Monday, June 20, 2011

Update on my dad

This is a post I do not want to write. It's like an assignment hanging over my head, given by some cosmic English professor -- "Write about your father and the influence he has had on your life*" (*now that he is seriously ill). I dread writing it, but here goes.

Here's an update on my dad.

He went in for an MRI last week to check his back more thoroughly, because he has been having chronic pain that is getting quite severe in his back. His chiropracter, an amazing man, ordered the test. When the results were in, the chiropractor, Dr. Silva, called dad and set up a home appointment with him. A home appointment! As dad said, he suspected the news would not be good. But what a wonderful doctor to have. Dad says he treats every patient like a family member. This is a great blessing in dark times, and something I will always cherish. (I just wrote him a thank you note, one of the little things I can do in this situation where I feel so completely helpless. We will never forget your kindness, Dr. Silva.)

There is some sort of mass alongside dad's spinal column, and the chiropractor says it is possibly cancer, though more tests will be needed to determine for sure. Dad also needs another MRI to check an area of the spinal column that the first one missed.

We met for dinner for Father's Day yesterday. My dad is aging before my eyes, turning into a frail old man. He has become gaunt, his skin a sickly pale, and he could use a handicapped sticker and cane because it is so hard for him to get around. He moves more slowly every time I see him, the last time being about 2 weeks ago. He hardly ate -- he did finish the tomato soup, but took only a few bites of the grilled cheese sandwich. The way he looks, and moves, and eats is what alarms me more than anything else.

When he and I talked on the phone about his latest medical news, I was quite composed. This is the way he wanted me to be, and I could only honor his expectations. I felt the same, strangely calm, when I talked to my sister. Two reasons come to mind: mindfulness practice, and also, this is a deep pain that will take time to surface.

I am struggling with a new way to handle my emotions and reactions, rather than allowing them to take me for a wild roller-coaster ride as they have done throughout my life. I am finally learning it does not help anyone to be out of control during a crisis. It's also a sign of spiritual immaturity. It sure doesn't make Dad any better or improve his situation in any way. My new attitude about bawling is that it is usually self-indulgent. Sometimes necessary, but I need to discern whether the thing behind the tears is a completely honest emotion or whether it is just the same old excess nerves trying to stir something up, generate some excitement around here.

It's hard to just let emotions be, just let them arise and not manage them or repress them or say, this is an appropriate time to cry, or an inappropriate time, as if emotions would respect that sensibility at all. It's hard not to label them, as I have done above.

My dad is one of the stiff upper lip -- "Everything's fine, I'm just dying but it's all OK." The worst thing, for him, would be for one of us to break down and cry in front of him. That would challenge his way of dealing with feelings: just don't have them, banish them forever. It works for him most of the time, though the things he must do to compensate can be quite extraordinary. How do you feel, emotionally speaking, that everything is just fine when your back is so painful that your body cannot move, and you can't eat?

My mom was a different type. She felt that the best expression of love was to worry deeply, fanatically, and often about her loved ones. This involved a constant output of emotional energy that was doubtless exhausting to her, but also to the objects of her affection, me and my sister.

Now that I becoming am a grown-up myself, at the age of 45, I am trying to find my own way.
My former approach to feelings was to wallow in them, luxuriate in melancholy like a rich, deep bath. Everything has its sad side, even the hum-drum of ordinary life. Let me tell you, I know this. I have lived it. I could always spice things up by finding the hidden sadness in any event. The happier the occasion, the greater its shadow side would loom, because all this happiness was just a big loss waiting to happen. Just a few ticks of the clock and the wonderful moment would be lost to history, would die if you will, and I could grieve because it was over. Or I could grieve because I knew we'd all die one day. It didn't matter how many minutes, or weeks or years or decades away it might be, death was a certainty for us all. (Still is, by the way.) So I could focus on that and taste the bitter in every wonderful, small moment.

I still can see that there is an amazing truth to just how double-edged our lives are. Every moment contains complete joy and complete sorrow, and one could not exist without the other. I feel that sharply right now, when I am with my sons, and my husband. How precious every moment is. Reality is a grand drama all by itself, and I don't need to embellish it with excess emotional fluff. But it's not nearly as sad as I always thought, somehow, when you see the completeness of it.

It may seem like the stuff of our lives is so ordinary and commonplace until a crisis like this happens, but that is an illusion. Life and death are happening all around us, every moment. The more tuned in we are, the more we can become aware of this epic story being played out at every level. The most mundane activities take on a new importance when you can see that life always hangs in the balance, on the edge, of its opposite.

This week brings new doctor's appointments and more information. It all takes so much time, and meanwhile the disease keeps gaining. If you are the sort to pray, please pray for my dad.

1 comment:

  1. I have taken a blogging hiatus and am catching up. I'm so sorry, Julie. I know how hard this is. Beautifully written to the last word - but oh so hard. Let's get together soon???


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