Wednesday, January 19, 2011



Just as the other night I felt crushingly overwhelmed and sad, I am amazed today by the difference in my mood and how happy I am. After I wrote "Odyssey" I went to bed and read for awhile. Then, I tried to sleep. Unfortunately, it didn't happen. I texted Dereck in the middle of the night that I missed him and was sad, and then I went out to the garage to my smoking corner and had a good boo-hoo for awhile. Then I went back and tried to sleep again.

Then I got up and went upstairs and listened to my mom breathe and wished my brother would have insomnia too. I finally got to sleep somewhere around 4am, without turning off my alarm. It went off at 8:30, and again, I couldn't get back to sleep. So, I went upstairs.

After Sunday, I walked upstairs into a sniper's den. My mother woke up with a target on my forehead, and there was a little red light on it all day as she took shots at me. I am not sure why she singled me out particularly, but we do push each other's buttons. It's not like she was nice to Matt, but it felt very vicious and personally aimed at me. I tried to tell her that I was so tired I was shaking. She kept saying things like, "So, you called all of my brothers and sisters and asked them if I was insane, right?" and "So, you're saying that I'll have no money. I'll have nothing."

At one point, when it had escalated to the point that I was leaving the room to head to the garage, she yelled, "I know you don't like me," and I hurled back at her, even more loudly, "Well, you don't like me either, so who gives a shit?"

She started to fake cry and said, "I love you," and I just said, "Oh boo hoo," and went out for a cancer stick. I went back in and Matt suggested we all try to remain civil, and I just couldn't do it. Just little snide things would come out of my mouth as she muttered her little mean things, until I just decided to put myself back to bed.

I didn't really get a nap-- damn brain-- but I did doze. Then I got up and printed out a bunch of manuscripts I needed to do some work. And then I emailed my clients and told them that I was sorry, but I couldn't do it right now. Every single member of the department I work with emailed me back and told me to focus on my family right now. It was one of those things where you just cry because people are so nice.

I went upstairs and told Dereck I had put work on hold, and then I cried because I felt bad that I can't work, and I was so tired, and my mom was being so mean, and then I got off the phone to cry, and I just had a complete meltdown. Matt was out getting lunch, so I just sat and cried. And then a funny thing happened. My mother instantly switched to being nice, and saying, "This is so hard for you-- he's your dad!" and she finally convinced me to come sit by her so she could stroke my head and I cried on her shoulder and we told each other we love each other. I've been saying/thinking to myself for so long that it would be so nice if I could just have a mother's comfort right now, if she could just act like my mother for five minutes. And, unexpectedly, she did. That was the first grace.

My dad arrived yesterday late afternoon. The hospice people are so nice, I want to give them money. I want to work for them. I want to buy them all a Coke.

We got my dad settled. Yesterday in between bouts of tears and meltdowns and bickering, Matt and I got the guest bedroom completely emptied of everything (no small feat) and vacuumed. Matt made a gorgeous wall of family photos that my dad and I sat and looked at and talked about today. Dad was tired when he got home-- the one complaint I have is that they literally just put him into the back of a van that had loud chains in it, with only the driver (who was a fat putz). If I had known, I would have driven up to Salt Lake so I could ride in back with him. He said it was like a prison transfer. Super.

But once the fat putz left, he immediately felt better being home. He said the hospital was pretty impersonable, except the girl who did his chemo. She knew he was scared, so she kept joking with him and saying, "Are you ready? I'm gonna do it! Here it comes!" and made him laugh. And the chemo turned out to be great-- which just shocked me because I thought it would be horrid and I didn't think he should try it. I don't think they are going to do more chemo with him-- but I don't know. He is on 6 liters of oxygen, but no IV, so he was very dehydrated last night. Today he seems better. The nurse hasn't been by yet, but I thought of asking her about an IV, except that today he is better. We've also been crushing ice for him to eat to moisten his mouth and gave him neosporin for his chapped lips. Oxygen is drying. His best friend Ken from Ohio came over and visited with him a long while. I was so happy that Ken came to see him-- and so jealous because I hadn't really had any face time with him yet.

