This morning on the way to the Portland airport my husband turned to me and said “I can’t do this.” He was about ready to catch a flight to Honolulu, Hawaii to be with his daughter that was just been diagnosed with stage 4 heart and lung cancer, a very rare occurrence. Heather, a non-smoker, at age 38 was in the prime of her life. She and her husband were building their dream on property in the highlands of the Big Island when she collapsed after dealing with what her doctor thought was a severe case of bronchitis. Her husband rushed her to the hospital. Now, she cannot leave the hospital in Honolulu as she needs oxygen to survive.
I replied to him- “yes you can. “Be a bulldog, don’t run away. Go head-on.”
“This isn’t about what you can deal with, it’s about supporting her to get through this whatever the outcome with your full love and support. She chose chemotherapy. Be fully there for her.”
I’ve had some experience with this. My darling newborn son, Gareth, contracted a life-threatening infection at 10 days old. I kept hoping to wake up from that nightmare. I didn’t. My beautiful baby was full of tubes. His little body was all swollen, hair shaved off one side of his head. Worse, we couldn’t hold him.
We were told such things as:
If he makes it, he will be brain damaged or live in a hospital for the rest of his life
Kids don’t live through this
You will need a LARGE miracle
I fully embraced option 3. They allowed me to live at the hospital while he was in the NICU. My husband at the time had a hard time dealing with the situation at all. Meanwhile, I pumped breast milk at 3-hour intervals round the clock so he could have my breast milk when he once again could eat. I rose in the middle of the night to sing and talk to him. I prayed.
Ultimately my actions saved me. Did they help save him? Well, Gareth just celebrated his 35th birthday and he is as awesome as ever! (FYI, his name in Gaelic means strength).
We want to run from these situations since it is not only painful to see the ones we love suffer, we are frightened of our own mortality.
Please do not apologize to me for your physical state as you leave this world. Yours is not an enviable path, your body rigid from Parkinson’s, your lungs compromised from the pneumonia that finally will be the demise of your 91 year life.
Yes, I am bearing witness to your diminished body, reliant on the hands of others. But my memories of you will be fonder ones. You were a man of great stature and heart, a man who took the time to read me my favorite Dr. Suess books over and over and over again when I was a little girl. Perhaps that’s where I got my quirky imagination? You were the one who tucked me in, put me on the handle bars of rented bicycles in Yosemite. All those family camping trips? Those led to my love of nature & the outdoors & for that I am so grateful . You helped move me from college and helped me pack for my new life in Alaska. I looked forward to those care packages from you. When I needed comfort in a far off place, yours was the voice I could count on.
Thank you for your generous spirit that manifested itself in many ways . Thank you for not criticising my numerous stupid decisions in life, preferring to be my cheerleader. Thank you for being a good grandpa to my son.
I am grateful that you found your true love, that you lived life large and got to travel to exotic places. You are leaving this life with more friends that I can count. There’s a bright mark you left on the world and we will feel a void when you depart. Leave it to you that in the end you can still crack a good joke.
I am grateful for morphine and hospice care.
It is me that wants to apologize to you. I am sorry that you have to end your long life in such an uncomfotable manner. But lets just skip all those apologies. May you leave this life knowing that you were loved and admired by many, including myself. Congratulations on a life well lived.