Irrigation at Sunset (Photo credit: Shawn Econo)
Two years ago tonight my Daddy went into the hospital, and it changed all of our
I was out on a walk in the late summer evening, when the
sun sank behind the trees and allowed us a brief reprieve from the sweltering
heat. My walk was nearly over, when I saw my husband walking in the dusk toward
me. I knew in a moment something was wrong. I wanted to run…..toward him
mostly, but there was a part of me that wanted to run. Fast. In another
direction. Away from whatever news he would share.
We had been over
at my parents’ house the day before celebrating my nephew’s birthday. I knew
Daddy had been having some balance problems in the past few months, but I kept
telling Mama maybe it was his medicines, or maybe he was tired. I sat close to
him on the couch that last day before the world changed. I’m not saying I knew
anything, but we could all sense something wasn’t quite right. Either way, I am
a Daddy’s girl and it was where I wanted to be. Sitting next to Daddy.
The evening of the phone call Daddy had been trying to raise his glass
of water to drink from. His hand shook and he couldn’t get it to his mouth.
Mama, trying not to panic, said, “That’s new.” Daddy agreed and confessed he’d
had vision problems too. A phone call to the doctor on a Sunday evening
followed by a trip to the ER. Followed by a call to us. “Don’t come tonight,”
she said. “There’s nothing you can do.” So I got up early the next morning and
went before my husband had to leave for a doctor’s appointment. Seeing my Daddy
laying there–still in the ER, so helpless, so worn out. It was a sight I’ve
unfortunately seen many times since.
That week was a long one. It was
as though something had snapped and many of his systems went awry at once. His
motor skills were deteriorating rapidly. He even seemed to have trouble
swallowing sometimes. Daddy, who very rarely got emotional, would start out
laughing and wind up crying. It was a frightening and precious time. The
doctors who began working with Daddy were excellent, and they promised to get
Daddy to Emory, where they believed doctors had more resources to diagnose and
treat him. Within a week they had him there. No small feat. Daddy’s primary
care doctor had not been able to get him a doctor’s appointment there until
three months later for a consultation.
Daddy spent most of the
remainder of that year at Emory in one way or another–for test after test
including a brain biopsy. Finally a tenuous diagnosis of lymphoma of the brain
was delivered. Our lives changed again. It was, I think, about six weeks
before he was home again. In the ultimate Murphy’s law experience, their well
went out the day they were scheduled to come home. In the time since then, he’s
had chemotherapy, radiation treatments, chemotherapy again, a severe reaction to
the chemo (which entailed a trip to another ER on their way home from Atlanta).
We’ve heard the word “remission” and we’ve heard the words “it’s back.” This
past spring he went to the ER for severe pain in his hip. After many scary
possibilities, it was determined that it was a hematoma. The doctors treated
that, and he was sent home. Mama and Daddy were home for six hours when he fell
and broke his hip. It was my cousin who lives nearby who called me, telling me
they were headed back to the hospital. “Your Mama said she just couldn’t call
you and tell you she let your Daddy fall.” My heart broke for them
After another three weeks he came home. Life is very different
now. Each time we say this is our new normal, and we can do this. And we do.
Daddy is a fighter. When he is home, his will to fight is stronger. There have
been times, when he was in severe pain and at the hospital, that he felt like
giving up. Letting go. But when he is home, his spirit seems stronger. Even
spending most of his days in a hospital bed in what used to be the living room,
he seems stronger.
I have to tell you my Mama and Daddy are my heroes.
This has been a long journey, but they continue to travel it together. We have
been blessed with prayers and love and support of so many friends and family and
even friends of friends–folks we’ve never met–it is amazing. There have been
so many ups and downs that the greatest of roller coasters would be envious. I
saw Daddy out washing his truck after the successful radiation treatments about
four months in. He’s used a walker and we’ve celebrated his walking without
it. He fell with the walker and came home to a wheelchair and motor scooter and
hospital bed. And now when it’s a good day, he gets up to the wheelchair and
has breakfast up at the table before heading back to the bed to rest.
was thinking about this journey when I was at the start of my two littles’
soccer season. It’s a first for our little guy, and after watching his sisters
play since he was a newborn, he is THRILLED to be out there. At Opening Day, I
saw an older gentleman wearing a button that said, “Proud Grandpa of Sam.”
Tears welled up, as I gave thanks for Sam’s grandpa who loves so freely. And I
felt a moment of loss. That Cap (what the grands call Daddy) couldn’t be there
for Opening Day. If it weren’t for cancer, he would have been there. If it
weren’t for cancer, Mama would have been there too. I try not to get on my
“pity pot” often, but there are these pangs of loss that pop up in the most
unexpected places and moments.
But I am so thankful for the journey.
There have been so many shining moments that stand out: of the goodness of
people, of hope, and of unexpected strength. A few weeks back my children and
I were blessed to take a trip about 45 minutes south to a farm to get some fruit
and vegetables with dear friends. We took the long way down–not exactly on
purpose, but it turned out to be the more scenic route. It was a delight to
find ourselves behind a tractor on the country backroads, fields on either side,
huge irrigation rigs creating rainbows as they tended their fields. And to be
relaxed…..not in a hurry a bit. We all were enjoying the ride, looking
forward to getting there–yes, but not so intent on the destination that we
couldn’t enjoy the journey along the way.
Daddy’s journey–our whole
family’s journey, has been much like this. We are enjoying each day on this
journey…..whether Daddy’s washing the truck, sitting at the table, or eating a
piece of his favorite pizza in the hospital bed. Every moment is worth
treasuring; the journey is too precious to be worrying about when we’ll get
where or how. It’s the moments of sitting next to Daddy, watching the Little
League World Series in the Emory Hospital that second week of the
journey…..listening to him talk cars with my little guy…..watching him hug
our baby girl over the bed rails. He taught my oldest how to ride her bike. I
try to focus on the journey–he may not be able to teach her to drive now, but
he’s giving her advice. He is here.
That’s the greatest treasure of
any journey. Being present with those who are there, and not worrying over the
why’s and wherefore’s. And if you are really looking, finding the blessing of
rainbows in the most unexpected places