The acceptance of death gives you more of a stake in life,
in living life happily, as it should be lived.
Living for the moment.”
There is a place beyond sadness where acceptance lives. That’s where we are now.
Almost two years to the day after Gmamma received her diagnosis, DooDaddy has his. Same cancer. Same place. Same kind. It’s like she’s calling him home. And he’s ready. Says he couldn’t have left her behind, but since she’s gone, he can go too, knowing he took care of her till the end. Knowing his children are grown. Grandchildren, as well. And he’s lived to see his first great-grandchild come into the world.
My mother didn’t linger long. A week, in fact. My father has six months, give or take.
His cancer is stage IV squamous cell carcinoma ― well-defined ― whatever the hell that means. It’s in his lymph nodes and at the base of his tongue. And there are spots on his lungs. Surgery would be gruesome. Macabre even. How could DooDaddy live without his silver tongue? His gift of gab? His mellifluous voice? He couldn’t, of course.
Chemo, radiation? But to what end? He’ll be 88 years old on Saturday. Says he’s had a good run. Now it’s about a graceful exit and death with dignity.
No one wants to have end-of-life conversations. It’s more taboo than gun control and abortion. There are those who choose to fight the good fight and hang on to life with their fingernails. And God bless ’em. But my father is not of that ilk. Nor was my mother. And I wonder if, as our population ages, the right to die will become an inalienable human right. Physician-assisted suicide is legal in Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Switzerland. Here in the United States, Montana, Oregon, Vermont and Washington allow it.
These past weeks, there’s been a stone on my heart as I struggled with the inevitability of my father’s condition. And yet, his resolute courage and unfailing good humor have lifted my spirits. DooDaddy remains upbeat. He says he’s relieved even, that the choice is clear. He will forgo treatment of any kind and enjoy the time he has left.
I remember when I was a little girl, trying on different friendships and grappling with the concept. I asked my mother who her best friend was. “Your father, of course,” she replied, not missing a beat. At the time, I felt sorry for her, that her husband had to do double duty as her BFF. Now I realize what a rare and beautiful thing that is. And I ache with longing for the kind of companionable intimacy and absolute devotion my parents shared.
So, we have six months to celebrate life with DooDaddy. Six months to do a bucket list of things. On a walker. And then he’s off to meet Gmamma and continue the journey they began half a century ago. Because life ends; so does pain and suffering, but love is everlasting. And my parents’ legacy remains. My father, in particular, taught me how to live and savor every moment. Now he’s showing me how to die. With grace, compassion and acceptance.