Saturday, January 15, 2011
A few days ago I got a voicemail from my dad saying he was in the hosptial and maybe I should call him back. I have been attempting to call him every since, however he didn't seem to be answering the phone. I wasn't terribly worried because every since about August he has been keeping me informed about a couple of non-cancerous tumors that he needed to have removed. However as Stephen and I stood in the stinky kitchen discussing the idea of leaving Willow at home for the event my younger brother called to inform me that those simply non-cancerous tumors were possibly a bit more complicated than what I had understood. After a call to my oldest brother (Teryl) our plans changed. We left home around 4am with the idea that we would go to the hospital and get some clear answers to confirm what the two brothers had been told, not that I didn't believe them but more that dad likes to be veigh about stuff so Teryl and I felt a face to face meeting with the doctors would help us understand better what exactly is going on. We kind of thought that an hour or two at the hospital would be enough for dad to deal with so we would carry on to the event and then come back to the hospital afterwards.
That plan didn't work to well. Once I got into dad's room I couldn't make myself just leave. Finally around lunch time I decieded that dad needed some sleep and we left to get some lunch and let the nurses handle their business with dad's care. Once I left the hospital for lunch I couldn't bear the idea of just going off to this event and leaving dad there, I had an urgent need to spend as much time with him as possible.
Once lunch was sorted out we headed back to the hosptial and met up with Teryl. Stephen and I had a breif conversation with the doctor before lunch, but I really felt that Teryl, being the oldest and the one in charge of dad's affairs should be there for the details, however Teryl and his wife Arnita had not arrived from out of state yet. While we were at lunch Teryl managed to catch up with the doctor and hear what we had heard first hand. Things are so much worse than a simple tumor that needed to be removed. The short of it is that at age 82, dads bladder, kidney's, abdominal wall, lymphnoeds and possibly his lungs are completely engrossed with small cell cancer. I didn't ask for the long medical name, small cell is enough information really. The type of cancer he has is fatal even to a really healthy young person so at his age and health there is no surgical or chemotheraphy options. The issue at hand at the moment is to make sure that dad has his affares in order, that he is comfortable in his last days and at his request that he returns to Arkansas where his roots are and his home is and always has been.
At one point Stephen and Arnita left Teryl and I in the room with dad on our own. First of all I can't express how much that ment to me and I am sure to Teryl as well. I think you can love someone so very much, and that person can be your soul mate, spouse, best friend and the one person you always want close to you and still there are moments that you need some personal time to sort out and cope with life and the things that naturally take place. Teryl and I have never been at odds, but there is a large age gap between us, we were not raised together and even though we know each other we haven't seen one another in many years. I think we both were very close to breaking down as we stood in dad's room watching him cope with the pain and discussing his life. Some times when a person passes away at a young age with a lifetime full of things left undone it makes the passing so hard on the ones left behind. But for me, standing there remembering the times and events of dad's life I can truly say that he lived a long, very full life that anyone would be proud to have lived.
My dad has a basic herd of children with out ever having any biological children. In his first marriage he aquired a 7 year old Teryl. Dad and Teryl have a mutal respect and love that is stronger than the average father son relationship. In some ways I think this may be down to something that I heard from my dad over the years. Dad chose to be Teryl's father, he didn't make a baby and then feel obligated, he made a choice to love this little boy as his own. That choice of love can at times create a bond stronger than blood ties.
Later in his life dad married my mother and aquired three children ages 10, 8 and 6, even later dad and my mother adopted two children. By the time this marriage took place 7 year old Teryl was grown, married and had three children of his own. This is the reason for the relation with out a close relationship, as a child I knew him and his family, we spent holidays together and thought of each other as family, but it wasn't the same as growing up with someone in the same home.
From the start of that marriage I believe that there was one purpose for the marriage, there was a total of five young children that needed a father and my dad was the right man for that job. I often heard dad's " I chose to be your dad" view of our relationship. Along with that he often used the expression "if you don't work, you don't eat" or "no workie, no eatie" Those two ideas stuck with me my whole life. I often tell my dad that I will work until I fall over because he instilled in me the idea that you never "get" anything in life you "earn" everything you have.
Along with taking on six children over his life dad accomplished a few other things. I have never met any man who has done as much as he has. I probably can't tell every thing he has done but off the top of my head I know he served in the military before he was of legal age to do so, it just happens that once upon a time birth documentation was not as well kept as it is today and he used that fact to smudge the truth enough to get int he military before he was suppose to. During his service he was severely injured and suffered greatly with burns and loss of hearing. Beyond the military dad worked with the police, I have seen an id card that would lead me to believe that he also worked with the DEA, he drove a semi for many years, he came out of retirement to start up a landscaping business and apparently was the third top salesman for Kirby vacuums at one point. Dad spent a lot of his time riding motor cycles across the country, training horses, traveled all around the country selling stuff at various flee markets and fishing through the night.
Teryl called him a jypsy today, as he said, Dad likes to move so much that in 9 years Teryl attended 12 different schools. Another term that Teryl used that fit my dad so very clearly dad was very much a "networker" he traveled all over the country and had friends in every town along the way. He could never have stopped in a town without knowing someone there. Both Teryl and I said today that if we are as active as dad was at age 80 we would be happy.
I feel as if my dad had lived a full and good life, as I sat there recalling various memories of him and watching him shake and cry in pain, I knew that there wasn't any reason why he needs to hang around suffering. He has accomplished more than most people would have ever dreamed of attempting and he has left no unfinished business in his past. I think in some ways it makes it easier to let him slip into this next phase with out a fight, but in other ways because he has been this amazing person in so many people's lives it make it even harder to let go. It seems unfair to let him suffer but it is heartbreaking to think of him not being here in our lives any more. It's an internal battle to wish him peace and want to hang onto him for as long as possible.
I think if he were in my shoes he would tell me relax and let nature take it's course so that the pain and suffering can be over with, I hope I have the strength to be happy for him when it is time for him to let nature take it's course. I suppose I won't have much choice and I know that I need to ready myself for the fact of it all, the last thing that dad said to Stephen and Teryl before he fell off to sleep tonight was that he is tired and ready to go home, he has people waiting for him on the other side and they happen to have the best fishing boat he has ever seen.
I have to say that the whole thing is being made easier by Teryl. I know that in many ways my mother hasn't been nice to him over the years. I also know that when someone makes your life hard it is easy to feel like you don't want any part of them or anyone connected to them. I haven't seen Teryl in years, not due to any problem that he and I ever had, but mostly because at age 18 I left home and staid as far away from home as possible. My one great tie to home and my roots is dad. My mom and dad divorced when I was 16, once I turned 18 and left her home I never attempted to return to Arkansas because I always felt that my mother left there on such bad terms that I wasn't sure how my intruding on the lives of my dad's family would be taken, even if I had the best of intentions because my mother had laid such a hard foundation. I always kept in touch with dad and saw him as often as possible considering my distance from the family. I walked into dad's room after lunch to a hug, and several to follow throughout the day. While talking to Teryl we quickly realized that our views, and what we wanted for dad was inline with one another. Several times during the course of speaking to the doctors and the palliative care personnel Teryl turned to me and said " Latrell and I will be making the decisions together about dads care and the path we take", It mean the world to me to be included as his daughter in making those choices. I think I will forever be grateful to Teryl and his wife Arnita for welcoming me into this important time after I have been so distant for so long.