will make things difficult for them. I'm the strong one. I am the one who lets trouble roll off me like water off a duck's back. I am the one everyone else will lean on and would lean on now if I were there.
But I'm not.
How do I deal with all of this? How do I live in a world where my father no longer walks and I can't call him on the phone? What do I do?
I cry. I pray. I get ready for the inevitable and let him go because I don't want him to suffer and I don't want the doctors to chip away pieces of his spine and ribs and pelvis just to keep him alive to go into the hospital so they can chip and slice pieces of him away a little at a time. I don't want him to live that way.
Yes, I'm selfish. If I could find a way to keep my father so that he didn't have to be in pain and didn't have to go until I was ready, I would keep him around until I died. I'm selfish but I'm not that selfish.
Even though I don't know if he will still be around by February I'm not changing my plans. I'm steeling myself for what I know I will find and it will be more of a shock than seeing him without his teeth the first time and realizing my father, my immortal, eternally young and vigorous father is old. My father is dying and I feel lost and alone. I am lost and alone and I have to keep it to myself because if I crumble who will hold up the rest of them?
As this roller coaster year ends I wish my father weren't dying. I wish I didn't have to lose him. I wish there was someone who understood and would hold me and let me cry and tell me, even though I know it's a lie, that it's going to be all right, that they will be the strong one so I can lean on someone for a little while.
I wish I was on the merry-go-round.