|Dad, with Mom and friends on a camping trip several years ago|
Monday, May 16, 2016
Chapter Six, Part 7: Friends
My dad was always one of those people about whom it could be said didn’t meet a stranger. He honestly considered every person with whom he came into contact to be a potential friend, and he was consistently and genuinely kind in every situation. He once told me that he didn’t see why everyone didn’t make an effort just to say hello to every person with whom they crossed paths. “Even a dog knows it’s better to wag his tail to greet people he passes on the street,” he said.
During the time that Dad was sick, we received many cards, emails, Care Page messages, and phone messages of concern and love, and we appreciated all of them. On the front lines of the war we were fighting, we were frantically trying to keep our heads above water, plugging the holes in the dam for as long as we could, though, and the daily challenges and the shock with which we were have to cope were so overwhelming that it was all we could do to get it together to post on the Care Page every couple of days or so. Returning individual phone calls and emails was just too much, both because our time was spent focusing on Dad and the things that needed to be taken care of as part of taking care of him and also because it was just too much to even consider detailing the tragedy of it all out loud outside of The Bubble of our immediate family. It was just one of the cold hard facts about how it was when Dad was sick; our propensity to reach out was thwarted by the outrageousness of what was happening, but unfortunately the closing of the ranks ended up being something that we later learned had affected how Dad felt about himself and his views about the impact and the quality of his own life.
Not long after the second round of chemo, Mom got a phone call from one of Dad’s best friends from the small town in Missouri where my parents used to live. Dad’s friend said that he was going to come over to visit Dad. Other friends had offered to visit many times since Dad had gotten sick, but up until that point we had declined their offers for several reasons, most notably that we were concerned that contact with others could impact his health both physically and emotionally. We’d been warned by the oncologist about the dangers of germ exposure for a person on chemo. Another concern was that Dad’s problems with memory and reasoning would travel like wildfire through the gossip lines and reach his coworkers and his clients, which would be a source of embarrassment to him. Because of the logistics of caring for him while he was sick, Dad didn’t have a lot of privacy, and we felt strongly that we should do what little we could to protect him.
But this friend wouldn’t take no for an answer. He insisted that he just wanted to check in but assured us that he wouldn’t stay long. We were worried that Dad’s friend would not be able to hide his shock when he saw the changes that were so apparent in Dad. As much as possible, those of us who were around regularly were striving to act as if it was no big deal that Dad had to use a walker to get around the house and that he needed reminders about what day of the week it was or the fact that he wasn’t going back to work the next day.
On the day of the visit, Mom and my sister helped Dad get ready, and he was seated in his chair in the den when his friend arrived. The conversation flowed without too much of a hitch, and, after about 30 minutes, Dad got up to go to the bathroom (of course, without waiting for help). He used his walker to slowly make his way down the hallway, and his friend didn’t miss a beat; he expertly disguised the shock and sadness he must have felt to see such drastic changes in the man with whom he used to share the course of their weekly Saturday morning twenty-mile runs. When Dad resumed his position in his recliner, they visited for a while longer and then his friend said he had to go. Dad was both exuberant and exhausted afterwards; he lied down on his bed to “rest his eyes” with a big smile on his face.
Of all the memories I have from during the time surrounding Dad’s illness and subsequent death, this is one of the ones that is guaranteed to make me sad to the core every time it pops into my head:
Late one night when I was sitting up with Dad several weeks into his illness, he abruptly changed the subject from whatever we were talking about by saying “I don’t even have any friends.”
“Oh Dad, you are wrong,” I said, with tears in my eyes, “and I wish you knew just how wrong.”
With his eyes wide in amazement, he said incredulously, “I am?”
“Yes, Dad,” I told him, “I know you are usually the one who knows best about a lot of issues, but you have to believe me when I tell you that you have more friends and more people who love and respect you than anyone else I know.”
“OK, I hope you’re right, because it’s really important to have friends,” he said, and then he drifted off to sleep.
I’ll never know if he fully believed me or otherwise realized the depth of the truth to what I said that night. In something that I think we could only have seen in hindsight in our situation, I wish so much that we had encouraged any of Dad’s friends who were so inclined to visit while he was sick. Being a true friend was one of the many things at which he excelled, and he needed to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that his friends were rooting for him as he fought, that the many people who cared about him were there for him in the shade as well as in the sunshine, and that those who knew him were changed for the better for having known him.
at 8:45 PM