Monday, May 16, 2016

Chapter Two, Part 1: Daughtering

The term parenting is technically defined as the act of being a mother or father to a child; it means to take care of the person or people to whom you serve as the parent.  So why isn’t there a parallel term for taking care of one’s parent – sonning, or, in my case, daughtering?

The way I can daughter my dad now is by telling his story.  Not just the one from the ten weeks when he was sick, but his whole story, or at least what I know of it. 

During the time my dad was sick, I posted updates regularly on CarePages for friends and family members to keep up with what was going on with Dad.   For the first nine weeks after Dad was diagnosed with cancer, we chose to view his illness as a challenge instead of a catastrophe. The CarePages updates focused on what was going right and on the Hope for which we were so very desperate.   But there was lots going on behind the scenes and on the sidelines besides what was posted then, and I feel like this may be the time to begin to tell that part of the story.

This is a sad story, to be sure, but it is also one of Hope and Spirit.  It’s about tenacity and courage and toughness, not just tragedy.  It’s about Love and, of course, Perspective.  It’s about what we learned, not just about cancer but about my dad, about each other, and about ourselves.  It’s about how cancer sucks – it really, really SUCKS! – but WAY more than that, it’s about the strength of a man who wants to protect his family and of a family that wants to protect that man.

On October 23, 2010, my 66 year-old dad was out on an eight-mile run.  About halfway through the run, he became disoriented.  He stopped at a traffic light but was unsure of which way to go to get home from there.   Fast-forward through a helpful couple who noticed Dad’s distress and called an ambulance, to a transport to a small hospital where a “mass” was detected during an emergency CT scan in his brain, and then to another ambulance ride to a large hospital that was equipped with a Neuro-ICU.  During that flurry of activity, our lives changed forever, and we didn’t even know it was happening.  

My mom was out of town, but luckily her two sisters were contacted and were nearby, and they raced to the hospital to be with Dad while Mom scrambled over the next few hours to get there.  When Dad arrived at the second hospital, he was fast-tracked for an MRI. Once inside the MRI tube, Dad had an extended grand mal seizure.  The medical team got him out of the tube and performed CPR for several minutes before Dad was intubated and hooked up to a ventilator.  He was transported to the Neuro-ICU, which is where he was when my mom and my youngest sister arrived.  He was sedated and stayed hooked up to lots of IV’s, monitors, and machines overnight, and they stayed by his side, in shock, watching and waiting, a rough beginning of the uphill battle to come.

I think a lot about what went on inside that MRI tube that day.  I’m not sure why; I feel like thinking about that is something I should be moving past by now in the grief process.  But it was such a turning point for Dad, and for all of us who love him, like a Time Machine of sorts.  He went in looking like, acting like, and living like a person many years younger than he was, with a little numbness and confusion, and came out decades older, with a malignant brain tumor and many problems with motor skills, sensation, visual-perception, and memory and reasoning.  On one side of the tube he was a competitive athlete, working full-time, traveling and enjoying his life; on the other side he needed assistance to walk and was unable to perform the tasks necessary to work, drive a car, or live independently. 

Maybe those deficits were already bubbling at the surface and Cancer was like a bandit in the night that just uncovered them all at the same time.  Maybe the changes weren’t as defined as I remember them being at that point in time; perhaps they came in a few days later when he had brain surgery or over the upcoming weeks when the tumor was continuing to grow.  From my perspective, it just seems like a watershed moment, a time when we learned that a hurricane was coming but we couldn’t evacuate, a time when the future was being written, a time when things began to spin out of control, a time when Daughtering took on a whole new meaning.

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