Months To Years Spring 2018 Months To Years Spring 2018 - Page 61

people’s normalcy. Craziness. Terror. Forcing myself to be I learned that one can endure great pain and still go on strong and brave in front of him. living and in fact, thriving. I learned that the greatness of I’ve actually walked this path before—with the other great love of my life—my father. He was diagnosed with essen- tially the same illness and had the same gigantic surgery my husband did— and died within a year of diagnosis. Although I was not my father’s day- to-day caregiver, I was there when the fires were burning. Sleeping on a cot next to his bed at the Mayo Clinic when the alarms went off signaling dangerous fever, collapsed lung, pancreatic leak. Walking the hospital halls with him during the night as he shook with pain that was inadequately managed. He suffered so much that in one harrowing moment he clutched my hand and said “I wish you could get a gun and shoot me.” He recovered from that surgery, only to have the cancer return with a vengeance shortly after. I returned to Iowa to care for him in the last weeks of his life and, ironically, I would have to say that those weeks were happy times. We had already been told the worst possible thing— that he was dying. All that was required after that was to keep him comfortable and to love him. Very near the end, my father was in bed, feverish and ag- itated. I lay next to him, softly singing and trying to soothe him—ease his way even—when I realized that if I was successful, he would leave me forever. That the mere act of trying to help ease his struggle may ultimately bring on the very thing I had feared the most. I remember thinking: now THIS is love, in its purest form. This is divine, selfless love because every part of me was screaming for him to stay, terrified to live without him and yet I was helping him along. I had the revelation—as if a chorus of angels were singing—that this is the meaning of life. When I went through this with my Dad I was much young- er. I didn’t yet know that the years of grieving his death would be even trickier than the time preceding it. I was unmoored when I lost him. I was too young to know that the good and bad in life are all part of the same thing, that we don’t get one without the other. the loss was equal to the greatness of the gift of having a Dad who loved me so much. I learned and am still learn- ing that great love can be as difficult to manage as great loss. It is messy and heavy and draining and difficult and so potentially painful to manage great love. But isn’t that why we’re here? So here I am again. Loving someone with a terrible cancer. My husband has managed to buy more time than my father did, so the period of caregiving—the least fun rollercoaster I’ve ever been on—is longer, the tests, treat- ments and procedures are multiplied. When I cared for my Dad, I left my work and my house in Nashville—so my time was totally focused on him, caring for him, being with him. No distractions. Now the moments of heightened emotion and awareness are peppered amongst the day-to-day mundane activities of life that continues on. Now there are plenty of distrac- tions: I must balance the caregiving with the obligations of a self-employed artist who still needs to make a living. That means juggling eight jobs in eight different places, scheduling work six to twelve months in advance while not knowing if I will be able to honor those commitments. It means doing laundry, taking out the garbage, constantly thinking of, shopping for and cooking fattening foods that I hope he will eat and that I hope I wonʼt eat. It means staying on top of all medical communications, appoint- ments, prescriptions, infusions, temperature taking, weight and blood tests results—all this while the car needs an oil change, the tax return needs attention, the motion light by the back door is broken, the dog needs grooming, I need grooming. . . Right now, my acts of love look less like softly singing and comforting someone and more like hitting HyVee for the third time in a day because he hates going to the grocery store but he is craving carrots. It looks less like sewing little caps to keep my father’s bald head warm at night and more like stopping at Casey’s General Store to pick up a 12-pack of Busch Lite for my husband when it is the last thing I feel like doing after a very long day. 61