Thank you for trying. I mean that. I really do.
He had a disease with a frightening adjective – incurable. But that didn’t stop you from trying. And you never told us to stop trying either. I didn’t know how much that would mean. Mean for all of us. Mean to me.
I’ve dipped my toes into the ocean you’ve been swimming in for a long time. And it’s no calm day. There are no days without strong waves. You have chosen to swim against a current that will always beat the same way. Really there is no reversal. We’d like it to be “if,” but it always ends up being “when.” But you gave us a wider “when.” We got to swim against that current. It was not easy. But I’m glad we did. I’m so glad we did.
I’ve gone back and forth on this. Why do we fight so hard and so long against the inevitable? Where is the value in that? Maybe, could there be more dignity in a serene surrender? Knowing the end so deciding to shake his hand before he handcuffs yours?
I was torn up about this. I am torn up about this. Mitch Albom wrote a book called “Tuesdays with Morrie.” I read it. I didn’t like it. All I could think was – well good for him, but that’s not at all what it’s been like for us. In some ways I guess it was. But I felt like Morrie took the hand of death too easily. What we felt didn’t seem so friendly.
Honestly, I got mad at my dad. I wanted him to be more “okay” with dying. A night after dinner, I let out what I’d been holding in. I prodded him. These flat and straight words left my mouth and hung in the air before his tired eyes.
“Dad, are you okay with dying? I need to know if you’re at peace with this.”
I really wanted to know. But I wasn’t being all that fair. Because is dying ever okay? Dying is never friendly. Dying is never not sad. Dying never seems right. It always feels wrong. It is always wrong. There is nothing good about it. But it always happens.
Honestly, I knew he didn’t want to go. He didn’t want to leave us. I overheard him on the phone with his sister, heard the tears in his voice – “I want to be there for my kids... my grandchildren.”
So how can I fault him for his restless relentless wrestling? How can I fault him for the unrest and agitation I thought I could sense?
My sister told me once – she said, “Lindsay, he’s not afraid. He’s not afraid to die. That’s not why he is fighting against this so hard. He just doesn’t want to leave us.”
And he didn’t. And we didn’t want him to.
So we all fought.
Thank you for helping us fight well.
The surgeries, the radiation, the gamma knife, the Optune, the chemotherapy, the immunotherapy… You gave him everything you had.
It wasn’t enough.
But we never have enough. You knew better than we did from the beginning that it wouldn’t be enough. And you told us as kindly as you could. That is courage. You helped us walk through what you knew would end in loss.
You stayed with us in the journey as long as it was right. But we came to that moment, that night – when we decided that it was time for you to go. You had given us all you had. There was nothing left to do. So the next morning my mom made a phone call. She signed all sorts of papers saying it was okay for you to stop coming or rather, us to stop coming to you. That there was no more work left for you to do.
There is something you don’t know though. Because even after you left us as it was right to do, he still didn’t stop fighting. You should have seen how hard he fought. It was a wonder. I’m afraid to try and explain it to you because I think you’ll think I’m trying to impress you.
But I’m not. No exaggeration. Everything is true. Exaggerating would only detract from the truth.
Even you said from the start how strong he was. When my dad asked you how other people deal with sweating through the adhesive of the Optune you said – “Well no one else tries to go running like you do.”
This never changed. Mowing the lawn when he couldn’t walk in a straight line. Doing push-ups without understanding the movement of bending your elbows. Hiking trails while losing his grip on balance and gait.
He got out of bed every day up until the day he died. It’s hard to believe – the day he died was the first day he didn’t get out of bed.
The day before was the first day that felt markedly different. Not being able to keep food down. Kicking his legs against the footrest. Reaching up for something. Saying he was ready to leave. Ready to roll.
Then his breathing. During the night when his brain forgot how to breathe and his soul decided to do it instead. Eyes tightly closed. Fingers wrapped into fists. Diaphragm stubbornly pushing in and out. Jaw clenched so tensely we had to dissolve pain meds in the side of his cheek.
The hospice nurse had taken all his vitals just the night before. Blood pressure 136/82, respirations at 14 breaths per minute, and temperature of 98.4 degrees Fahrenheit. I joked that he was the perfect picture of health. Except for the fact that he had an infiltrative multifocal brain tumor.
This day was different though. His breathing became this loud rhythm filling the house, loud enough to hear from another room. And this rattle lying underneath in his lungs. I rubbed my hand across his bare skin and felt his fever. I listened to his breaths gaining momentum as I stared at the stopwatch on my phone. I asked the nurse what the reading was as she deflated the cuff around his arm. Just last night all this was fine… Today was different though. Remarkably different.
All week Lauren had been telling my dad that the whole family would be home on Saturday. Johnny, his boy, was coming in just a few days. All of the grandkids too. Johnny, Kate and the kids were coming. Just two more days. Johnny will be here so soon. Guess what Dad, Johnny will be here tomorrow.
Lauren is the big sister. She was ready to have the shoulders of her big brother.
And Saturday came. Dad, just a little longer – Johnny will be here in a couple hours.
Their mini van pulled into the driveway as promised. Two tired parents walking inside holding the bodies and hands of their four kids. Titus eager to go down to the basement to find his train set. Emery and Pearl keen for auntie kisses and hugs. Junia unaware asleep in her carrier.
Then we walked into the bedroom. Our bodies surrounding his body. Cradling him. The bedside lamp casting our shadows onto him. Our hands all touching and holding parts of him. Gripping fingers, face, shin bone, toes.
It’s okay Dad. We’re all here. It’s okay for you to go.
So he let go. He went home.
But I want you to know every minute we had was precious. Every second was worth it. Knowing what the end would be from the beginning was a strange reality. Not knowing when it was coming felt impossible. But I think we all did it as well as we could have. My dad lived really well. And I hate saying it, I hate that it’s true, but my dad died really well too.
I think there may be this thin understanding of life and death that lies here. The treasure. The cherishing. The inevitability. The ending. All finely intertwined. Both defining the other. Each making the other significant. One breathtaking. The other… breathtaking.
I can’t pretend to really understand it. It’s too thin. You try and it rips.
All I will say is that I got to be a part of a life. A witness to a life. And that is meaningful. What you are doing is meaningful. Life is meaningful. It is worth striving and thriving for. Worth fighting for. Pulling all the stops to fight strong and hard. Turning over every stone.
The difficult balance lies in marrying the fight to the loss. Because the loss always comes. The loss is always wrong. We have every reason to win, but we never can. Letting go may be the hardest piece of the fight. But the piece of it that is so wrong at some point, it becomes right.