I wasn't sure how to handle my dad's impending death with my boys. I've had plenty of practice thanks to our streak of bad luck with pets but I'm still not sure there's a right way to do this. How do you gently break the news that their gramps is dying?
I had been mulling this over in my mind time and time again, trying to figure out if transparency was the best way or if a surprise would be easier to digest. But the other day while driving in the car, little kid asked (as he does every day) if gramps was better yet.
I simply said, "Gramps isn't going to get better."
Big Kid quietly sighed and looked out the window. little kid looked perplexed.
"No? Well, does he feel better though?"
I wasn't sure if he got it, or if this was the right way. "Well, he's sleeping a lot now," I offered.
"At least he's getting good rest," he said, sounding tentative. It didn't feel like a success but it was all I could manage.
I'm in the thick of it now though, this muck of life, the residuals of it clinging to everything and all of us and it's overwhelming and unbelievable and appalling and indescribable. The other day he asked again, "Is gramps feeling better yet?" most likely in response to my quiet weeping and I again said, "Gramps isn't going to get better. That's how cancer works sometimes. Some people don't get better."
He put his arm around me and rubbed my back. I willed myself not to cry, remembering how scared I felt when I saw my dad cry about the death of his parents and brother.
"Do you know what that means, little kid; when I say that?" I asked, with a hint of desperation in my voice.
"Yeah, mama, I know. And I'm sorry. I'm so sorry for you. That's really sad," he said softly and sweetly. Instead of staying strong and keeping it together, I buried my face in his little neck and cried quietly while he rubbed my back. Just for a minute, just one delicious, ill-decided moment of comfort.
Yesterday was the meeting with hospice, a meeting put off for far too long due to his wild and impractical hopes of continued treatment. I had an intense moment of wanting to stand up and apologize, to explain that there's been a terrible mistake because I'm not a real, live grown-up despite my ability to fake it at times, and that I simply wasn't going to be able to do this at all, and then I wanted to run and run and run and run like Forrest Gump going cross country, just to run until I fell down (which wouldn't have taken long, as I'm recovering from the stomach flu since life is a bitch like that.)
I went to K-mart to run an errand too morbid to share and felt light headed and sick and didn't know if it was from the flu, the situation, or K-mart. Naturally, they chose that minute to test the fire alarms and despite the sirens and lights matching the intense urgency I felt on the inside, I wanted to throw myself on the ground and demand that it ALL stop that second--not just the sirens and lights, but everything, as if the fire alarm maintenance people at K-mart could just put everything to rest for me. An exhausted, maniacal laugh/sob tried to escape at the absurdity of it all but I knew that would be the end of me, that if I leaked any emotion at all, I would deflate completely so I quietly finished my purchase and did the whole, "No, I don't want a Kmart rewards card," routine as if I wasn't about to rip out of my own skin and run screaming.
The thought of what's happening haunts my every second, even while asleep. All of that complicated relationship shit? It goes right out the window when you begin to realize life is never going to be the same, and that all you can do is wait and slowly watch this come for all of us. Sure, I've had five years to consider it but it's impossible to conceptualize until you're actively doing it. It's scary and horrible and scary and horrible.
And scary and horrible.
Every few minutes alarm bells go off in my head and I take inventory of what's wrong. What can I fix? My dad is dying, I can't fix that. Then I realize I am not breathing, that my brain is so very busy that it has seemingly left my respiratory functions to fend for themselves. So I take a big gulp of air and feel a moment of success at having fixed that. Then again I remember that my dad is dying and I can't fix that. It's a cycle that doesn't stop, what should be the natural cycle of my breathing has become a constant battle of its own.
When not in action, I feel paralyzed. My body feels like it is weighed down and I feel on the verge of sleep at all moments, but never actually able to sleep. My kids and cats snuggle me constantly, sensing that I need it, knowing that for once, talk of Minecraft and Pokemon might actually be the distraction that I need. I try to listen generously while my brain continues its internal, non-stop, not pretty fireworks show, knowing that I'd rather think of Minecraft this time, I really would.
My dad often wakes up weeping and I wonder, is he thinking of the end at all times? Was he just dreaming of it?
And then I wake up weeping and I know that he is, that he was.
He's still him, despite no longer resembling the version of him that I know. He fell down the other morning and my brother ran to the room and asked, "Are you alright?" and he dryly replied, "Well, I've been better." Ever himself. He occasionally shouts, "One less dog," because his Chihuahua is too attentive of a nurse. Upon seeing me yesterday, he asked how my cat's tongue was (because my cat burned his tongue and needs daily vet visits in the midst of all of this), barely able to speak at all anymore but still curious about this mundane detail of life.
It's killing me. My childhood best friend has been through this twice and a long time ago when I told her she was strong and I wasn't sure I would be, she said that you just do what you have to do, and people interpret it as being strong. She told me that I would do it, in a voice with no uncertainty. I'm still not so sure.
In the meantime, I wake up in the middle of the night already crying, feeling too heavy to change positions and reminding myself to breathe. I wake my husband up with my silent sobbing and tell him that it's scary and it's horrible and it's scary and it's horrible and that maybe I can't do it but I have to but how can I?
The wonderful people in my life want to be there for me, want to help, are probably waiting for me to reach out to them and I just can't form words. I can barely breathe, I certainly can't say what I need--what I need is for this not to be happening. I need a time machine, I need my brain back, I need to breathe, I need Kmart to be quiet, I need people to know I'm not a real, live grown-up, I need this to happen quickly and quietly and to stop being so scary and horrible.
But no one can fix that.
So I remind myself to breathe and I do what I think a real grown-up would do and I guess that's working for now.