Saturday, February 28, 2009

A Cycle of Time

My father-in-law is dying.

He has cancer, the type really isn't important, but if you want to know, it's of his kidneys. Last year, he had one removed, and they hoped maybe it hadn't spread.

It had.

Dying of cancer is an ugly, brutal, merciless process. It is full of highs and lows, of despair, not just for the ill, but often for those who care for them as they feel helpless, and selfish, at feeling they wish much of it could simply be easier, or even end.

Last August we drove down to see him and my Mother-in-Law, his remaining kidney was blocked and failing. They inserted a shunt, and his kidney recovered, but the doctor came in and told them, "Four months, maybe six, we'll try him on chemotherapy, but it's purely for extending his life, it can't cure it." He was, of course, right. We didn't tell my children at that time much more than, "None of us live forever nor do we much know what will lead to our deaths. For Grandpa, we now know what will lead to his death, but as to how long? Not long, but who can say?"

My children, of course, said their prayers, especially my daughter, most every day, asking God to make him better. It reminded me of when I was about my daughter's age, and both my mother's parents were dying of cancer - I too said my prayers, every day, for these two wonderful, kind people to somehow get better.. unfortunately, it was not to be so. They died four days apart, it was very hard on my mom. I realize now, as an adult, just how hard. And so the cycle of time repeats itself.

How do you watch a man, like my father-in-law, the typical, stoic Midwesterner who treated you more kindly than your own father, how do you watch him turn grey, and age years for every month - you want to hold him, to tell him it's not fair, that you're sorry, that you wish you could help somehow?

How do I tell my wife that if I could, I'd gladly take all the pain on myself, just to try to save her from what I've seen coming? And yet, that it's hard to be around (again), that you fear the same for your own parents, or for that matter for yourself? Tomorrow, we leave to go home, and while I'm normally impatient about leaving, how could I possibly rush her away from him, for perhaps the last time?

How do I tell my mother-in-law that despite the coming loneliness, she won't be alone - how do I say that and feel the words aren't hollow, she's losing the man she's loved for 53 years..

How do I tell my children that death comes for him, relentlessly, and no prayers will make it be otherwise - and not just an abstract death, but a real, palpable, harrowing death that turns this kind old man who gave them rides on the lawn mower, and in his old restored pickups - into a frail echo?

But most of all, how do I tell this man that he is a good man, who has lead the best life he could, that his can let go? Life has dealt him a poor hand - cancer is the worst kind of death I can imagine. I want to tell him that I know that the pain and the anguish at not doing all those things he promised himself he'd get to someday, that all of that is OK - and that this cycle of life and death this time is his, just as it will be mine - and that he may go when he feels it is right. I will be there, for him, his wife, his grandchildren, and most especially his daughter, and that you loved him, will remember him and appreciate who he was. Sometimes, often, being a good person has very little to do with fame - and everything to do with simply being warm and caring.

When and if you have the chance, before it is too late, before they are so deep in a morphine-induced stupor, I offer you might want to say these things to those you love - you sometimes don't get the time otherwise.