Yesterday my father, mother, and their wee little dog loaded up in their homebuilt motor home (actually a converted logging crew bus with black-purple and gold detail, solar power, and an elevated roof – it’s a trip) waved, and headed off for a 2+ week trip to Montana – the Tetons, Yellowstone, friends.
My brother gave long, sincere hugs goodbye. I felt just too rotten to do that so I pretended I didn’t feel bad and held Nels on my hip (my god… he’s three years old! I don’t really have the baby-on-hip thing going on anymore, do I?). I occupied my mind thinking of how I was going to steal their lawnmower for a few weeks and pick up some of my mom’s flower starts. But really, I felt just inexplicably shitty and couldn’t get away from it; as they drove off I thought, well it makes sense I feel bad. My whole life we’ve been a foursome; we’ve always been together. And as they left I felt a keen separation as I will when either parent succumbs, and I wonder when that will be. My mother at least is mostly convinced my father doesn’t have much hope of holding out much longer; his chemo treatment is losing efficacy and there isn’t a backup plan after it stops holding the fort. Daily I go back and forth between letting them do the thing their way and just supporting and loving them; or inserting myself more aggressively: asking them to seek more opinions, going online and looking up experimental treatments. Daily I yo-yo between being allowed to accept his death and the peace and sadness this brings, and fighting for more life. It’s an odd state of being that protracted illness and long-looming death can beget.
I also harbor this sneaking suspicion those sneaky bastards that are my Mom, Dad, and brother know something I don’t and are keeping it from me. Like that the doctor only gave him a few weeks to live and that’s why they’re having this roadtrip. I wouldn’t put it past that trifecta of non-communication. Last week he was so not-sick after his chemo I grew alarmed and point-blank accused him of not having treatment Tuesday, which he denied. Five minutes later I then ambushed my mother, coming inside the house with my kids: “Did dad really have chemo yesterday?” Her innocent and surprised reply, “Oh yes,” was clearly honest. He just lucked out and wasn’t very sick. The first time in six years we’d seen him feel good post-medicine, and I’m suspicious about it.
It’s hard sometimes to remember that it isn’t the cancer that makes him feel so bad, it’s the medicine. I can’t believe he’s even gone through it for all these years with scarce a complaint (to anyone else; I know my mom gets a more full story). Sadly thought, it’s also the sickness that contributes as he can get depressed. The depression changes him. I have known and loved him thirty years and up until he got sick I’d never seen anything like the depression, I would not have thought he had it in him. I don’t talk him out of it, I talk to him. Sometimes he barely answers. I have found if I keep talking to him eventually he pulls his head out of whatever mire he was in and answers me. I go home, then come back the next day.
I like being active; on their trip, I email them. I work on a care package to send general delivery to whatever township they name. I thank Sweet Baby Jesus in his Golden Fleece Diapers that we moved here. It has been so nice spending time together and I love, love watching my children with my family. Yesterday at breakfast my father and my son sat together and my dad helped him eat breakfast and they fit together like peas in a pod. Nels put his hands up to grandpa’s face and said in surprise, “You have glasses Grandpa!” and tenderly stroked his face. My father acted casual (his M.O. even at his most demonstrative) but his entire body leaned towards his grandson and they touched frequently. My dad wiped strawberry preserves off Nels’ face and said, “Oh, I let you get some on your shirt. Your mom’s going to be pissed.” I ignored this. Then he said, “You’re mom’s going to have a heart attack, she’s going to have kittens.” so I looked at Sophie and said, “Should we get some kittens today?”
At the table I said to each of my parents: “Ralph and I think you are a good grandpa. And we think you’re a good grandma.”
Buen viaje, mi padre y madre.