Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Let's get on with it

The white-haired woman lays lifelessly in bed, surely farther on then Liberal Theologian. The Earnest Chef heads right for the poor women’s doorway before I can warn him it’s the wrong room. But then I recognize the bed-side man who’s holding the patient’s hand and it’s LT’s father. It’s me who was wrong.

“Should we stay?” I whisper to him, “Or would you prefer to be alone with your family?”

“Oh – stay,” he says. So we sit and I take LT’s other hand. It’s hard to know if she recognizes my presence or not. Every visit she continues to decline.

More family are in the hospice’s lounge area and they come and go regularly. The daughter has already visited today. She’s working this evening; a line-up of students to tutor in their homes. LT makes rare communication attempts to ask for her daughter. “She’s coming back in the morning,” we keep telling her.

Eventually I must go move the car in accordance with limited free-parking roulette, and upon return the Earnest Chef pulls me back out to the hallway. His face is pained. He reports that she is expressing her desire for things to end.

It’s like a blow to the head. Instinctively my hands move to protect my face. Or maybe I’m trying to hide from it. Suddenly we’re embracing fiercely and weeping.

“I want you at the end,” she says. Her voice is a mouse whisper. “I want you at the end.”

“Of course,” I say, squeezing her hand just ever so barely. She longs for touch but so easily interprets injury. 

“I want you at the end… I want you at the end…” I am touched but not flattered. She wants us all at the end, I know. But I also know that she will not, in the end, be capable of fully grasping who all is present and who is not.

The nurses confirm “a marked deterioration” over the course of the afternoon. “Her daughter should be informed,” they say. But I have already left her voice and text messages with the Earnest Chef’s cell phone contraption.

I’m heart-broke over Dog Whisperer. She is probably LT’s best friend of all. But hospitals are a torture for her. Do I send word of the developments so that she can agonize over it? So she can beat herself up over the attempt-to-visit-or-don’t-visit equation and all the pressure and perceived guilt around it? I feel I have no choice but to be forthright and send word but I bail out a little and send word to her family: private messages to Earth Writer and Aqualad. Of course, they tell her as they must.

I am holding her hand when her Mom and Dad each come to say goodbye and “see you tomorrow” and “I love you.” I drop my head low so they don’t have to see me falling apart for them.

After the extended family have all departed LT speaks a few words. “It has to be tonight,” she squeaks. "It has to be tonight," and The Daughter winces and hides her face.

“It’s not time,” everyone says. But I wonder about that. It sure looks like it’s time. What is left for her? And what is left of her? She won’t eat or drink or open her eyes – except once she becomes animated: She raises her hands, goes rigid and barks, “I want Monica!” Monica is a friend and a nursing student who has visited earlier in the day and will return tomorrow. It’s late in the evening and we have been trying to dissuade LT from these feeble repeated demands to see Monica.

Finally I am alone with LT. Perhaps I will stay the night. But then Monica arrives with her mom. Someone relented and texted her and she came. She holds LT’s hand.

“Okay,” says LT. “Let’s get on with it.” And we then realize the significance. But Monica cannot provide the desired assistance. Merciful it might be, but it’s still called murder in the Magnificent Wisdom of the Law. There is no machine to unplug. Only strong narcotics.

LT finally sleeps. Monica and the duty nurses are happy with her breathing and her colour, and assure that she will sleep well and survive the night. So I go home for some rest and return early this morning. Others follow. The sun is out today, having lived to see another day, and so have we all, except that LT has lived to lie in bed and not see it.

What do you see instead behind your eyelids, sweet friend? What strange realms have drugs and decay painted in your private mind? I hope that it's some adventure. I hope that this ragged remnant of life is somehow worth hanging on to.  

Saturday, January 24, 2015

The price for peace

“How are you doing?” I ask.

“Good now that you’re here.” She wastes no time before exerting pressure. I know I’m the last visitor of the day. She won’t want me to leave.

I choose the visitor chair with no arms on it and don’t remain for long. She wants us arranged on the bed, side by side so that I can hold her and rub her back and such. I immediately regret it. I don’t want this level of intimacy with her, and now I’ve set an unhealthy precedent. Now I’ll loathe to come back again and face the unenviable choice of unwelcome intimacy versus an abandonment/anxiety attack reaction should I decline. The more she demands the more she alienates. Bad all around.

She reminds me she’s dying. She says she’s going home Monday (I doubt it). She tells the tale of the cancer-sick man who survived because all his friends and family put their lives on hold and stayed with him 24/7 and pulled him through. I’m a little skeptical. Pretty sure cancer doesn’t give a rat’s ass if your friends are holding your hand or not.

