I had escaped that evening, strolling hastily and somewhat guiltily from the house to see a film at the local movie house. The movie was over, as was my brief repreive. A simple, indulgent respite from hearing his tortured breathing, his gasping inspiration of air and delayed expiration - crying out in pain or in confusion - and always wondering, sometimes hoping, that the breath I heard would be his last.
They found a lump in his abdomen sometime around Thanksgiving. And so when they rushed him into surgery four days later, he knew that this was the beginning of the end. He had been involved in the medical field most of his 67 years. They never let him see the x-rays, but from the tests and the symptoms, he knew. Metastatic caecal cancer. Liver involvement. Spinal infiltrations. He knew.
We watched him go through all of the classic stages - fear, denial, anger, and finally, barely, ever so tortuously, acceptance. And I went through each stage too, and only now - now that he is barely conscious through most of the day and night, now that he is but a wisp of the strong man who held me tightly in his arms, who called me "my son" with such pride in his voice, who looked out for me, and who I thought would always be there for me when I needed him - only now can I accept that he is dying.
And that is such a hard thing to do - to realize that someone you love, someone you hold very near to your heart - will soon be dead, and will no longer talk to you on the phone, or leave gentle messages for you on your answering machine. No longer send little snippets in the mail, or relish with you the solution to some problem. Never again hold you in his arms, and look up at you with pride, and say to a friend, "this is my son".
My father is dying - and all I can do is stroke his head, and try to make him feel comfortable, and watch so helplessly as the life slowly ebbs from his body - the body that is no longer my father, but a shell that holds my father's smile, and a remnant of his gentle voice.
Oh God, how it hurts!