One thing that may not seem like it would be difficult is this: My dad is sitting up in bed right now, chatting with his friend John, who also flew out from Ohio, and his legs are crossed on the bed, and earlier he and Matt and I hung out and chatted. He needs a hand out of bed, but can walk strongly to the bathroom.


This morning, he sat up in bed with a bowl of cereal, legs crossed in the air, reading the morning paper. He is alert, cogent, smart, and still funny and entertained. Tonight, I ran to him when he called and he said in a sing-song voice, "I smell your cigarette!"


"You've been Smoking!" he teased me

I asked him if he wanted to take off his oxygen and come smoke with me, but he declined for some reason.

Anyway, all of this normalcy, except for the volume of fluids accumulating in his abdomen, throws me off because his mind and self are still in tact, yet his body fails him, and with her... I realized yesterday (Tuesday) that I was starting to develop some false hopes that maybe the doctors were wrong again. And in ten years we would joke about, "Hey, remember when we got Hospice for Dad? And it turned out to be this totally minor thing?"

Actually, I have sort of had something like that happen to me before. When my friend Linda had a stroke six years ago, she initially refused a feeding tube. So, her husband and I started organizing the requisite 24-hour round the clock care that is required by Hospice in order for patients to come home. We had volunteer and meal offers from everyone in town, it seemed, probably including many of you. We had planned for her to be surrounded by loved ones and at peace. And then they realized that maybe they hadn't fully explained the consequences of no feeding tube to her, so they asked her again, explaining this time. And she accepted the feeding tube. She lives at home with her family today, having done so well in rehab that she walked out of it. After initially being Locked In.

So, I found myself entering that scary territory yesterday. So, I pulled out the thick white envelope the hospital had sent detailing his hospital visit. There has been a miscommunication between his liver and kidneys, or something. Perhaps contributed to by dyes used in MRI and PET Scan testing in December (oh, just kill me now. Really?). His melanoma is working quickly-- I notice another raised lump on his skin a few times daily. And he is also suffering from acute renal failure. And when a patient already has a terminal diagnosis, they regard dialysis to be prolonging suffering. So, either the cancer will spread and his lungs will fail, or his kidneys will continue to fail and potassium will build up in his system and give him a heart attack. I can't even believe I'm typing these words. Tonight I asked the nurse what we can expect-- how will we know when he starts to fail? And she gave me two pages in the hospice binder to read. He isn't failing yet.

Another grace is that yesterday, a couple we knew in Athens, Ohio, in our little church (Carol and Roger, for those of you playing along from Athens). They were in Utah because their son (Aaron) was getting married. They did not know anything about my dad's condition. They had just called to see if they could stop by. They were absolutely devastated. They came by today, and it was absolutely lovely to see them. There is another friend from that church who was going to be in the area next week anyway, so he is coming by on Sunday. This kind of serendipity makes me want to weep with its beauty. My father is getting to see so many people who were important to him, and to whom he has had a life-changing effect. What a gift this is. What a grace. My dad is an Irish Wake kind of guy, and he is as close to being present at his own Irish Wake as a person can get, I think. Only, we can't have alcohol in that room because of the oxygen tanks.


1. [This morning, I spilled bright red Gatorade all over the beige carpet of his room. I was thinking, 'Oh, we can clean this with Resolve," and I wasn't thinking of doing it right away. Thank goodness, because the next thought I had was, 'Resolve plus oxygen tanks. Well, the entire C____ family would have surprised Peter at once.'

2. [The other day, I told my mother that I was a mean person when I was apologizing for... being a mean person, and she said, "Well. You are a C____."

I just looked at her and said, "Oh, well done."]

I like to think that all of this serendipity lining up like this is my dad's reward for being such a great person. I don't really believe that life works like that though-- too many people die horribly for me to believe such a thing. But I'm extremely grateful to be able to witness this.

Tonight, I was asking the nurse what the fluid is that is gathering and extending my father's abdomen. [My father asked me this morning if I were chronicalling my life with a dying father. I told him of course I was and offered to read it to him, but he would prefer to talk.] The nurse told me that I needed to think of his kidneys, in their failed state, as greedy and selfish-- they don't want to let go of anything. When kidneys are working, they are generous and let things go.
For some reason that had a certain terrible symmetry to me.

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