Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Forgiveness through the Generations

Apparently, the Nausea Bug and his henchman, Major Pukey, have not taken up residence under my bay window with the bumblebees, as I previously thought. See, my bay window is on the south side of my house, and the Bug and the Major have moved north. WAY north. Sing that Johnny Horton song with me--you know it--"NORTH! To Alaska, go North, the rush is on..." It seems these two twerps of impish proportion have chosen a cooler climate than the HuMidwest offers in the summertime, and they have invaded the home (and indeed the pregnant body) of my dear friend Megan.

The poor dear.

Megan is a treasure of a friend with a kind spirit, who shares with me a love of Mitford. We often discuss meeting at Happy Endings or the Irish Shop (unless it's winter, in which case it's the Irish Woolen Shop) and then stopping by Cynthia's Little Yellow House for tea. She is also the loving Mama of two boisterous sons, and she is expecting her third not too long after my Bean is due. She called me this morning, sounding rather battle-weary, and, indeed, defeated. "Go ahead and moan and whine to me," I said to her, "because I Actually Get It." She said, "I know you do," and began to wail piteously. If arms could stretch the nearly four thousand miles which separate us, I would issue an immediate hug, complete with a glass of cold water, kleenex, and a cold wash cloth.

So, with no further ado:

ATTENTION, NAUSEA BUG AND MAJOR PUKEY: You have exactly three days to pack your pitiful bags and plunge your ridiculous selves into the Bering Sea. Do not stop for sight seeing adventures. Do not attempt to take a position on a crab fishing vessel. They would merely laugh at you anyway. Just leave. Do not continue to harass my dear friend. She is a meek and humble soul who is not deserving of your putrid company. You are as unwelcome as a fake Irish cousin, who indeed empties the cupboards in seconds flat, refuses to eat flesh foods except on Sundays, overstays generously given welcome, and then turns out to not even be Irish, for Pete's sake. Your bags must be packed immediately, you wretched twerps. If you refuse to leave, more drastic measure will have to be taken. I am only giving you three days so that I have ample time to conjure an idea of what those drastic measures will be. Now off with you both!

There. That should fix them. It would probably be easier just to evict them along with the bumblebees, but we'll see how we do.


I must continue about my dad, because it's not fair to leave him at the end of my last entry. It's only fair to warn you, dear reader, that this is a long entry because I don't know how to break it I won't.

I must also mention that at the point that I was pregnant with my Frog, I was very close to my mom. At the time, I had no idea why C. had such a disdain for her, and I didn't really get the whole picture until my dad's illness. That will come in a later entry. But it's important to know now that once I moved home, I became nearly completely reliant on my mom. She served me very well during my bed rest, fixing my meals, taking me to appointments, making sure I had the medications I needed (and there were plenty of them, owing to pre-term labor which lasted from January until the birth of the Frog in March), and pretty much tolerating my taking over of the living room.

Understanding what took place between me and my dad will also mean that I get to tell the gist of my Frog's birth story. :) I've been wanting to do this.

After many false alarms, lots of pre-term labor, and general misery, I finally went into actual labor with my Frog. I had been in the night before, getting to the hospital at about 8:30 and being sent home (again) at about 11:30. The hospital was only about 5 blocks away from my parents' house, so when my water broke that morning at almost exactly 5:00, it didn't really trigger anything but excitement for me. No panic, no worrying--after all, labor for first babies takes 8-12 hours, and sometimes even longer. Since I had taken Lamaze classes, I now knew everything there was to know, and I had everything thoroughly under control. (Please kindly stifle your laughter.)

I got up to pee, having been awake with that particular urge for about 15 minutes already anyway, and also called my mom (remember dialing your own phone number and then hanging up to make the phone ring, and then talking to someone in your own house on your own phone? We did it all the time, since I was downstairs and Mom was upstairs.) to let her know that we would probably have to go to the hospital at some point that morning, and would she mind thinking about coming downstairs? She asked if she had time to take a shower, and of course, I said, "Take all the time you need. It's not like the baby's coming until suppertime, anyway."

Famous last words.

In the 20 minutes it took my mom to shower and come down the stairs, my labor had progressed from mild contractions to intense I-can't-stand-up-through-them contractions. We walked out to the car (a Mustang convertible--try getting in and out of one of those in heavy labor!), me with a bath towel to sit on so I didn't mess up the leather seats with amniotic fluid, for Pete's sake, and my mom helping me walk in between the contractions.

When we arrived at the hospital, I was found to be at 5-6 cm and progressing so rapidly that there wasn't even time to fill out paperwork. My mom called my friend M. who was to be my labor coach, and I think she arrived somewhere around 7 or 7:30-ish--just in time for the last bit of transition.

My dad came in at about 8:05. I had been pushing for 5 minutes already.

I remember one of the nurses saying, "Your dad is here. Would you like him to come into the room?" I'm pretty sure I said something along the lines of, "I don't care who comes in, just get this baby out of me."

My dad's memory later was that on the way down the hall, it sounded like a crowd at a baseball game--everyone was cheering and shouting at me to PUSH!! My memory is thinking, "Why the heck is everyone yelling at me? All I want to DO is push!!"

