"He only has a few hours to live..."
Those were the words uttered to me by my mother in regard to my father's status.
And for the first time in my life, I didn't know what to say...I knew even less on what to do.
After all, I'm the person everyone relies on in times of stress - in times of need. I'm the one that somehow is born with this innate ability to stay the course and exude poise when the cooker begins to shake around us all. I'm always that guy - strong for my parents, for my wife, for my son, for my students. For some reason God blessed me with this strong burden for others.
But over the last seven days, I've been a mess. Unable to dip into what makes me, well, me. My role of "Rock" and being able to take care of everyone around me came crashing down rapidly in a fashion that I felt like I lost myself. And in many ways, I feel like I've let everyone down. Actually, I know I did.
If you know me personally, or have followed this tiny space on the internet known as Dome Pondering, you are well aware that my father suffers from the horrible disease that is dementia. However, this week, his doctor found an aneurism in his stomach that needed immediate attention and emergency surgery. A rush to the emergency room on a Friday night terrified me with some ugly thoughts that I'm ashamed to admit - Is this is how I lose my father?!
My mother's words, crying like I've never heard her before, "please come...they said he may not make it through the weekend."
And then of course, the second blow later this week following severe complications in his post-surgery.
"...they said he only has a few hours to live".
As of this writing, my father's health has increased and he currently is stable. Currently improving, albeit, very slowly. Although as doctors put it, "he's not out of the woods, yet."
But throughout the week, a part of me felt so incredibly lost. So incredibly ineffective.
Balancing the thoughts of knowing your father is on the brink of leaving you on this earth, trying to be strong for my mother, having enough energy to be present and effective at home for my wife and my little boy - it's all been so heavy. And I've failed at all of them.
For the first time in my life, I felt unable. And honestly, probably the most vulnerable, ever.
FEAR OF MORTALITY
I spent five hours in an emergency room on a Friday night. I was tired. I was restless. I was jittery. I was sad. I was probably a combination of many other things.
Yet, as I watched my father consistently request my presence as doctors, nurses, and all sorts of supporting care ushered him for all kinds of scans, tests, presses, and pokes into his body, my mind wondered so wildly about the condition of his life. About the man I once knew, and how this compares to the newer, much more sadder version of the guy I always pulled core values from to input into my own life. It made me feel for him, but at the same time, ponder the process that is life. I've always heard "once-a-man twice-a-child", but here I was in it. Right down to the same manner in how get my son to remove his shirt, I used on my father.
It was effective, but in that moment, I felt incredibly devastated in what was the strongest and most fearless man I knew. Reduced to a mental disease that riddled him to secondary help, longing for familiar faces for comfort at all times, and responding to directions of song and rhyme.
Then, one week later, there was Friday morning. There was the second phone call - the second scare of "limited hours". Then a follow up call to restore just enough relief to keep my heart from free falling after leaving my wife and son at the airport for a trip I was unable to join them on.
I sat on the floor in the dark of an unusual quiet and empty apartment feeling that vulnerability again. This time alone. And with that solitude came the space to well, ponder.
I decided to go into my office to do some work with the hope of removing me from all of this mental smackdown I've been undergoing. Yet, on that very commute to work, I pulled into a parking space on the campus I work, and oddly, I snapped out of a 40 minute daze I'd been in. The entire thing was replays and flashbacks of my favorite moments with my father. I don't remember ANY of the commute.
Of course, there was later that very night. As much as I hate to say it, when I had that moment of seeing him in the ICU strapped to what seemed like thousands of tubes and machines, with what felt like a huge hole in his chest that might as well have been the Grand Canyon, manipulating the breath that kept him here on this earth with me, I prepared myself for life without my dad. I turned away initially because I hated seeing him like that. It crushed something deep down inside I always held for my father. Maybe it's a shield of invincibility I naively bestowed on him.
Ironically, it's the same way I hope my son will look at me. My dad has ALWAYS been a fighter.
Yet, here I was with that ugly, disgusting, sickening thought. Whether it be the next call, or a week from now, or a few years down the line, the inevitable will happen. Whether I liked it or not.
I've never been scared of death. I'm secure in my faith to know where my eternal life will be. However, NEVER have I considered my fear for the mortality of those I unconditionally love.
ALWAYS THERE, NEVER LEFT
Another life lesson I've learned as I go through this are the people who really - very much genuinely - care for you. Not everyone knows I've been going through this, or what has been going on with my dad.
Of course, I've received text messages from so many who have offered thoughts, comfort, and inquired questions about my father, my mother, and myself. And if you're one of those people, I'm sorry for not returning the communication. As his condition has improved, it's become easier to talk about it. Yet, most of the time, I just don't feel like doing so. Especially, after a visit and returning home.
In a weird way, this has been the most miserable - and rewarding - Yankees postseason run I've felt in my lifetime. Talk about a mental escape thus far...
Nonetheless, if you have been awaiting a text reply from me, I hope this post gives some light on why that was. Even from those who are awaiting my texts on all things post season baseball. Sorry!
With that said, there are also those who have suddenly come out of nowhere to seek interest in my father. And while I admit this might be petty, I have had zero tolerance for friends or family who have never sought my father prior to this (some, because of his mental illness) and suddenly wanting information or visiting him.
In a moment like this, when you really could use it and very much needed it, I'll always remember those who checked in, who cooked food for my family, who sent their concerns, or who visited my father during this time. Especially those who did so before, and were part of the process during this entire ordeal. And even those I was able to reconnect with in the process.
Spending my nights in a hospital really has opened me up to the human spirit...something I admit I've become calloused to over the past few years. God is great like that.
And finally...it's easy to understand what the two phone calls I've endured over the past seven days can do to a person. Even as I write this, wrapping my mind around the fact that my father almost died twice, is still surreal. And in many ways, unreal.
Getting through all of the mental blocks, damage, and spacey-ness episodes this week, it's easy to place things into focus - to really simplify what is important in life. Up until this week, my dad lead a simple life. Always had. And I believe I get a lot of that from him.
He's simple. Work hard. Love those close to you. Laugh a lot.
But even in that perceived simplicity, it's easy to get wrapped up into things that you believe are important, or may appear important. This current situation really simplified it for me. It really did.
Suddenly issues at work felt empty. My life ambitions felt small. My other worries felt ridiculous. MY tomorrow...felt like too much.
The present is what matters. Being in that moment, is what matters. Because, experience has left me well too raw and exposed, as those calls of a "few hours..." can come at anytime.
Keep fighting, Dad. I love you.