Tom’s dad is dying. I haven’t written about this for a couple of reasons — first, there was such hope by so many that he would pull through, and second, I just didn’t want to think about it because it’s too familiar, too real, and it makes me remember things that I’ve been working really hard to forget.
In June, Tom’s dad, who lives in Ohio, was diagnosed with AML (acute myelogenous leukemia). This is a perfectly healthy 50-something-yr-old man who has a nagging cold that he can’t shake. Finally goes to the doctor, and it’s leukemia.
It’s now December 9th, and he’s actively dying. Yes, there’s an actual “active phase of dying.” I was blissfully unaware of this fact before September 2007. He hasn’t eaten in days, and has a steady drip of morphine running into his body. His breathing is shallow and sporadic. He’s slipping in and out. He’s ready to leave, and he’s just waiting for it to happen. They’re all waiting. Waiting for the waiting to stop.
Cancer has done it again — reduced a healthy, brawny, 250-lb carpenter to an emaciated shadow, a distorted monstrous version of the person he used to be.
Jennifer, Tom, Sadie, & Maggie drove up to Ohio last Thursday with an open-ended agenda — to stay until it’s time to come home. Approximately 36 hrs ago, his breathing changed. I got Jennifer’s text message, and felt my stomach clench. I remember when the breathing changes. I remember Mama’s chest rattling and each breath seeming like the last one. I hope that Tom’s dad won’t have seizures. Please don’t let him have seizures. The only thing worse than your beloved parent looking a corpse is your beloved parent looking like a corpse and having a violent, horrific seizure.
My heart hurts for Tom, as he sits and watches and waits and tries to remember how to feel normal. His family is in that place — that frantic, irrational, insulated place, where the world is still turning while you sit and watch and wait and bustle and chatter and cry only sometimes and say things you won’t remember saying later. Every occurrence is either really irrationally funny or really irrationally sad — there are only extremes with nothing in between. Every hour is spent revolving around the minutia of death, and it’s hard to believe that outside, the world is still living like nothing has changed. While I’m thinking about money and Christmas and gifts, there’s a tick-tocking in the back of my head… “Tom’s daddy is dying, Tom’s daddy is dying, Tom’s daddy is dying.” In Jennifer’s voice, I can hear that she looks at Tom’s father and sees our mother.
Last night, I went to their little house, and Jennifer instructed me on which clothes to pack for the funeral. Tom was ordained just a few months ago and is preaching his own father’s service. And then one of the most difficult things I’ve done to date — I read Tom’s notes to him on the phone, notes that he made last week for his father. There were stories of his childhood, of what makes his father special, of why his daddy is irreplaceable. As I read them aloud, I sobbed… even though I knew that my emotions weren’t making things any easier for Tom, I simply couldn’t stop. He cried, and I cried, and we made it through four pages of notes. And my heart broke again for children who lose their parents too young. Tom is 29, the age I was when Mama died. Jennifer is 27. They aren’t even 30 years old, and they’ve lost two parents.
It’s so hateful and barbaric and primitive, this dying process. With all the improvements and research dollars and technological discoveries, the dying process is still the basic leaving of life — the slowing breath, the dimming pallor, the cold hands, the failing body.
It’s just so damn ugly.