Monday, January 12, 2009

No, This Won't Become the Death Blog, But...

The visit today with my dad.

It was fine. It was weird, but it was fine. It was much longer than I'd planned it would be, but I was ok with that. Some thoughts, in no particular order:

  • My theories about how far my father's illness had progressed vs. what he was communicating were pretty much dead on. If you didn't know it was him and that he was ill, you wouldn't recognize him. He looks about 20 years older than he is. He's lost a huge amount of weight - indeed, looks skeletal in the face, and his hands and feet are swollen like Mickey Mouse hands and feet. He is in a wheel chair. He cannot walk stairs, and so sleeps in a hospital bed in the "great room." He needs a walker and one of those chair thingies in order to use the bathroom. (I actually had to put the chair thingie in place for him this afternoon when my stepmom went to the grocery store, which had to be humiliating for him. Luckily, I was familiar with the equipment from when my grandmother - who was 80 at the time - was dying about five years ago. Lucky. Yeah right.) In weird news, his massive change in appearance displayed to me that I have his exact nose.
  • The thing that's weirdest for me about seeing my father and his family is how polite everything is. I'm not sure whether that's for my benefit or for the benefit of my half-brothers or whether they're just weirdo non-honest, non-straight-forward polite people. But the elephant in the room is that my father is fucking dying. Nobody seems to want to discuss this, really.
  • It's like my dad was living for this visit with me. That was weird. He also wants me to come again in like three weeks. I get the feeling that this is another thing he'll be living for. I don't want to go (because I'm an asshole) but of course I will (because I'm really not), but I wish that he understood - and I have tried to make him understand - that we have no unfinished business. Though, perhaps, the fact that I think we don't doesn't mean that his business with me is finished. It's hard to figure this out what with the politeness.
  • I told my stepmother that she needs to take care of herself and she broke down. That was uncomfortable. We don't have a crying sort of relationship. I hugged her and left quickly.
  • My oldest younger brother, who is 14, is totally taller than me (and I'm no petite flower, I'm 5'8") and like man-sized (with muscles and things) and has hairy legs and a changed voice. He also loves basketball. He shall either end up LeBron James-sized or Sasquatch. It's too soon to tell. But totally insane!
  • My youngest younger brother is still my favorite, although I know that is wrong.
  • The thing that was most awful for me is the fact that my father is so filled with regret. He is so consumed with the mistakes that he has made in his life (related to me, but also related to other things). This makes me hurt for him more than the fact that he has cancer. Especially because he doesn't seem really to be able to talk about any of this in real ways. He did say a couple of things, but we spent the bulk of our alone time together watching a crappy movie.
  • I feel like my father is afraid of me. I feel like he doesn't know what to say to me, and like he really doesn't understand me at all. I also kind of feel like my stepmom is this way as well. How grateful they were that I came was just totally bizarre to me, because if they understood me at all they never would have felt so grateful. Of course I'd come. There was never any question. Except, apparently, there was. Because they don't understand or know me, and I'm not really part of their family.
  • I ate a pot roast cooked with a "recipe" that involved cooking the meat on the stovetop for three hours in Catalina salad dressing. The side dishes were microwaved frozen corn and instant mashed potatoes. When I go back in a few weeks, I will be bringing boatloads of actual food that is easily freezable. Both because it's nice, and because what I ate today was a crime against food. And yes, I'm shallow for judging in this way, but god as my witness, if I can do nothing else for these polite people, I can feed them in a way that actually provides nutrition.
  • I am so sad that my brothers will never know my father as I have known him. I hope that as they get older they seek me out so that I can give them that part of my dad that will be gone before they get there. The dad who takes them to see B.B. King and Buddy Guy, the dad who gives them all of the leftover liquor from their grandma's retirement party when they're in college, the dad who sings Sympathy for the Devil with them as he moves them home for the summer from college. No, that's not the best parent-dad in the world, but that's my dad. My dad is a dad who gets the Led out. They are only 12 and 14. They don't know that dad.
  • I wish he understood, and maybe even that my stepmother understood too, that whatever wrongs have been done, I'm actually ok. I'll never forget those things, and those things still affect me, but GOD there are more important things. There is no reason for them to dwell on those things. It doesn't change anything, and it doesn't make me feel better for them to feel shitty about them.
In other news, FB is really most fabulous in all ways. You can all feel free to give him props for dealing with my emotions in this troubling time and for being insightful and wonderful and awesome. Note: he will be horrified that I wrote this about him, and horrified if you do give him props. But he deserves MASSIVE recognition.


DocElectron said...

