Archive for June, 2010
Sometimes I wish I could stay four forever. That way I could look up at my dad and marvel at his strength and be infinitely amazed. Yeah, so he’s only about as tall as I am now (a whopping 5’3″) and actually probably weighs less than me. But, back then he looked like a giant. I remember the flex of his biceps and forearms as he built a retaining wall to keep mounds of soil from running down the slope on the side of our yard. I watched as he dug the holes for the big posts in the thick, clay ground and hammered the wooden planks with forceful blows. I thought, “This guy can do anything. And he’s my papa!”
Now he’s turning 81. Last Fall he had liver cancer. He collapsed one night right after dinner. My mom called the ambulance. At the hospital they discovered bleeding around his liver. The same night his vitals fell and they took him into surgery to stop the bleeding. A few days later, he went into major surgery. He survived, minus 30% of his liver. He spent 10 days in the hospital.
And, if that wasn’t traumatic enough, just a few months after he suffered from a gastrointestinal bleed (GI bleed). He was bleeding in two parts of his stomach. This caused him to throw up a lot of blood. He spent another three days in the hospital.
A new reality hits
On the day of the GI bleed, I remember the look on his face when I picked him up to drive him to the ER. He was sitting on the couch with his shoes, jacket, and baseball cap on–ready to go. His head was down. He seemed so sad and defeated. When I walked in the door, he faced me with a “Well, here we go again” look. The first words that came out of his mouth were, “I’m sorry.” I told him there was nothing to be sorry about.
While my family was waiting for him in ER, I started googling reasons for throwing up blood. We didn’t know yet what was causing him to throw up blood. My fear was the liver cancer had come back. Fortunately, that wasn’t the case.
He’s doing well now. He goes in for regular checkups and blood tests. In a few months they’ll take x-rays again to make sure the cancer hasn’t reappeared. He’s taking meds for his stomach.
Since these incidents, I’ve been thinking a lot. There’s a new reality we have to face. For my parents, it’s the hardship of getting older and asking for help. For me and my sister, it’s realizing the time that our parents will need us the most is actually here.
What I remember most
The days my dad was in the hospital, I stayed with my mom. She was physically and emotionally exhausted to the point where she was off-balance. She knocked over a house plant and spilled dirt all over the carpet. I had to hold her arm while walking so she wouldn’t stumble. Her doctor gave her some anti-anxiety meds to help her calm down and get some rest, but that made the stumbling worse, so she had to cut the dose in half or even a quarter.
One morning she was very sad. She sighed. She missed the morning breakfasts he always made for her. She teared up when she told me he would greet her with, “Good morning, sweetheart. How do you want your eggs?” This is the one thing that has stuck with me since. What will one do without the other? When you’re used to having your spouse there day in and day out. What happens when one of you is gone?
More than the first night in ER. More than the fear in the surgery waiting room. More than driving back-and-forth to the hospital. More than the follow-up doctor visits and procedures. What I remember most is my mom missing my dad. I remember how his absence made her mentally and physically fall apart. It broke my heart.
The little things
Last night I asked my husband what he would miss if I wasn’t here. We laughed because we ended up talking a lot about things we do that annoy each other, but would actually miss if one of us was gone. For example, there would be no one telling him to turn the TV volume down at night and dim the lights. He likes to watch TV late. I have to get up early for a long commute to work. It’s an ongoing argument. There have been times where I’ve resorted to ear plugs and an eye mask. It’s actually pretty comical.
Come to think of it–it is the little, routine things (and silly annoyances) that will probably trigger the most feelings of loss and loneliness.
My parents have been married 50 years. I’m still hoping they’ll have many more years together. But, what happens when one of them is gone? I hate to think of it, but I know the day will come. Sometimes I think I should prepare more. But, then, nothing really does ever prepare you. I think the most important thing is just being there. I also want my parents to know they don’t have to say I’m sorry, ever. It’s not a burden. I will be there.