Sunday, June 24, 2012

The joy and the tears

My hubby is cooking a delicious stir-fry for us for dinner. The three of us, that is. Our eldest son normally does not deign to dine with us anymore unless Austin-Allison make a joint appearance at the dinner table. My contribution to dinner tonight was to turn on the wrong burner on the stove, which I discovered when smoke began to billow from the bottom of the plastic cutting board that happened to be placed squarely on that burner. The odor of burning chemicals lingers. (For that reason, when I cook, the entire stove surface is always clear of flammable items! My husband hasn't learned that lesson, though maybe he did tonight.)

We may be approaching another turn in Dad's health (and not for the better), pending the results of a bone marrow biopsy. He says "he's just fine" -- a typical response -- and I should take our upcoming family vacation to DisneyWorld, which includes our 25th wedding anniversary. Even the oh-so-grown high school graduate in our family will be going! Sans girlfriend!

I haven't decided what to do yet. I need to know Dad's diagnosis, and prognosis, and how easily I could hop a flight back if I go.

Meantime, Dad's favorite occupation these days seems to be sleeping. He hasn't had much fight in him for a long time. Maybe he never did.

It's hard to know what to do with someone who apparently doesn't know the value of his own life, or who has given up on it. I've never been confrontational. That is not my style, for better or worse. I would rather just be present to someone else's feelings and preferences, most of the time. This has led, in the past, to some differences of opinion with my sister, who was more of a mind to try to kick Dad's butt into gear and out of bed.

Is it OK to sit by without argument while a loved one gives up on life? How about when it is your Dad? What about when his health, his quality of life, is greatly diminished and will never be the same? I guess I don't know the magic answer to reigniting someone's passion for life, especially if it may never have existed in the first place. I can only walk the walk of my own beliefs with as much integrity as possible. I am loathe to try to convert others to my way of seeing things, most of the time. I can't be so arrogant as to say that someone I disagree with is wrong.

What a wonderful grace that I found God and happiness, and so much meaning in this life! So many things have blossomed from that groundwork. And yet, happiness is a hard thing to plant in others. It's a tragedy that neither one of my parents ever seemed to be happy, or to find much fulfillment in life. I can't stand to think deeply about their sadness, because I start to sink into it myself. It's a part of me, always, as surely as my genes came from them. An ocean of tears. Yes, life is that! The great paradox is that for every tear there is an equal measure of joy! Joy! The two things, sorrow and joy, cannot exist apart from one another, and each points to the other, here on earth.

The great, unanswered question, is why some people see the joy as well as the tears, and others don't.

There does seem to be a time I apparently violate my own personal "Prime Directive" (any Trekkie fans out there? The prime directive forbids interference with alien cultures; in my case, it forbids interference with others' lives). That is with my children. Austin tells me that I am an intimidating person, with steep standards, who is very judgmental of him and his friends. Reluctantly, I have to believe that he sees me that way, anyhow. I can catch more than a glimmer of all that in myself.

Who does that remind me of? My own Mom, completely. She was always so full of information and rather enjoyed showing up the ignorance of others, which usually meant her immediate family! She always demanded a high level of achievement from me and my sister that she could point to and brag about, and we delivered endless disappointments. I think she lived vicariously through her dreams for her children. That's common for parents to do. But she also seemed to give up on her own progress in life, withdrawing from the outside world more and more over time. A lot of my life, subconsciously at least, is about being "not-Mom" -- about finding my own identity and not repeating her mistakes. But I've taken a page or two from her parenting book, after all. I don't know how I feel about that.

I know Mom has been closer in my consciousness as Dad's health has seemed to be more frail once again. It seems like their destinies are connected, although Mom died 13 years ago. Both of my parents came down with blood cancers. Mom had myelofibrosis that became acute myeloid leukemia. Dad has multiple myeloma and possibly something more now. So many myelo's! (Just looked up: Greek word meaning marrow, also used to refer to the spinal cord.) Both have been treated by the same oncologist, Dr. Lyons, a wonderful man who must be past retirement age by now but who hasn't stopped fighting hard for each of his patients yet. He has a great sense of humor that is probably required for anyone working in this field of care.

So what will the upcoming weeks bring? There will be joy -- a vacation with my family, the celebration of 25 years of marriage. I have to make the affirmation that there will be joy, no matter what!

There will be tears, too. (With me, that's inevitable.) But once again, like last summer, I can't face up to the mortality of my only remaining parent. It's just too much to comprehend.

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