Note: Gary’s Dad was hospitalized last Thursday morning with difficulty breathing. Gary flew down to Florida to be with him and oversee his care. He wrote this on the flight down and gave me permission to share it.
It is a trip I have taken before. It is filled with dread and anxiety. It is filled with a sense of obligation and duty and a sense of purpose. Once again, my father is at a crisis point. He is hospitalized and in some significant danger. Each time, it is a bit worse than the previous episode. Each time, yet another illness has been added to the list of threats to his survival.
I travel there as his son. I am not his doctor but yet I am. Every major medical decision is really made by me at this point in time. I know too much. He has multiple diagnoses each of which carry a very limited life expectancy, starting with him being 95 years old.
Add to that lung cancer, kidney disease, about 7 decades of hypertension, atrial fibrillation that used to be paroxysmal (coming and going) but now is chronic, diabetes, a monoclonal protein that could at any time turn into myeloma or other blood cancer, nodules on his kidneys, a large nodule on his prostate. And now congestive heart failure.
I guess you could say the most surprising thing is that he is still alive. He is, if nothing else, a remarkably determined man. He is still, all these years along the road, inspiring to me. He is not the man he used to be. Time and illness have taken away much of his incredible vigor. He is physically and mentally slower than he was. But he still finds a way to love life and even to enjoy it.
He is not like me. I am probably better in math and science than he is, but in the most important ways he is stronger and more resilient than I could ever imagine being. He enjoys people. He tends not to be overly possessive. He doesn’t like to wait; patience is not his strongpoint. He is beyond courageous. He will not let terrible things make him unhappy; his will is immeasurably immense.
He trusts me and I feel like he has always trusted me. At least for as long as I can remember going back to my childhood when I got to drive his car in the parking lot when he went to check out the refrigerated warehouse that held the cold cuts he was responsible for distributing to supermarkets. He trusted me to drive the forklift at too young an age. Both of those experiences were thrilling for a youngster and I was not going to crash and betray his trust.
I will not betray that trust today either.
In a sense, the flight that I am on, this trip to Cleveland Clinic Florida hospital, is symbolic of the larger, sad journey we have been on for some time now. He will die at the end of it. If we do everything right, he will die. There will be pain and loss and sorrow. If we don’t do everything right, there will be guilt as well. There will not be guilt.
This journey is one variation of the journey most children ultimately take with their parents. It is the journey Linda took with her father. It is the way things are supposed to go. The children bury the parents. That is what happens when it goes the right way. And if you are very lucky, you get 95 years, perhaps even a bit more, of meaningful life. Of life that is by and large happy. Even when your parent, your hero is less than he was. Even when the limits of life are more and more closing in on him, when his wife, your mother, is no longer the person she had been in almost every way.
It is really the best you can hope for. It therefore ought to be good enough. It doesn’t feel like it is.
I am grateful for so many things. For the tremendous efforts my siblings have made to arrange essentially everything in my parents lives so that they could go on and live out what remains in dignity and with as much independence as possible. I am grateful for Linda’s eternal support and wisdom. And for the endless good wishes and support from my children and my lovely daughter in law.
I have friends who are kind and a work environment that is flexible and understanding. Nobody says anything more than good luck when I have to cancel patients at the last minute to take one of these emergency trips down to Florida.
But, despite this, I am still filled with the same dread.
Postscript: David was released from the hospital late Saturday afternoon. His breathing greatly improved. Hopefully with an adjustment in his medication, he will be stable and able to continue to enjoy his time in Florida. If all goes according to plan, Gary and I will visit Paula and David to share Passover with them. We are keeping our fingers crossed that there are no medical crises between now and then (during or after, for that matter).