All she wants is love – or the illusion of love. Somewhere inside she probably perceives the difference and is willing to settle for the latter. But the constant demands erode lovability.

“Stay,” she wheezes breathlessly, “’Til midnight.” How real is she being? As always I don’t know. As always I am caught between mercy and sticking to my principles – which all boils down to: blind compassion versus genuine compassion. This night I am strong and tell her I must go and why, and that I will be thinking about her and how to be helpful to her.  

The next night there is an inner-circle meeting. The Liberal Theologian’s daughter; my other housemate, is the key participant. She hasn’t felt like a daughter for a long time now; more a constant nurse. She’s a sleepless estranged grieving wreck at twenty-four years old, and I haven’t been shy to point that out to people. Her girlfriend is there. We’d had a one-on-one prior to the meeting, solidifying our commitments as protectors of The Daughter.

LT’s best of friends are there: Dog Whisperer and Aqualad’s other mom, the Earth Writer. And the Priest Next Door is there and the Psychologist Next Door. Both of them speak eloquently. There words are a great comfort. And Dog Whisperer speaks passionately from a place of shared experience. She cared for the dying as a young woman too and paid tremendous costs which still she can’t escape.

I am greatly relieved to find that everyone shares my views about LT’s anxieties, fears, control issues and special brand of neediness. Some of my guilt concerning my own dark suspiciousness towards a terminally ill woman is beginning to evaporate.

We have branded ourselves the support group for The Daughter. And if necessary we will help her stand against the Circle at Large: LT’s other friends and extended family – should they take up a call to arms from LT and rally for a 24/7 home-care solution, which our little alliance is dead set against.

The next day there is a meeting between doctors and key parties from the inner and outer circles. Home-care is rejected. Hospice is the destination. And the prognosis has devolved:

“We’re looking at weeks,” says the oncologist, “Not months.”

I still can’t get my head around this; why this transparency is so welcome. Who, reading this, would wish to know, right now, their date of expiry? I can’t imagine you would. So why thrust it upon the terminal, I sometimes wonder. Why not let them wake each day unburdened by ticking time clocks? Yes I know all the practical reasons and I know that in the big picture, how critical such financial matters are not. It surprises me, is all. What are the ill thinking when they ask, how much time? Are they just praying for a nice big number? Is it a regret every time; to get the answer they gambled against?

Now that the time-frame has changed the math becomes interesting for me. If we’re talking weeks, then I could conceivably commit to weekend-only duty for a short while and so not be on-call, and pull 18 hours a day, Monday to Friday for LT, taking the lion’s share of care-giving coverage. Then we just need a couple of sisters and a couple old friends to each spend a weekend with LT. The library room could be converted to a guest room without considerable difficulty. And then five others to commit to a weekday evening each week; while I sleep. And The Daughter doesn’t have to partake at all. She can get on with being daughter.

I take these thoughts to Dog Whisperer. She and Earth Writer and Aqualad have been such a magnificent help and comfort to me this last month, it is astounding their impact on my life, especially of late. Not just their love and their hugs but their kind ears and wisdom have so reduced such otherwise lengthy internal mental processes. They have helped me cut to the hearts of the matters with every issue and spared me so much mental math, letting me find peace so much sooner. I love them to no end. I’d put my life on the line for any of them.

Of course Dog Whisper is more or less horrified at my ponderings and eager to derail my train of thought. The hospice is the better place for many reasons. She is tearful in her rebuttals, as I am tearful in my persistence that I must go through this exercise for my own sake. I have to know that I am not letting someone down in their greatest time of need, out of my own selfishness. I have to know that I have not been rationalizing; if I could make a difference.

I shall pass this way but once; any good that I can do or any kindness I can show to any human being; let me do it now. Let me not defer nor neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.
- Etienne de Grellet

Friday I visit LT and discover that she can barely manage a short walk with me and her walker. Such a struggle that I wonder was it her last walk; if its wheelchairs from now on. She talks of great plans for us. She wants to finish editing the remaining drafts of her fantasy saga. Only the last two books remain unpublished. And she wants to finish the late addition to the series; a supplemental novel, half-finished. And she wants to finish the murder mystery novel too and she wants my help with these things. And I am on board with that. Yes, I will help! But we try to talk about this for an hour and accomplish nothing. She can never complete a single thought without slipping into a vegetative state. I realize that none of this will happen. She is mentally breaking down from the cancer and the drugs. The reality is: the final books of the series will receive cursory edits from a small committee including myself, and published posthumously.

