Saturday, August 20, 2011

A Year and a Day

While the time is off a bit, hear me out.

It's been a year since my father fell while walking down the hall. He was having trouble breathing and eating. He was recovering from throat cancer, but how do you recover from that? His throat had been scorched raw...his teeth removed and his saliva glands incinerated. He survived the cancer but I would never call the life he was forced to live recovered. It was survival.

Pure and simple.

We, my brother and I, watched the man we grew up loving, fearing and respecting erode in front of our eyes. Piece by piece were removed from this man as payment for the life he chose to lead. The cigarettes and the alcohol you currently enjoy are adding up right now. I promise you this. I've seen the payment they demand upclose and in person. I'm not about to sit on a soapbox and decry the dangers of excess. You keep on smoking and drinking, as will I. Just understand the nature of your transaction. You are exchanging the now for tomorrow. You are enacting the free will that makes us intrinsically human and for that, I can't fault you. Just as I couldn't bring myself to tell my father, several years removed from cancer treatment to stop smoking and drinking.

He would have told me to mind my own goddamn business had I brought it up, and he would have been right in doing so. Still, it is a source of regret on my part that I wasn't more emphatic in my protest.

On Aug 31 of last year...after he had fallen several times and was having trouble even breathing, he agreed to go to the hospital. The doctor at the VA Emergency Room told me and my mother that my father would be dead in a week. He thought he was being optimistic in this prediction. He honestly didn't think my father would last the night.

I told his doctor what every son believes in his heart. "You don't know my father. He is a fighter." He laughed the safe amusement of a doctor who knows better. But I was sincere. My father WAS a fighter. After they drained his lung of the fluid build up and replenished his fluids (His inability to swallow for weeks had limited his eating and drinking. He was dehydrated and malnourished) the fighter emerged. My father, whom this doctor of medicine had honestly thought would be dead in days was healthy and ready to go home. Until the test results returned. My fathers cancer had returned and in a more aggressive form than before. It was incurable...inoperable and they again told me and my family that my father would be dead in a week.

"You don't know my dad." I said again. This time they were right. The cancer took a little longer than a week. It took 3 months to be precise...but it claimed my father. The stress of staying by his bedside for these months also claimed my mother, only days before he passed. I thanked the doctors at the VA for their exemplary service and care and buried both my parents days after my birthday.

This marked the end of my life as I knew it. I struggle to find the words to describe how this affcted me. A year ago today, I was hot, I was tired, but I was whole...I was happy. Times were tough but I knew I would make it through because of my family. The future was a window I watched play out life's daily performance while I sat comfortably distanced.

Nine months ago, I discovered the meaning of the word numb. I have been without feeling since that day. It is as if a piece of my soul was buried alongside my parents in that cemetary. I have smiled since then. I have cried as well. I have been visited by my parents almost nightly in my dreams. Sometimes these are plesant and provide me with a sense of peace. Other times... Well other times they simply aren't. In the last 9 months I would guess that I have seen my parents die at least 200 times in my dreams and I fear that is an optimistic number.

I wake at 3am with the same feeling of despair smothering me as I felt when the doctor at Methodist Hospital told me my mother was dead. My body is usually soaked in my own sweat. It is not a feeling I have shared with anyone. But I know what it is and I know why I write this now. I share this with you anonymous people now as a catharsis. I will continue to dream of my parents. I will continue to revulse in horror at my memory of performing CPR on my already dead mother and I will continue to see with utter clarity in my mind's eye the withered body of my father as we said goodbye. I will also know that their spirits were gone from those lifeless bodies and the pain they endured without complaint whisked away by the embrace of Old Man Death. I don't hate Old Man Death, mind you. his is a necessary task. Without his service, suffering and pain would be the norm.

But as much as I miss my parents and want them back, I understand. I get it. Time has softened the blow a bit. The dreams still come with regularity. They will for some time to come. I can live with this. It's the alternative that would hurt more. My father continuing to suffer. My mother continuing to wear herself to the bone standing her vigil. That's what I find unacceptable. That's what the lesson of the last year has taught me.

If you had said to me a year and a day ago that my parents would both still be alive today, I would have taken that as a good thing. But having seen what I have...having endured what I have...How could that be a good thing? Today is the first day in this entire time that I can say without feeling in the least bit bad about it that I am happy that my parents are gone. I can say this because their pain ended. The next step in their lives began. THIS...I envy. I can't wait to see them again and ask them how things have been. I bet they have some pretty damned awesome stories to tell.