Wednesday, May 18, 2011

How to save a life

I need to do some edits here because I wrote this one in such a hurry. So if you already read it, you will have to read it again! I should have saved it as a draft ... note to self.

It hit me again, today, that my loved ones are not immortal. Particularly not my dad, who has been having ongoing health problems this year. We can't tell if this is terminal, or serious, or something he will overcome. He has been having a low appetite since February or so, and the GI tests and blood tests have been stacking up with no conclusive results. Now he's going high-tech and will swallow what he calls a submarine (or maybe that's what it is called!) -- a little pill-shaped camera that clicks pictures of the digestive tract as it goes down. I asked him whether the doctor had instructed him to return it at the end for the next patient!

I was trying to explain my concern to my sister, who sees dad even less often than I do. It's sometimes the hardest thing in the world to help someone who is the closest to you. How do I help my dad? I feel conflicting urges to lecture him, to give advice, to give him an ultimatum -- shape up or die! He seems to be declining and becoming more noticeably frail. Is this by choice? Can we do something to buck him up, turn him around? It's hard to let go of the feeling that my sister and I have high stakes in the matter of my dad's health. We could turn it all around ourselves, if we had enough willpower.

My sister thinks that dad is deeply unhappy and that he's letting go of his grip on life; that he doesn't have much to live for. That his wife is inadequate, and he has no friends, no joie de vivre, and so on. So, this means we should let him go?? Or what?

She and I are experiencing, in our own different ways, a common delusion. We rely so much on our minds being rational, but the mind goes completely haywire when considering the idea of death. It is a fact so far outside our normal experience that it is beyond the grasp of the rational mind. The death of someone is inconceivable, in our Earthbound existence. You can ponder our mutable natures, meditate about death, and someone can live to be any age -- 100, you name it -- and it is still a terrible shock when they die. It's a shockwave too great for the mind to comprehend. You have to leave the mind behind and see mortality in a completely different way to be able to come to any peace about it.

I remember the feelings when my mom died. Her being in the ICU 9 days, on a ventilator, at death's door, did not prepare us at all. We just figured she was going through a rough patch. Then there was all the second-guessing after she died. What if we had noticed sooner how sick she was and made her go to the doctor? She had been going frequently and then was allowed to wait for a longer time, and it was fatal. What if we had forced her to quit smoking years ago, or made her get out of the garage where she liked to sit, where the smoke got so thick it would immediately choke me when entering?

So I feel, once again, this now-familiar sense of helplessness, seeing my parent struggle. If he would just get up and move around more, and eat better, and have a more positive outlook ... try volunteering ... make some friends. See some funny movies! He likes to laugh. Dad is a funny man, with a good sense of humor. Where did that go?
I have so many suggestions, and I could get really obnoxious about trotting them all out! I just may feel compelled to do that. But part of me does see that Dad mainly needs his daughters to love him, and listen, and be there. Just show up, and be present. Wow, that's difficult enough right there. How to be present with someone who doesn't really want other people getting too close, with someone who has not been vulnerable or open to others for many years. He has tucked his gifts way deep inside him by now. It's hard to see them anymore.

Questions keep echoing and will not stop: Why? Why is grace available to me, but not to him? How can I give him what I have found? Why can't I? My impatient ego wants to know all these things.

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