I fear that even “weeks” is optimistic. I feel like she is slipping daily. I really hope I’m wrong. The blessing is that all my former concerns have evaporated and I am truly at ease with her. There are suddenly no boundary issues. She doesn’t ask for hugs but I give them because I want to. It seems like the drugs or deterioration have left her mentality transparent. Gone are my reservations about control issues. I am comfortable, without having to shield my higher principles (or was it an ego thing all along; fear of being controlled?). She has become more fully lovable. In a sense she may get what she wanted all along, but at so terrible a price.

“Going down,” states the elevator voice with flat eloquence. So we are. I realize as I descend that this will be perhaps my most intimate dealings with death. Five grandparents were sad to lose; truly, but that is what all grandparents must do. Close friends; not so much. Not in my experience so far. I think about Biodad’s departure. That might have been intimate had we not so fully alienated each other well before or had I not fucked up a possible reunion.

The elevator door opens and there through the windows I see the other wing; the old bricks of the original section of hospital, once called Henderson. It was there I entered this world, born of Biodad’s mischief. I suppose I am grateful for that.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

abash [uh-bash]

We are high school students, sampling the world of absent-parent covert-house-party night life (and no, I’m not confusing abash with a bash).

Steven, though firmly established in our clique, is the frequent target of derision, though his habitual obnoxiousness seems to us to demand it. I’m in Steven’s room with our pal Rob who snoops through Steven’s drawers while the party’s nucleus hovers elsewhere.

“Oh my god,” he says. I look. He’s holding a pair of white skivvies pinched between two fingers. Mostly white, that is. There’s an ungodly stripe present; the epic mother of all underwear stains.    

We entirely fall apart; literally falling to the floor and rolling back and forth in helpless hysterics. That old idiom is no exaggeration; not this one time, anyway. I laugh so long and so hard that I’m in pain and tears stream down my face, an experience I’ve not had before (or would again).

Perhaps it was the pounding of our fists on the floor which brings Steven rushing into the room. “What’s so funny?” he says, but we can’t catch our breath to reply. Perhaps he spies the open drawer. Perhaps that’s why he says, “Oh. I think I know.”

Poor guy. I felt sorry for him. I couldn't stop laughing but I felt sorry for him too.

Monday, January 19, 2015

New Day Rising: The Vision

As much as I hate corporations, I must respect their ruthless efficiency. And so I take a page from their playbook in another attempt to prioritize my life and generate productivity:


In a universe where death is the rule, the dominant natural state of all things, and life is so rare a miracle, only sustainable for the briefest duration and only by killing or maligning other life, true harmony; the absence of suffering, has not been possible – until this very recent mutation: consciousness, a very limited self-awareness which has made possible a new breed of evolution, one both strengthened and leveraged by its susceptibility to intent, an evolution which bears the capacity to turn a cold and deadly universe into a place of joyful, peaceful, harmonious life.

This is the one true drama in the universe, and the one true drama in human existence. All humans have, in whole or in part, the capacity to become champions of harmony, and all humans play a vital role in this great drama every moment of their lives, whether they realize it or not.

With every waking thought and action, whether they know it or not, each human either works in favour of this evolution, and thus celebrates humanity, or else works against it, and thus espouses death. There is no neutrality, nor is there escape from consequences. Humans suffer constantly for their celebration of death, with little capacity to account for their suffrage nor to recognize it for what it is.

Next step: a mandate.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

All the world's a stage

The Liberal Theologian is back in hospital again; the cancer centre, and as usual everything is a big unknown. Is this just treatment for side-effects of a multitude of medications or have we gone to DEFCON 2?

Her oncologist has now taken full control of all things medical. All decisions must flow through him. Is that a bad sign?

As always I feel handcuffed. I had picked out a role for myself: on the practical side: meal prep whenever possible, and on the emotional side: a daily coach and cheerleader to encourage her to focus on healthy perspectives, like appreciating the daily miracles of our existence and getting the most out of each living day.

But every day there seems no opportunity for opportunity. She succumbs to breathlessness and fatigue and relies on her oxygen tank. She gives energy to receiving PSW visits and nurse visits and receives her meals from her roster of supporting family and friends and then has nothing left in the gas tank, or else just enough to organize a press release or to at least discuss the topic. As a major extrovert she insists that all her closest friends and family know every detail of her ordeal at all times.  And some of us do want to know. For others it’s too much.

As a former control freak I have an excellent radar for my control freak brothers and sisters and I love them for their suffering and I know how illegitimate the game is. You manipulate people into behaving the way you “need” them to and then interpret their motivations in a self-flattering way; as if their actions were of their own accord and not contrived by yourself. It’s double-think and it’s a terrible game and a terrible empty way to waste your time, especially if you have little time left.

