Father’s Day

My father is dying. The Votrient he has struggled to take since January is not working. In fact, the renal cell cancer which metastasized to the lymph nodes in his chest has now spread to his lungs, the lining of his chest cavity, and his bones.

My mother still believes there is a chance for him to pull-through. Her Sunday School class is praying for him. God is still in the business of miracles.

But I know he is done. There is no fight left in him. He is stubborn, my dad. Dr. George, his Oncologist, tells him he must get out of bed or he will lose his muscle mass. He must try to walk and get some exercise. But Dad only walks from the bed to the bathroom. “I don’t feel like getting up,” he says. He eats minuscule portions and his parchment-thin skin is gaunt across his frame.

“Dad, you have to eat.”

“I don’t have any appetite. Nothing tastes good. I can’t keep anything down.”

“I understand that. You still have to do it. You either eat or you die.”

He has made his choice.

Jerri thinks he has seen his last Christmas. She’s not sure he will be here come August when she hopes to move into a new income-subsidized apartment with a washer and dryer. She has requested a two bedroom in anticipation of unsupervised visits with JM, her 10 year old, who lives with our parents. But the apartment complex wants copies of his social security card and birth certificate. My parents won’t supply these.

“She’s trying to get a two bedroom under false pretenses,” Mom says. “JM is never going to live with her. She doesn’t have a mothering bone in her body.”

“She is not misleading the apartment complex. This not about JM coming to live with her. This is about visitation and having a room for him to stay over a weekend.”

“JM can sleep anywhere. He doesn’t need his own room. He can sleep on the couch or a blow-up mattress. Besides, she doesn’t have any bedroom furniture herself. How is she going to furnish a room for him?”

Because I’m going to give her furniture. Stan and I have two guest bedrooms we never use. We are planning to downsize within the next four years. The bedroom furniture will not be going with us anyway. Besides, its hard to justify owning beds that are never slept in when my own sister lives in such poverty.

My mother and I are at odds. Not about my dad but about everything else. Mostly about Jerri.

“You don’t even know Jerri, Mom. In your mind she’s the same person she was twenty-one years ago. She’s a drug addict. You refuse to see her as anything else. She is not an addict. She is not the person you’ve always told me she was. And she is capable of being a mother. To you mothering is all about providing financially. That’s not what mothering is all about.”

“You’re right and she can’t provide for him. She can’t give him clothes, or food, or even a bed to sleep in.”

“That’s not true. She can’t provide for him the way that you can but there is more to life than that. But this is not about him coming to live with her – this is about him spending a weekend with her – not every weekend, maybe not even every month.”

The argument escalates.There is nothing I can say that she will hear. She hangs up on me. There is so much left unsaid.

The phone call leaves me empty and strangely proud. I stood up to her. I said what I thought. I didn’t raise my voice or bite back my words even knowing that to disagree with her means certain retribution. For me, this is progress. In 5 months, I will be 50 years old. And I am FINALLY able to stand against my mother.

At 1:45 am, Mom leaves a voice message. “Don’t worry about coming to the hospital for your Dad’s appointment. He feels the same way too. We can just sever the ties of the family and you can just make it on your own with Jerri.”

About the third year into our marriage, we borrowed $1400 from my parents which we paid back 2 months later. That was the last time I ever asked my parents for anything and I’ve been married for 28 years. Wow. Just not sure how I’m going to manage to “make it on my own.”

Dad has an appointment with his Oncologist Monday. I was going to join them because given my pharmaceutical background, I understand what the Oncologist says better than they do. Mom’s message is clear. I’ve been uninvited. More than that, I’m once again excommunicated from the family. Because I disagreed with her.

I call her back that afternoon. “Do you really think now is the time to sever ties given Dad’s situation?” She lets loose with anticipated fury. I am always bringing up the past. I don’t know all that went on. (Over 20 years go, before Jerri was ever treated for Bipolar.) I wasn’t there when Jerri went into Prodigal’s Community. I can’t get a word in edgewise. She is soooo glad that God doesn’t hold grudges against her the way that I do. She is soooo disappointed in me. She hangs up again.

I am done. I call my friend Susan who, more than anyone else I know, can empathize with mother issues. “My friend,” she says, “All I can say is there is some undiagnosed mental illness going on there. There has to be. Normal mothers just don’t behave that way.”

