Sunday, November 27, 2005

Grief is a Pair of Shoes, Standing Empty

You might think death hasn't fazed you
As you stroke his quieted brow and then later
Stand at attention, unshakable
As they gurney his lifeless shell out of the bedroom
Into the waiting van.
Acting the part of stoic honor guard,
You think: "This isn't so hard
Staring directly into the face of death"
Only to be knocked flat, days later
In a stealth attack from the closet.
You fool - death doesn't leave with the body.
It stays behind, lurking in the pockets of worn bathrobes,
Empty cough drop wrappers,
In a pair of loafers, waiting to go out.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Untangling my fingers from his, I stand up and say in my best you better be listening to me voice:
"Dad, I'm leaving now to have Thanksgiving dinner with my kids. M. is going too, but John your caregiver will be here with you still. We will miss having this dinner with you, but the kids need me to be with them tonight so I must go.

I'd bring you back some turkey, but we both know you aren't up to eat it, so if you want to have some, you will have to let go of this body and come along with me. If you don't want us to be here when you pass... well now is the time to do it. If you do want us to be here, then you're just going to have to wait two hours for us to get back."

Apparently he wanted that turkey.

Happy Thanksgiving Dad, rest in peace.

Friday, November 18, 2005

We've been in the hospital since Tuesday. Not sure when we will go home, maybe early next week. They've told me that we don't need to push food anymore. Chemo was ruled out, so we are playing an "end game" as he puts it. Two months maybe. Is the glass half full or half empty? Better than 2 weeks, sorrier than 2 years. Next week we figure out nursing care and hospice for helping at home. For now, its awfully nice to have a pair of arms to hold me when I need a break. Guess its obvious I'm not online much, and doing what should be done. Thanks so much for the caring responses to the last few posts. They do help, a net of hands to keep the ground a little less hard.

Five things to do while you wait for the doctor to come by:
Listen to Bach
Ask the nurse her favorite flavor of ice cream
Read the new Harry Potter book
Find out that my grandfather was an inventor and built the first radio in his town
Wear the unused hospital underwear and footies on your head and hands and put on a puppet show

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Today's stealth approach involved arriving with a bowl of mashed potatoes topped with (something you might remember from grade school lunches...) chicken fricasee. Now that I look at that, I'm not sure I've ever tried to spell it. You stew a chicken with onions and celery and carrots, bone it, and thicken with cornstarch. Pour it over some sort of starch. This is the dish my mom often cooked to get us back on our feet after being sick. I think I probably wanted to eat it more than he did - maybe I'm confused about who I'm really cooking for. He does eat about a third of it, which is mostly just to please me. Today on the phone I told him point blank that its less tiring to eat than to argue with me. I promptly burst into tears when I hung up. My son peered into my face trying to figure out whether this was one of mom's "sentimental TV moment" tear showers, or if there was something serious going on. There's so rarely something serious that he doesn't quite believe it but asks later, during our soup and bread dinner, for me to "explain it from the start." This is his way of saying, "I need you to tie all this stuff together for me, tell me what happened and what it means." When my mom died, he was too little to understand, and he has forgotten her completely now. I defer to the tests to be done later this week, putting off the full explanation for some doctor to help outline. The split pea and ham soup is salty enough and I'm still wishing I had the leftover chicken fricasee. I tell him I'm emotional because I'm PMS. It's not even a lie. After I dropped off lunch, I stopped at a garage sale in my neighborhood, and ended up purchasing an odd lot of things... an old men's Stetson hat, some kitchen items for a friend who is moving, a couple of handcarved decoys made by the elderly man's father, and the wood carving tools. Jack, who owned the house, was moving because his wife had died and he was not able to live alone any longer. His niece and nephew were helping him with the sale, which basically consisted of giving most of the stuff away rather than having to put it in the waiting dumpster out front. Later, the other friend who is moving showed me the things that belonged to his late mother and father as he unpacked them. All these precious pieces of people, their echoes in cloth and wood, leather and steel, home cooked meals.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Slipping Away

I am drinking a latte that is really too hot, its scorching my throat on the way down, but I'm ok with that.

Today when I walked into his bedroom, I found myself watching to see if the breath was still finding its way in and out of his body, wondering if and when that stops, exactly what I will do. He looked very small and fragile, a strange impression to have of one's father, but in fact, correct. The conversation went like this once he was awake: "Hi, I'm here to get you some lunch, what sounds good to eat?" (he grimaces at this question) "Ok, let's try a different question, which of these things sounds least awful to eat?" I offer several alternatives, he decides on soup, but "Broth only."

Two more sips of the latte, I contemplate stealing a Halloween treat from my cubicle neighbor's stash. A stiff drink is in order, but I'm back at work; I think this is why the scorching latte seems right.

I strained out some broth and hid a few noodles and some carrot in the cup by chopping them up finely, heated it in the microwave, and helped him out of bed to sit at the dining table. His words have been slurred today, he is exhausted, and I have left work because its obvious he wasn't getting his own lunch. Vicious circle, this fatigue killing appetite. I volunteer some crackers, he grimaces again, but says the soup is tasting good. We have the "what are the symptoms today" conversation for the hundredth time, and he comments that the 'dear doctor' hasn't really given him any reason for why he is so exhausted. So I explain to him how his body is fighting that bad "C" word, how the tumors are multiplying at the expense of his energy, how his immune system is fighting at the expense of his energy. I ask him if he feels weaker than yesterday, and he says "and yesterday weaker than the day before."

I'm still wondering whether chocolate will make me feel better. There was a moment walking towards the cafeteria for the coffee, I saw a friend's back disappearing far down the hall, and I almost fell apart, but not quite. Another friend calls to check on me before heading out for the weekend, but she knows I don't want to talk about the details while I am at work. Awful I say, and that is enough.

Probably an ovestatement, since he hasn't been in any pain this week. We got the blood pressure swings and the heart rate swings back under control. But I keep wondering if he's going to hang on until next Thursday's tests. What was it he said on the phone about not eating today? "It won't matter soon enough." There is nothing emotional about the statement, he says it pragmatically the same way he tells me that he isn't worrying about the inevitable, at 85 its a waste of time to worry about it. But there's been no death sentence yet, so I haven't quite given up.

As I leave he's drinking some cranberry juice I substituted for the glass of water he agreed to sip while he watched some TV, and now there are crackers on a napkin which I point out in case he wants to have a "nibble" later. I feel a bit devious but he knows I am pushing him as gently as I can. He promises he'll drink an Ensure for dinner and will take his blood pressure again; says "I love you" when I pick up my keys, and I know from his voice that he's not saying goodbye just yet. I'll be back tomorrow morning to go through the dance again.

Monday, November 07, 2005

"I'll burn the hotpads"
He warns the woman
(the one he has transformed
into a conflagration of desire)
As if a little scorched fabric
Could damper this flame.

Below them a flowing wet blackness called Willamette
Above, cables stringing pavement to milky sky
Sucking her fingers into his warm mouth
A bridge of heat carries them
Between river and stars

Slowly drying skin
Arms loose, outstretched; languid
Together unfold like the wings of a sunning cormorant
Drenched from diving a shared inky darkness
To chase that silvery fish
Which darts just beneath the surface of the flesh

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