“I see my light come shining
From the west onto the east.
Any day now, any day how,
I shall be released.”
DooDaddy has been having lots of peculiar dreams lately, About being places and not being able to do things. I think these are anxiety dreams about his deteriorating health. We’re just past the midway point in his six-months-to-live prognosis, and it’s like being six months pregnant. All of a sudden, you’re showing and walking funny, and your back hurts after the first two trimesters of nothing much happening. But instead of awaiting birth and new life, my father is awaiting death and the afterlife.
He had a scary choking incident at The Home the other night. Salad this time, not steak. He complained about the size of the cucumber slices, but the truth is that his cancer is affecting his ability to swallow. And speak. And walk. And sleep. And turn his head. I’ll spare you the gory details, but he’s dying. We’re all dying, but nobody knows exactly when, right? And yet, DooDaddy’s death sentence is imminent and irreversible. There will be no stay of execution. No gubernatorial pardon.
His world is shrinking like a puddle drying on the pavement. No more bridge – he can no longer walk the long hallway to the game room and doesn’t want to go in a wheelchair. Besides, he no longer has the manual dexterity to shuffle the cards. No more eating out. Father’s Day at Chesapeake’s was special this year, with Brother Randy and wife Sara in town. It was the last crab cake hurrah.
It was also notable because, although DooDaddy had a minor choking episode, it was overshadowed by a toddler’s projectile vomming chocolate ice cream like pea soup in “The Exorcist.” As I dashed to assist the mother in distress, tossing napkins down like it was my child that puked, she asked me which way to the bathroom. “I don’t work here,” I blurted out.
My first instinct had been to jump in and save the day, and I had to remind myself to take a step back. Of course, I now wish I had just escorted her to the bathroom and wiped her sweet son’s mouth with damp paper towels. Caregiving has become so automatic, I’m not sure how to stop. And nothing is ever enough. I feel constantly inadequate and inefficient.
A friend recently commented that my mother only “suffered” for a week, and what a blessing that was. I’ve been giving that some thought, and while Gmamma died a week after her diagnosis, I believe she suffered mightily for a long time before then. While my father’s symptoms are different, they are also eerily familiar. It’s only in hindsight that we mark my mother’s steady decline. She ate barely anything in the months before she died, mostly ice cream and grilled cheese sandwiches but not the crust. She literally wasted away. She couldn’t speak or swallow. She could never clear her throat. Of course, it was the same cancerous tumors that afflicted her, but we didn’t know that at the time.
DooDaddy is glum about being put on a soft-foods diet now. It doesn’t take effect till Monday. “They can’t make menu changes on the weekend,” he explained, telling me about the sausage and toast he had for breakfast.
“Sausage, Dad, really? And dry toast?” I asked incredulously, since he was choking to death on cucumber the night before.
“Well, just one piece of toast and one sausage link,” he piously pointed out.
“You could make better choices,” I opined.
“But I like toast and sausage,” he replied petulantly.
So, maybe it will be Death By Toast, instead of a long, drawn-out, morphine-induced passage. And that’s ok. Remember Rule #4 for The Care and Feeding of Old People: Food Matters A Lot.
DooDaddy’s Cousin Gene Ham, whom you’ve met if you’ve read Geezer Stories or The Lost Art of Conversation, sent me a hand-written letter from the “ancestral village” of Fayetteville, where he and DooDaddy grew up. His epistle is truly worthy of its own mini-series. I replied, in kind, although I typed my letter and only signed in ink. I said something about anxiety weighing on my heart like an anvil. In his return letter, he took that simile and ran with it.
“You and Randy are much in my thoughts. I, too, pray for his release,” Cus Gene wrote. “Even more fervently – that the blows on what you aptly term the anvil of anxiety can be deflected.”
He went on to quote a friend’s “rustic old grandfather’s observation” that something or someone was as “awkward as dragging a tick full of anvils.”
“Yes, I rightly assumed ‘tick’ to be the covers of mattress material (usually corn shucks) – a big, sewn-shut bag. Doubtless you know the striped material – heavy rough cotton still termed ‘ticking.'”
I was grateful for his kind explanation, because I was actually picturing a bug not a mattress.
These are the meandering conversations that DooDaddy and I have, and that I will sorely miss. Full of “eloquent colloquialisms” and off-topic “excursions.”
And maybe that same anvil of anxiety is weighing on my father now too and manifesting in bizarre dreams. And while we will both be released very soon, I don’t want that either. What I want is to turn the clock back to before this nightmare began.