There are some experiences in life that remain intensely real for a long time in your life. Memories that we tuck away, that come out when you don't expect them.
I remember when my father had been diagnosed with lung cancer. Earlier that week, he had had his first of only a few chemo treatments before they decided it was to no avail. Keep him as comfortable as we can they said.
His illness was rapid in it's progression and hostile in it's take over. I used to make the 45 minute one way trip to my parents house almost daily trying to take care of both of them with very differing health and the emotional issues that go with it. (mother had dementia and multiple strokes.) The doctors appointments, the cleaning, the bathing, the laundry, the meals, medications, therapy, phone calls and back up support for when I wasn't there. And then turn around, go back home to take care of family , although the children were older and more self sufficient, but still needing attention and nurturing. And as life goes, other concerns consumed me there as well.
It seemed that no matter where I was, I felt I should be at the other place.
I felt overwhelmed, over burdened and inadequate. I was rushing to one place feeling like I was getting there too late, only to feel like I shouldn't be leaving the other place at all. I drove the trip many times, with tears streaming down my face the entire drive there and the entire drive home. Sometimes I had to pull off the road I was sobbing so uncontrollably. Taking care of people, of homes and never being able to bring my best intentions to a better place for anyone. Going through the motions and losing ground in everything I did. I was exhausted, mentally, physically and emotionally. I never felt so alone in all my life.
But that is not the reason I write today. It is the preparation leading to this story. One day, I came to my parents home, unlocked the side entrance door with my key, after my usual ringing of the doorbell and knocking signal so they wouldn't be startled. My dad was standing there in his old baggy gray flannel dress pants, as was his custom, a blue plaid cotton shirt with a slightly frayed collar,and a favorite muted gray sweater with pilings from years of wear. His at home uniform. He was already a thin man before he became ill, slight in frame with a little pot belly. A quiet, passive natured man that looked at the positive with humor, loved to tell jokes and had horrendous experiences in war that he didn't talk about.(That's another story).
I entered and went up the two stairs going into the kitchen as I made my way inside. "Hello, hello", I called out softly.
My father was standing there with his walker, still breathing heavy even while wearing the nasal oxygen canula with the 20 foot extention. "Yes", the hushed voice said in a low tone. But it was not my father that greeted me now as I looked at him. No, something had transpired since I was here yesterday. I was greeted by Cancer. She had taken over my father. It was HER face I saw, his face a mere image hidden inside her. She was white and strong and had dark hollowed intense staring eyes. Death's mistress bravely showing herself. She had been lurking quietly for some time. Since yesterday, she had taken complete possession of him while I was gone. No matter how often I came or what I did, she had persisted. She didn't need to hide anymore, she had taken enough to be strong. "Hi Opa, how are you today" I asked, embracing him to hide my tears and will her away. She had disappeared from his face for now. She and I knew she had showed herself to me and that I could do nothing about it. She would be back, bolder next time.That was when I knew she would take him away soon. My gentle father. It was then that I knew that whatever I did was not in vain. Somehow it all mattered. It had to matter . . . until I could do no more.
This was not he first time I have met her. I have seen more death than I ever thought I would in my lifetime. Cancer is unique in her arrival and implosive dictatorship of having it her way. I have seen her image in others, she shows herself when she is ready, you don't need to look for her. Sometimes I know and love the person she has penetrated, sometimes they are strangers. And yet the emotion she raises in me is the same. I have smelled her scent without needing to inhale, I have tasted her in my mouth without taking a bite. But as much as she takes, we also give in love. She never really wins. For love remains eternal.