Friday, March 29, 2013

Singing to Soothe the Savage Ache

The past few days have been grueling, but at the same time, there is no where else I'd rather be right now.
  I'll admit, I haven't been eating great, and I missed 2 days of working out. These are far from cardinal sins though. I just didn't have it in me. Read on and you'll see why, but first, be prepared.
I'll try to inject some humor into this blog to keep it palletable, but anything that colors the truth too much would be doing this experience a huge disservice.

Disclaimer: Just like life has redefined what ‘hard’ means to me, it continues to revise my definition of ‘this sucks’ as well.

There is Tired.

There is Sleepy.

There is Exhausted.

And then there is whatever this is... this odd stage of existence where days blur together.

The human body really is amazing thing. As is the human spirit. It's amazing just how much a human can take, and just how resilient the spirit is.

If there is one thing I’ve heard throughout this entire process it’s, “At least you get to say goodbye.” While I know that it’s a gift to be able to get your affairs in order before passing the torch to the next generation and I understand the shock, guilt, and agony from a sudden loss on a purely intellectual level, I'm not sure I can fully buy into believing that this is preferable.

Earlier this week, Dad's relatives flew in to spend some time with Dad. The day before they arrived, he was barely concious most of the day. He wasn't in any pain, but the hepatic encephalopathy (which is basically a brain fog/confusion caused by amonia that builds up once the liver fails, resulting in eventual brain shut down) had really set in. I doubted he was going to make it past the day, but what do I know? I've never dealt this closely with the end of a life before.

Hospice nurse offered a new medication to help get the amonia out of his system. Great, right? Well, sort of. Sure, it makes his mind a little less foggy, but it causes nearly explosive bowel movements... So add the runs to the list of things sapping at his energy.

By the time the family arrived, he appeared much better than the day before. It's all so decieving though. He's not actually getting well. It just happened to be a good day.

My aunts and uncles gathered to spend some time with Dad and, honestly, to say goodbye…

We sat around, talked about how things are going with everyone, avoiding the elephant in the room as long as we possibly could. 

We talked about AuntH (Dad’s sister) and UncleH (who also has cancer, though a less advanced form of bone cancer) selling their house and about the townhouse they’ve purchased closer to their kids on the other side of the county.

We talked about our pets, both past and present. We shared photos. We had a few chuckles… all of us avoiding the inevitable as long as possible.

Then it came to be say  farewell. There were planes to catch, dinner to coordinate, and rest needed.

And that’s when it happened.
AuntM asked for a picture when all the siblings together.
 I had to leave the room. Not one to run from much, but I wanted to run and hide and pretend that wasn’t happening. Not that I would ever deny them the moment, but I wish it didn’t have to happen.
 I walked into the other room just as I saw Dad’s siblings crouch down on either side of his easy chair and smile.

I couldn’t watch my Aunt take the last photo of my father’s family intact.

I stared out the window at the hillside-yard of my parent’s house, and  fought off completely losing it.  Within a few stifled breaths, my mom joined me, her eyes brimming with tears. She handed me a Kleenex, smiling ruefully my direction and we collided, both allowing a few soft sobs to escape before taking a few deep breathes, both working to collect ourselves.

We weren’t alone. As each sibling spent a few private moments with my father, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. A few more stray hugs were shared, most of our relatives focusing on us. UncleH insisted on having everyone gather around Dad, all touching some part of him. At his direction, we bowed our heads as he and AuntH (Dad’s sister) prayed over him.

While it was incredibly awkward, there was an excruitating beauty alive in the room as well. 

After the extended family left, the house was silent. Had I been a younger woman, I would have probably dramatically thrown myself on the bed in the guest room and sobbed into my pillow. But the truth was, Dad was still there, sitting the living room, breathing, blinking, and doing all the things a living person does.

He did not disappear. People said goodbye to him, but he hadn’t left.  It was goodbye, but it wasn’t.

Yet all I wanted to do was sob.

I let the silence stand, and then I realized the next step.

We had to change the channel.
Mom started to do dishes to keep her hands and mind busy.  I suggested we turn on the News (something Dad enjoys watching).  

Before long, what has become a ‘normal’ night was back.  Normal meaning someone dashed out to a local eatery to get dinner (it’s ‘meal by meal’ right now, with Dad calling the shots based on what he can eat).  When everyone was tucked in for the night, I stepped out.

Now, it’s true that it was a C25K planned for that day, and the muscles and health I’ve been building have paid off recently. And with eating out, it’s safe to say I’m a bit bloated and have probably gained some weight. I’ve been working out might have helped me burn off the excess energy and emotional stress, however, I needed to be around people. So I headed out to visit my old roomie at his work.

Lucky for me, he’s a Kareoke Jockey. And while his father is also suffering from cancer, it was great to reconnect with another old friend.

It was a complete change of pace. From the quietude of the house, to a somewhat rowdy beach bar. (Ironically enough, 2 guys pushed each other over who was going to buy me a drink, despite the fact that I’d already turned them down, mentioned “My husband wouldn’t appreciate that,” and whipped out my credit card. I’m a bit of a wallflower naturally – believe it or not. The only I note the irony because when I was single, I failed miserably as many a gal/gay pal can attest to. Every single time. But when I go out now and want to just sing,  now I get unwanted attention. Life is weird…)

The following day, Dad was up pretty much all that night though, leaving everyone (especially my mom) a exhausted.

The next day he was in bed all day, but was a bit more coherent.

Turns out my weigh lifting has done some good. I've been able to lift him while my mom adjusts pillows. I've been able to help lift him from time to time without too much straining, but it's my brother who takes most of the weight.

Yesterday was filled with paperwork – Wills, Powers of Attorney, and working out solutions with my day job.  Ending the day with chatting with friends… and a lot of aggressive singing. I took out my frustrations on a song (Take Me or Leave Me) or two (Call Me When Your Sober).

Confession: It’s HARD to make myself get out of the house during all of this and spend time on my own. I know Dad supports me stepping out, as does the rest of my family. We all need a break from this intense experience. It helps me come back with a healthier perspective and leaves me able to inject some humor into the day to day insanity.

But today, Dad didn't get out of bed, was barely awake, and had no desire to eat. He's not in any pain, and this may just be a bad day. But don't be surprised if I take a break from this blog for a while. Right now, we're eat, sleeping, and breathing family time. Today, I did manage to get a short work out in (10 whip ups x 3 followed by 25 sit ups x 3) and I do feel a little better for it... at least, I'm ready for bed.

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