In my father’s first appointment since he finished radiation and the first round of chemo, I found myself staring at his too long big toenail and wondering at how different he, my mother, and I all are from the last time we were in that office. My father, much, much heavier from the steroids, so much slower in every way. My mother more confident and pulled together. Me, more still, more resigned, more capable of withstanding bad news. No one cried. That was new.
Also new, his balance has deteriorated. He couldn’t tell if a pen was blue or black. And a day later, I can see there were littler things. His eyes are faded out. The twinkle was absent. It looks as though he’s concentrating so hard on staying upright as he walks that he doesn’t move his head from side to side. In comparison, my mother, who is usually brisk, is practically a tornado. I told jokes and he laughed with the air of someone who knows he is supposed to but isn’t entirely sure he knows why. He missed the cues in the room when he made mistakes on the tests and, comparing this time to the visit eight weeks ago, he’s a different person entirely.
And, as I sit here, tears streaming down my face (again), I’m realizing that this slow death will be a succession of little griefs and passings. That man who is in all my pictures has mostly gone. The man who married my mother, day drinking at amusement parks, taking wild motorcycle rides along the lake, that person I didn’t exactly know, is the person my mother is grieving for and in that I have lost some of her as well. Even the man who shot at a woodchuck from the back deck two weeks ago – I’d really like him back, too.
How hard it must be for my mother to catch these glimpses of him through my very carefully optimistic and hopeful eyes. Day to day, maybe she doesn’t see it, but like taking a child to a zoo, elephants look altogether new through different eyes. I hope she is able to shut that away when she takes him home and that she can push the familiar him to the front and center. I miss him so much and he hasn’t even gone.
And still. What’s worse? Watching your father failing before your eyes or knowing that, right now, you are more devastated by the possibility of losing your dog? And there it is. I’m crying for my father, for my dog, for my family. But there’s something you can do. You can think all the most positive thoughts about Moses who goes for surgery tomorrow to remove the tumor and xrays to see if the cancer, and it is cancer, has spread to his spine. He is my best beloved and I can’t lose him yet.