I've been following your journey with your dad - because though it hasn't happened yet, but I'm fairly certain that when his time comes to move on from this world my experience will be extremely similar to yours.

I don't have much constructive to say except that I appreciate your honesty about the situation, because it allows me to think about how this will be for me in the future. So a very selfish thanks and I hope you'll keep writing.

And I send good juju your way for you and your family.

Bardiac said...

I think it's a great idea to take some good food; it will help your step-mother, at the very least, and it sounds like she needs some help.

And can I say, it sounds like you did really well on your visit. Good on you.

Anne said...

Dear Dr., I went through this, as you know, w/my father-in-law years ago and it's weird and awkward and heartbreaking.

It sounds like you did great.

Food is a GREAT gift. A gift of life. It can help remind everyone that life is to be lived and is for the living: lovely for your dad and for all the others who are in that house with him.

I don't think there is that much to talk about.

You dad loves you. You intimidate him. Your presence is a great, great, great gift and he just wants to bask in it. Whatever may be all right, he may feel any number of things like regret, but he also knows all too clearly that his time is limited. He wants to spend some of that with you. That's very sweet even if it's a pain in the butt and cuts into your life in all kinds of ways. He doesn't have anything to say and you don't need to say anything.

Don't go unless you can go w/o resentment. It's fine not to go.

All of which brings me back to the food: it gives you something to chitchat about--dad, can't I just get you to try a spoonful of this or that? Sorry, dad, let me just pop out of the room to get the pepper (or the Catalina dressing--OMG!). Etc.

hypatia said...

It's interesting to see people respond differently to death and dying.

My grandmother (mom's mom)passed away four years ago over the course of about 3 weeks and the process was very life affirming. People were willing to talk about what was going on, came to stay, said what they need to to each other and it was okay. In the end we celebrated the way she had lived her life and cryed and laughed and it was good.

My grandpa (dad's dad) passed away about a year ago. He had been actively dying for 3.6 years. No one talked about it, but it was all about death all the time. Everyone was very sober at the funeral. And it was as if this life had just evaporated and left nothing behind.

Hospice has some good materials about what happens when someone dies (both typical stuff physiologically and typical emotional states, etc). It might be worth checking out. In some ways, everyone is different when they experience this stuff and yet everyone is really the same.

Ann said...

This is a really moving post, Crazy. I'm so sorry that your father is dying and leaving you behind and his wife and young boys. I'm sure your stepmother and your dad were very happy you visited, because it sounds like they recognize that things haven't been perfect but you did what made your dad happy anyway. You aren't an A-hole, you're a grownup with a real grasp of the complexities of life.

I too think that the gift of food would be very generous and appreciated. Your poor stepmother probably doesn't have much time to cook, what with 2 boys to look after and a dying husband and all. A frozen lasagne, a big pot of soup, a proper pot roast or beef burgundy would all freeze brilliantly.

grumpyabdadjunct said...

I had a similar experience when my dad died - hang in there. You sound like you are really thinking this through and taking care of yourself and doing what you can to cope, all good things.

heu mihi said...

Dear Crazy,

Thanks for sharing all of this. It's a beautiful post, bullets and all. I'm really sorry about what you're going through and just want to say that my thoughts are with you.... And bringing food sounds like a generous (yet self-preserving!) idea.

k8 said...

I agree with the others - taking food is a wonderful thing to do. I'm sure that they have so many other things on their minds that food/cooking isn't at the top. People tend to send food after a death/funeral, but not many remember that a family dealing with a terminally illness need this sort of help before the death, too. Cooking is good!

btw, your oldest younger brother sounds like my younger brother - he was an athletic 6' by age 12 and ended up 6'6".

It sounds like your being there was as important for your step-mom and brothers as it was for your dad. That seems like another very good reason for the visit. Those things that your brothers never got to know about your dad - you can be the one to tell them about that side of him and that will be important to them.

And for the record, these few posts don't come close to making this a death blog. Death is natural and part of all of our experiences.

Susan said...

Oh, Crazy. It's just so hard. I hope you find a way to continue a relationship with your brothers because it's true, you knew your Dad in a way they never will. I agree with everyone else too, that you should bring food. Before you go you might ask your stepmom if your dad has any food issues. There are some great cookbooks and resources for people with cancer that take into account both taste and ability to digest.

Dame Eleanor Hull said...

I totally get the I'm an asshole/not really thing: that's where I was for the last few years, with my parents. Do as much as you can, and recognize it when you're at your limit. Your dad's regrets may be a stage he can move through. And sometimes crappy movies, or the equivalent, are the best we can do to be present. I wish you well.