On Thursday, Jerri leaves 6 frantic voicemails while I’m in Zumba. They all say the same thing. Daddy is in the hospital. Mom is not there. She had called the house to talk to Dad and that’s how she found out. He’s dying. They are going to bring in hospice. This may be the last chance we have to see him without Mom. Jerri is going to catch the bus immediately.

I beat her to the hospital. Dad is curled up on his side. He is so very thin. His hair is totally white now and he has brown spots on his face. He is so fragile. I don’t have the courage to wake him. If Mom is telling the truth, he will not want to see me.

Jerri arrives and he awakes. For a moment, Dad is unsure of what he sees – his daughters – but he sorts it out. We are real. Not a dream. Not the morphine. He’s been in the hospital since Monday. He fell on his way to the car for his appointment. His Oncologist sent him to the emergency room when he arrived.

He’s been in the hospital 4 days and Mom never told us.

He says they are no longer fighting the cancer. They are fighting the pain. His Oncologist has given him a choice. Another drug like Votrient that may make him sick and unable to function but may slow the cancer or pain meds that will do nothing about the cancer but allow him to feel okay. Dad has chosen the latter, at least for a month, and then he will see.

I don’t tell him the awful truth – that every moment he doesn’t fight the cancer, it advances. It has spread so quickly, he may not have a month. The brain is likely the next stop on the Great Cancer Tour of his body and then he won’t have a chance to change his mind. It will take his mind. I struggle to breathe.

He says he doesn’t have much longer. I ask, “how do you feel about that?” He says, “I’m okay with it. I’m not afraid. At least not today. Ask me tomorrow and you might get a different answer.”

I am glad for him. That he’s not afraid.

From the hallway comes a public announcement. Visitor hours are over. I tell Dad we have to leave. He hurries to tell us one more story about the dream he had last night. It is not important. It is not how I want to spend my last minutes with him. I let him talk.

When he’s done I stand and he struggles to get out of bed. An alarm goes off. He is at risk for falling so they’ve tied an alarm to his bed. The nurse comes in and he says, “It’s okay. I just wanted to get up to say good-bye to my family.”

He hugs me. I know in my heart it is the last time. “I love you, Dad.” “I love you too,” he says and he makes a point of looking me in the eye. He knows it too. He hugs Jerri and tells her he loves her. We believe him. This is our real Dad, the way he is when Mom isn’t around.

Jerri promised Mom she would call after she gets home from her visit with Dad. She reports back to me the next day. “Your mother kept me on the phone for over an hour last night talking about you. Boy, is she mad at you. It’s kind of nice – her being mad at you and not me for a change.”

“I don’t want to hear it.”

“She said she’s not going to tell you when Daddy dies. She said you’re just swooping in because he’s dying.”

“Seriously, Jerri, I don’t want to hear it.”

“She said she doesn’t want anything else to do with you and neither does Dad. So I said, really Mom? Cause Terri was at the hospital last night and Daddy talked to her almost the entire time!”

I feel sorry for Dad now. Because Mom will hold my visit against him. She’ll be furious with him for not tossing me out of the room. It’s Father’s Day, probably his last one, but I don’t call. I’m afraid he won’t answer. Or he’ll say he can’t talk to me anymore. I’m afraid she may have gotten to him.

I can still see his face – his eyes penetrating mine. I can feel his arms around me, his stubbly cheek against mine. “I love you too, Terri.” Those words are a gift. They will sustain me for the rest of my days. I know that he meant them. She can’t take that away. No matter what happens next.

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11 Comments on “Father’s Day”

  1. (Not That) Joan says:

    Hello Terri,

    I can’t bring myself to delete your blog from my “favorites”. I often think of you and Jerri, and am wishing you well.

    • Hi, Joan. Thank you for your sweet note. I never meant to drop off the face of the earth but life has been a bit crazed this past year. Adjusting to the thyroid hormone that is now part of my daily regimen has been difficult. It’s been a year and a half since my thyroid was removed and my endocrinologist is still trying to find the right dose for me. Had no idea how important my thyroid was until they cut it out. It’s like the control center of your body. Cognitive function, mood, metabolism, temperature regulation, bowel function, heart rate – you name it, the thyroid regulates it. I have days when my mind is just not working properly. I have difficulty concentrating, remembering things, finding words to explain myself. Blogging has seemed out of the question but I am starting to get back into writing again. I look at some of my past posts and pray that I still have the ability to write.

