IT’S NOT LIKE THE MOVIES
(Originally posted on the website Continuum…)
I WENT to visit my father today. The cancer is taking its toll. Six months is what the doctor has given him, as if doctors are the givers of life. That was almost a month ago. Don’t do the math.
I brought a funny movie with us so that we could all watch it together. The movie was one that I saw at my friend Pete’s house recently, “Along Came Polly” with Ben Stiller and Jennifer Aniston. I thought that maybe it would lighten the mood and create a happy memory. Deep inside I was hoping that enough laughter would shield me from the reality of my father’s disease. With enough merriment maybe time would stand still. Maybe the shared hilarity would be enough to drive time backwards and my father would be all better again. They always say that laughter is the best medicine, right? Part way through the film my dad was holding his belly. That would have been a normal motion during a funny flick. However, my stepmother’s question, “Do you need some percocet, Pappy?” became the non-funniest line during the movie. Somehow, Ben Stiller’s farting noises in Aniston’s bathroom were no longer funny either.
My father appeared evidently weaker than the last time I saw him a few weeks ago. He was noticeably thinner. He has reached that point of looking unhealthily thin. I know that next will come feebly thin, and then… He has become too weak to take the dog, Murphy the black labrador, out to the back yard. True, a black lab is a large, strong dog. But my dad was always a big strong guy. No dog ever intimidated him. Murphy is so used to my dad taking her out that they now have to trick her by having my dad walk part way down the steps and then my stepsister takes her the rest of the way. Then Dad walks back up the steps and is exhausted.
At dinner, my father’s suffering was further displayed. The poor guy can hardly eat. It’s mainly a side effect of the chemo. He went through heavy chemo treatments since he was diagnosed in February. When that proved to be ineffective, the doctor recommended a milder chemo treatment in order to improve his quality of life. To watch a man, who once loved to eat, sit at the table and poke at the tiny portion of macaroni on his plate was depressing. He left the table at one point. As my stepmother watched him go down the hallway she said, half to herself, “It just gets a little worse each day.”
Two years ago, my dad’s brother died from cancer. His remains are interred at Arlington Military Cemetery in Washington, D.C. I was not able to attend my uncle’s funeral service at Arlington. My dad went though. Last year he went again to visit his brother’s grave. This year he has cancelled his trip to Arlington. The bumpiness of the car ride makes the pain from his tumor intolerable now. For the same reason, he doesn’t drive into town to have coffee with his buddies as much these days.
There is no reversing this for my dad. I knew that as we said good-bye this evening. With much effort, he walked us to the car on our way out. He patted my shoulder a few times and told me he loved me. I saw the tears in his eyes as he turned away. He stood on the lawn and watched us. I couldn’t drive off right away, just started the car and waved. He waved. I thought that maybe if we just stay right there and wave back and forth to each other, it would never happen. We would never lose sight of each other. He would never leave.
But I know that one day there will be a last wave, one last good-bye, one last, “I love you,” and a pat on the shoulder. No matter when exactly it happens, it will always, always, always be too soon. Even if there was some bizarre quirk in the space-time continuum and we somehow found ourselves sitting on the couch doubled over in laughter at Ben Stiller’s antics for a few more millennia, sooner or later the movie will end. Movies always do. Sadly, so do lives.
I feel that I should wrap up this entry with something positive, something upbeat or happy. You see, that right there is one of my faults. Maybe I’ve watched too many movies, been too conditioned by Hollywood. Life is not like the movies. There is real pain in life, real sadness. People do die. True, there are plenty of good and pleasant things in life: love, peace, joy. There is faith to connect us with things that transcend this life. But tonight, what I sense is the frustration of humanity’s mortality. That sense is just as valuable as faith, in its own way.