Sunday, March 2, 2014
Chapter One, Part 1: Foreshadowing
Isn’t it odd the way that, without a crisis, foreshadowing is just another event that occurs, leading to nothing, with no hidden agenda or meaning. I guess that’s how life works, though: we go along about our business, day after day, and then one day something big happens and things change. Things are changed, sometimes forever. And when the sting of it all eases up even the slightest bit, we wonder if we could have somehow altered the outcome or even if we could have seen whatever happened coming.
One thing I’ve learned over the course of the last few years is that even hindsight isn’t always 20/20. Later, when I thought back to the day when my family and I climbed the rope course at the Adirondack Extreme Adventure Course, it did seem like foreshadowing, because it was the first time I’d ever felt like I needed to protect my dad. It was also, as it turned out, the last time I ever saw him when he wasn’t sick.
For many years, it had been the tradition of my parents, my siblings, and I and our families to get together for a family vacation during the month of July. The exact dates and the location and even the activities we did on each trip varied each year, but we always made sure our time together included time for hanging out and catching up, one of ways we stayed connected despite the geography in between where each of us lived. Our gathering place in the summer of 2010 was Lake George in upstate New York.
One of the activities we did during that time was to go to the Adirondack Extreme Adventure Course, an intense rope course composed of stunts involving zip-lines, Tarzan swings, hanging nets, wobbly bridges, and suspended logs. Through an Internet search of things to do in the area, I had found information about the park and had encouraged others in the family to sign up. Unfortunately, I didn't pay much attention to the term "extreme" in the title beforehand. I also didn't realize just how high in the trees the majority of the course would be situated or how long the course was (we later found out it usually takes 3-4 hours to complete the course).
When we got to the park, we were given instructions and a quick safety lesson, and then we lined up and started climbing. I knew Dad was afraid of heights, but, as I said, I didn't think the course was going to be roughly twenty feet off the ground. I was pretty nervous while we were on the course, both for my own sake and because of a few other people in the family whom I knew were struggling for various reasons, including Dad. In the many athletic pursuits in which I had participated over the years with my dad, I had never felt such a sense of protectiveness towards him; he was the one who was typically having to assist me. Dad was completely capable of managing the physical demands of the course - he was already in training for the Ironman triathlon at that point - but he was anxious about the distance to the ground. He wasn't about to quit or even to admit that he was scared, though; that was for sure. As always, Dad stuck with it and finished, laughing and cutting up along the way.
No one could have possibly predicted what would be going in the months ahead – Dad’s diagnosis, his struggles with the many challenges that his illness brought, or his death. While Dad was sick, I often thought back to the time when I was watching him on the Adirondack course that day. I could clearly remember feeling like I needed to safeguard him, to shield him or "spot him" on the bridges and ropes, maybe not as much from what was required of him along the course but more from his apprehensiveness; I didn't want him to be scared. It was a weird kind of foreshadowing for the way we would have to guard and encourage him though the fear and instability during his fight with cancer.
At the end of that trip to upstate New York, my immediate family ended up being stuck at the airport in Albany because of a delayed flight due to thunderstorms across the country; my parents made it out on their flight on time. After they had gotten home, Dad texted me to check on us and commiserated with me about the inconvenience of the lateness of our adjusted schedule. "I hope you make it home ok," he texted when I told him that our plane had finally been cleared for take off, the second-to-last time he would text me, ever. And, only five months later, I said goodbye to my dad for the very last time, and, in the early hours of the morning later that night, I laid my head down on the pillow to try to sleep and found myself crying so hard that tears threatened to fill my ears. I tried to stop but couldn't, and then I squeezed my eyes shut and felt that same message flash from me to my dad: "I hope you make it home ok," I thought between sobs, and then I added, "I miss you, I can't believe this whole thing happened, and I don't think I can make it without you" - thoughts that would run through my head at least a thousand times in the days and months to come.