Trigger Warning: Parental Death
Several of my friends have lost or are in the process of losing parents, parents who have been or are in hospice care. I admit to being a bit envious.
When my dad was diagnosed eighteen months ago with lung cancer for the third time, he and my once-stepmother-back-together-again immediately began looking at treatment options. The initial information was sobering — multiple lesions in his lung — and the news became more dire as a scope was recommended and then not, due to a tumor wrapped around his pulmonary artery. I was surprised that he was considering chemo, as the brutal death of his fourth wife, from lung cancer treatment as much as from the cancer itself, had caused him to swear several years earlier never to fall victim again to such medical excess. But the impetus to live is strong . . .
I went down to visit for a couple of days while he awaited further testing which he had inexplicably rejected a couple of weeks earlier. I said that if the cancer had spread beyond his lungs, he might want to consider wrapping up in a sleeping bag and spending his remaining time sitting on his deck, enjoying the woods and creek below, and the birds visiting his feeder. It was November and he was nearing 85; it seemed like a plan to me. He seemed to hear and not to hear.
My stepmother told me later that they were hoping that the chemo would eradicate the cancer as quickly as it had appeared, and that he would have several good years left. I decided to remain silent, and headed home, beginning to work out in my head how I might arrange my schedule to accommodate several trips to their home four hours from mine, as I had been able to manage when my previous stepmother was dying. I had read about tumors encasing pulmonary arteries, but I permitted myself to imagine that it would be a privilege to care for my father, if there were time in which to do so.
Three mornings later he was doing laundry just off the bedroom, and collapsed and died. Presumably that wraparound tumor had ruptured the artery. After a mad dash to the hospital and a declaration of death, the paperwork for his donation of his body to the medical school was completed and he was transported to . . . somewhere. The test results, confirming the spread of the cancer across and into multiple areas, came back a few days later.
I admit to being a bit envious of my friends who’ve had hospice time. I guess that conversation about the deck and the sleeping bag and the birds was it for us.