The wisdom to know the difference

My Dad has anaplastic thyroid cancer. It will kill him, perhaps in months, maybe in weeks or days. My brother and sister are with him and I will be there in a week.

He has a tracheotomy and a feeding tube. He is in no pain, although he suffers real misery when he must sit up in a chair to make sure he doesn’t get pneumonia (which could lead to a distressing death) or thrombosis (which could lead to a very sudden death, robbing us of our last opportunities to spend time with him). He is completely serene and spiritually and emotionally ready to go. He saw his youngest grandchildren today and enjoyed their company. He loves his nurse Katrina. He is writing long lists of to-dos for all of us, because he cannot speak. His affairs are entirely and utterly in order. It is as if he has been living for this moment.

Perhaps 2 weeks ago (we have all rather lost track of time) my dad developed a sore throat. He went to the Dr, received antibiotics and was sent home. His glands were badly swollen and his throat was so constricted he really couldn’t eat, breathe or swallow. He went to hospital where they diagnosed a virus or perhaps mono (glandular fever) and sent him home. After 5 days, my sister went to see him. She arranged another doctor’s appointment and he was admitted today one week ago. In all, the cancer has been in his system maybe 4 weeks. The speed with which it has moved is shocking–the lump on his neck can be seen to grow every day.

For those we tell, the news is frightening, sad and hard to believe. It is for us too. But we do believe it and accept it and so does he. It’s fine. It’s not the worst thing. It will be ok.

My dad likes to be in control and is a man of enormous dignity, self-posession and resourcefulness. If you had asked me, I would have said I dreaded him living to 102, having Alzheimer’s or being rendered weak and incapacitated by a stroke. If he can die a quick, relatively peaceful and painless death knowing he will be loved and missed, I can live with that.

I know people wish to be kind when they talk about miracles and cures and not giving up hope. They are dealing with their own shock and they don’t know what to say. But honestly, it’s exhausting and beside the point, and not what we wish for ourselves or for him. Thanks all the same. We know you mean well.

About Liz Barron

US Peace Corps Volunteer in Armenia. Permanent address in Washington DC. Deep roots in Northern Ireland and persistent Belfast accent. Blogger,cook, mother, grandma, Scrabble-player and enthusiastic world traveler.
This entry was posted in Blarney Family, Culture with the Crone and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The wisdom to know the difference

  1. Chris Turner says:

    Hey Liz, I feel for you. My mother died at 62 nine months after being diagnosed with a type of glandular cancer that apparently kills 90% of sufferers within 12 months. Of course, I hoped she would be one of the 10%, but she was not. At that time, I thought it was the worst thing that could possibly happen. It probably wasn’t although I can’t pretend the impact of her death was not severe, despite my knowing it was coming. This was almost 20 years ago but my tears are welling as I write.

    My memories of her are of a young and vibrant woman. She did not suffer the piecemeal, drawn out decline I see in older people. Sometimes we have what we are given and need to find our peace with it.

  2. Liz, this post IS the wisdom to know the difference. Your last graf is insightful beyond measure. His preparation and equanimity speaks forcefully to why you are who you are.

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