      My father died in July. This last post was only a snapshot of the family dysfunction so it should come as no surprise that it was a very stressful and difficult time. The relationship with my mom was extremely tenuous and I wasn’t sure if I’d be welcome at his funeral. One of my nieces stepped in, however, and I was able to spend time with him in at hospice. I also delivered his Eulogy.

      Then in August, I made the decision to leave my position of 12 years and take a different role in the same company. This decision was motivated by a number of factors – the need to reduce work stress and honestly, the need to do something that was less mentally challenging because of the thyroid issues. It was the absolute right move for me, but its also never easy to start over doing something completely new. I’m the proverbial old dog trying to learn a new trick 🙂

      Jerri really struggled with Dad’s death. He had supported her as best he could in many ways before I moved her here. He was also regularly paying her phone and cable bill, which I did not approve of and which Mom immediately discontinued upon his death. Jerri’s psychiatrist prescribed additional medication to get her through his death and dying but it seemed only to add imbalance. She is better now, back to her old self, and made it through the holidays without a hitch. Christmas has always been a bit difficult for both of us.

      So here we are. It’s a new year and a new day. Thanks for keeping me in your “favorites”. I’m hoping to make a comeback! I hope all is well in your world. I really can’t tell you how much your note meant to me today.

      • (Not That) Joan says:

        Hi Terri, glad to have news of the two of you. 2014 was difficult for so many people! Our year included two moves and the sudden and surprising loss of my husband’s job. Luckily (although we didn’t think so at the time) we were unable to sell our house outside of Paris when we moved to Bordeaux in 2012 so we still have a roof over our heads and N has gone into business with a headhunter friend of his. No guarantee of a monthly paycheck, but it keeps him busy and that makes life so much easier.

        I first found your blog when my daughter was diagnosed as being bipolar in 2009 and I didn’t know where to turn. It took a long time, but she is now employed and in a serious relationship with someone who is good for her. They communicate well. She will always have anxiety issues but is doing okay without medication at the moment and she is seeing her therapist on a regular basis. She has just given her flatmate notice to move out since his recreational drug use is making her feel vulnerable. She handled all of this on her own.
        I am so proud of her, and so grateful that the stranger with the dead eyes has gone away and that my thoughtful, iintelligent and funny daughter has returned. I must remember to hold on to this if she ever relapses.

        Good riddance to 2014. There’s a lot to be said for letting time do its work. I hope that you and your endocrinologist will soon fine-tune your treatment plan and that your new job will soon seem as natural to you as the old one did.

        I am happy to hear that Jerri was able to weather the storms that your father’s passing triggered, and that you both managed to make it through the holidays unscathed.

        As for your writing ability, your “voice” sounds just the same to me!

        Bonne année et à bientôt,

        Joan

  2. Oh, this is so heart breaking. I can’t imagine how you are walking through this, and it is so unfair and cruel. May God comfort you and bring healing to your heart and soul. I pray that He sustains you in this time, and may you always have that clear memory of your Dad expressing his love freely to you and your sister. Lord, please comfort Terri and Jerri, and in your time, bring their Dad into the place you have prepared for him.

  3. Mairead says:

    I’m so sorry for the painful situation you find yourself in. Your words resonated with me because in some ways I could see myself in a similar situation in the future. I’ve had almost no communication with my parents for the past year and half. Although I’ve told them that if they needed help they could call on me, if something happened to one of them I doubt they would bother to tell me. I would probably hear it from my other siblings. They seem to have decided that having their only two daughters in their life is no longer important. Considering how damaging my relationship with them has been for me, it is probably for the best.

    • I can relate. My parents have raised Jerri’s children. Those are their only kids now. We were replaced as if we never existed. Mom told Jerri this week that she doesn’t love us, she only loves them. This doesn’t even hurt me any more. At least it’s honest.

  4. Jan K. Smith says:

    Terri – my heart aches for you. Yet, I am so glad you had that time with your father. Don’t hold it against him that he is ready to stop fighting & just wanting to stop the pain. I’m so glad he loves you and you got to hear it – that is something you will always carry with you…my dad died almost 30 years ago when he was 63 but I will never forget the good times and the love…Keep writing –

  5. Soulsister says:

    You do what you need to do! Not only does your physical Dad love you, but your almighty Father loves you. Both of those facts will not change! I am so glad your were able to hear from your Dad that he loves you and he gave you a hug……those memories do not fade. So good he knows you love him too! I remember my last semi hug from my Dad…he never told me he loved me…but I knew he did. That was 10 years ago. Hold it close my friend. That feeling will not fade.


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