It’s an attempt to create the illusion of incoming love and it’s twisted, I know. And the ironic thing is: if you’re one of the lucky few to defeat – or tame - the appropriate treacherous instincts and to embrace the reality of yourself and the reality of those around you and to understand the genuine beauty of that which you formally feared, you lose that presumed need for inbound love (and/or your various illusory needs), but the very process of becoming real makes you lovable. So you only get what you wanted after you don’t particularly want it anymore! In my case I gained much respect only after I lost most of my appreciation for respect.

I know what the Liberal Theologian wants more than anything in the world. It’s a specific kind of relationship. And I know because she tells me and she tells no one else in her ‘circle’ which is an effective burden on me. Like most people, she views relationships like a job posting. Where is that one special person with all of these qualifications that are on my list!

But there are few-to-nil applicants when you’re in a cancer centre. I’m concerned that facing mortality has perhaps not prompted her to look for any breakthrough in herself; has not prompted her to soul-search or look inward, but perhaps only strengthened her resolve to get the relationship she wants but in surrogate form; from all of her friends. And this, if it’s true, is troubling for too many reasons to go into here and now.

I am concerned, wondering this: if all of this apparent suffering is not entirely deterioration from cancer, and that some degree of relief is forthcoming, will the Liberal Theologian acknowledge that relief and start to fight, and become a mentally-healthy participant in life for what period of time she can, or will she instead remain in distress mode, focused on receiving her special brand of love, and never fully experience the rewards she might imagine; might be counting on, because some semi-conscious part of her knows the evidence is suspect.  

Sometimes I tell myself, just give her what she wants! It’s too late for her to experience some kind of epiphany! Give her what she thinks she wants; it’ll be a mercy. But in the back of my mind: what if she lives a long time and I’ve committed to something I can’t sustain?

In the moment, it becomes difficult to surrender to what seems like game-playing (though I don’t presume to judge). I spend way way too much time in this society being half-asleep, tolerating the games that go on around me and are inflicted on me because I’ve yet to summon the necessary fortitude or savvy for steering people away from the games and toward reality as I feel my duty demands. And this wears me down.  Every day it wears me down, and now it has intensified with this daily circumstance. So now I feel detached from someone I truly care about.

I’m looking for answers. I presume they lay inside myself.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

abase [uh-beys]

I am seven years old. The other boy is younger and I do not know him well. The field has turned mostly to mud since construction began on the new townhouses, and it is cracked with the evaporation which follows recent rains.

I gently pry loose a slab; keeping it intact. “Want a piece of chocolate?” I say.

I don’t remember if I expected him to get the joke or not. I remember my surprise, and the look of confused horror. I remember going inside and grounding myself to my room.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

abandon [uh-ban-duh n]

The school is boarded up; long unused. Towering weeds reach through cracked pavement. The other boys are all older; high school freshman and sophomores. We’ve just left the theatre where I closed my eyes through the hideous scene in Poltergeist where the fellow peels his face apart.

Kenny gets a boost onto a low section of roof and then shimmies higher and disappears through a high slim bank of windows; the only ones to escape being boarded up. Soon after there is a splintering of wood as Kenny busts out a lower-level window and then helps each of us climb through.

The halls are blackness with occasional razor strips of light, wherever boards don’t fit the windows flush.

We enter a giant void that can only be the gymnasium. Our footsteps slowly shuffle along. The floor is uneven, inexplicably pitted. The deep dark closes upon us and unnerves me. The scary movie is fresh in my mind, but I feel safe enough with the older boys.

The next day I return to the site with a flashlight and my best friend and I lead him through the dark labyrinth all full of bravado.

Sunday, January 04, 2015

abaft [uh-baft]

A single family rents the cottage next door and the young neighbor boy assumes that we are friends because we are the same age but I am not overly fond of him. I prefer spending this vacation time with my extended family; especially my older cousin.

I tell him, "I can't play with you much longer. My uncle is taking us for a boat ride."

He mistakes "us" for meaning he and I, and shows up at the dock uninvited, his parents having met none of us thus far (how times have changed) and is not turned away.

He and I are planted in the stern of the power boat. It generates speed, rears and bounces. The wind and spray are fierce. I know that I am grinning widely. I exchange glances with the boy and see that he is not grinning. I feel childish suddenly and assume that he must think that of me, and so I force my smile away.

Saturday, January 03, 2015

abacus [ab-uh-kuh s]

An open letter to Mrs. O'Conner:

Dear Mrs. O'Conner,

Long time no see! Hope you are well. I was just wondering: Why did you teach us how to use abacuses in grade two? I have yet to encounter one in real life. Were you forecasting an apocalypse? If so, I would like to discuss.

Ritchie Mooney