Terminal

My sister and I had agreed to give my father the news together.  Two days after Christmas, with her husband watching our children, we drove the thirty minute trek to his home and asked him to sit down.

I had repeated my mother’s doctor’s words at least a dozen times in the last five days.  The first time, to my sister, who had expected about as much but was shocked and dismayed just the same.  She offered some kind words about me having to hear the news alone, which I appreciated.  Next, to my brother, who was also upset but also unwilling to get too invested in his emotions for fear that he could not control them.  Then to some of my mother’s friends, then to some of my friends.

But my father was a different story.  Their angry divorce and subsequent years of hostility had made the relationship awkward at best.  However, since my son’s birth and my sister’s marriage, things had gotten nearly amicable between the two of them, and my father had expressed much concern over my mother’s diagnosis.  It was clear to me as the months progressed that they had a complicated relationship that had boiled over because of very strong feelings; as I had always said, you don’t get angry at someone you just don’t care about.

“Dad, Mom will be coming home in a few days,” I began.

“Oh, really?  Then that’s good news,” he said, smiling.

“Well,” I said, drawing out the word to delay the inevitable.  “She’s coming home with Hospice care.”

He blinked, not really sure what that meant, but suspicious.

“It means,” my sister said slowly, “That they consider her having less than twelve months left to live. Terminal.”

How many times had I repeated that word in the last five days.  Terminal.  They consider her terminal.  Terminal.  End of the road.  The station at the end of the line.  The end.  Terminus.  End.

My father’s face grew red with emotion.  “Are they sure?”

I could feel my hands fidgeting, trying to warm them.  They were always cold these days.  “Dad, they’re sure.  The doctor came and took me aside a few days ago and showed me exactly where her tumor is now and how bad it is.  It’s why she keeps going back in the hospital.”

“But can’t they remove it?”

“It’s wrapped around her heart, Dad.”  My sister had tears flowing down her face, but she wasn’t sobbing.  “They can’t take it out.  And she’s too weak from all of the damage from the last rounds.  It’s just…too late.”

“What does she say?”

I flashed back to yesterday, when my mother woke from her bronchoscopy.  She and I were alone in the room, Zachary playing quietly on the floor.  She had reached for my hand and said, “It’s just like my father.  They told him he was in remission too.  But he wasn’t.  And I’m not either.”  The sadness on her face had been excruciating.  The knowledge, the certainty of knowing the end was near.

“She is ready to go home and enjoy the time she has left,” I told him, my cheeks hot.  I held my icy fingers up to them to warm the fingers and cool my face.

He looked at us very seriously and quietly said, “We have to do something.  I don’t know if she’ll be upset at me for telling you this, but she has another child, a son, that she gave up for adoption before we were married.  We have to find him before she dies.”   His voice was so thick with emotion it was hard to understand him.  But as I processed the words by mentally replaying them, I was stunned.  My father knew about my half brother, and wanted to help.

My sister spoke up.  “Dad, we know.  We’ve known for a long time.”

“Oh.  Well good, then she won’t be mad at me for telling you.”  He started to delve into the details.  I could see what he was doing.  He needed a project, a plan, a diversion.  I’d done it myself a million times.  Something else to focus on to distract yourself from the horrific situation at hand.  Something to work on because there was nothing that could be done for my mother’s cancer.

I held up my hand.  “Dad, she doesn’t want it.  I’ve talked to her about this before.  I even asked last spring after her diagnosis.  She said she wanted to always believe that he had a great life, that things were as she had hoped, and she wasn’t sure she could deal with the reality that things might not have been perfect for him.  The unknown, in her eyes, was easier than knowing the truth.  I guess you can hardly blame her with the truths around her being so…crappy.”

“But, but, but…” I could see him struggle to process our news.  We’d had days to accept it, months, really.  We’d all known since her first hospitalization in November what was likely happening.  We’d known since last March, with pamphlets in every waiting room we visited, telling us the most likely outcome of our journey.  We were here.  We were there.  It was happening.

“Dad, if you want to help, please just…don’t try to invent something to do.  There is plenty to do.  We’ll need a lot of help.  Just…help.   Please.”  I looked at my father, his eyes red, mine dry (again), and pleaded.  “Please.”

He reached out to hug us both.  “I will,” he promised.  “I will help.”

 

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