The Frog, fat, pink and healthy, made her entrance into the world of air breathers at 8:43 A.M. That would be three hours, forty-three minutes, for those of you keeping track.

Eight to twelve hours, my foot.

When the Frog was handed to me for the first time, my parents (who had taken their places in the corner on the hide-a-bed) came over to see their first grandchild. My mom declared her "very pretty" (which she was), and my dad couldn't even speak.

No one had prepared me for those first few moments. I guess, though, that that first time, for those first moments, there is no real way to be prepared. The rush of love, the intense desire to weep and laugh at the same time, the overwhelming feelings of fear and elation--those were a lot to take in, to be sure. And on top of that, I began to shake uncontrollably. It's normal, I guess, when your body goes through that much in such a short amount of time. But my instinct was to hand my baby to someone who was not shaking, someone who's hands were steady and safe, someone who would love her just as much as I did and who would feel that same need to protect her.

So, naturally, I handed her to my dad.

It turned out to be the best thing I ever did in my entire life, ever.

My dad, as I said earlier, was not able to speak at first. His eyes teared up, and he brought his granddaughter closer to his face. He smiled at her, rubbed her nose with his, and said, "Well hello there, Little K.J." His voice was thick with emotion, and he was smiling so big it practically took over his ears.

While the doctor finished with me, my dad walked into the nursery with the Frog for her exam, never leaving her side, and taking the only pictures I have of those first few moments of her life.

From that morning until his death, my dad and the Frog were inseparable. He held and rocked her when she had colic. He cared for her when I worked long hours at a restaurant. We moved out, the Frog and I, when she was almost three months old, to an apartment about two blocks down the street from my parents' house. This suited my dad just fine--he could take a walk, get a little exercise, and come see the Frog anytime he wanted. He would come for breakfast, sharing oatmeal with her when she was old enough to eat it. He would come take her to his house for lunch, giving her the opportunity to mess around in the flower beds and strawberry patch. She swam in the wading pool on his patio, learned to chop vegetables for soup, gained an appreciation for the music I had grown up with, watched him practice conducting (and even had a little baton to use herself), and grew and flourished in his nurturing love for her. When she learned to talk, she called him Papa. It was the same name we had called him when we were little.

They would take walks on the riverbank, take pictures of the bachelor's buttons and poppies in his garden, read stories, eat liver sausage sandwiches, and talk in the alley with the neighbors. They loved each other dearly, and the best part of it was seeing my dad have the chance to love his granddaughter as fiercely as he had loved me when I was little. I learned to love him again through her, too.

My Darling and I, though we had spent lots of time together up to this point, hadn't had any one-on-one dates until the Frog was about 2 months old. We never did have very many--we came to love one another no matter who was near or what we did. Usually we were with my family or his, and almost always, we had the Frog with us. In April of 1997, My Darling asked my dad if they could speak alone regarding me. I don't think my dad knew that anyone still did that, and I doubt he required it, but it surely impressed him. They talked. With brandy. My dad shared things with My Darling (and likely vice-versa) that I will never hear, and that's OK with me. Some things shared between men should stay between men. Suffice it to say, my dad gave My Darling permission to marry Yours Truly, and, just as importantly, to be the official Daddy to the Frog.

In August of that same year, when the Frog was about 18 months old, my dad walked me down the aisle with tears in his eyes, and My Darling and I were married in the Church. And about 2 years later (after the birth of the Pickle, and while I was pregnant with the Reepicheep), My Darling adopted the Frog as his daughter. This provided another opportunity for my dad to become incredibly emotional, and gave him yet another reason to love My Darling.

When Reepicheep was exactly two weeks old, and quite unexpectedly, my dad collapsed while directing the community chorus in rehearsal of Handel's Messiah (First Part). Preliminary examinations had him diagnosed with necrotic pneumonia--meaning he had had it for a long time. About a week later, the biopsy of lung tissue revealed the real culprit--my dad had lung cancer. That diagnosis came about 10 days before Christmas, 1999. Further scans showed the cancer to be inoperable; it was encompassing his trachea and vena cava. The only hope was chemo and radiation. He was up for it, but he was also 75 years old.

I remember that one of the first things I did was to call my friend, My Darling's cousin, J.L. Her mother had died in 1998. Though she was suffering from scleroderma, her death was still a shock when it came. No one expected it to be so sudden, so soon. I told her my dad's diagnosis, and asked her, "If you knew your mom was going to die when she did, what would you have done differently?" She said she would have talked more with her about the things that really matter. She would have spent time with her Just To Spend Time With Her, not just because there was something going on. And she would have told her I Love You one last time...and said goodbye. J.L. celebrated her birthday with her parents on September 13th. Her mom died only a few days later.

I'm so glad we had that conversation. It enabled me to really talk more with my dad about important things, and to tell him I loved him and that I forgave him. I got to tell him that I loved seeing him with the Frog, and he thanked me for the gift of her. Though there will probably always be things to wish I'd had a chance to say better, at least I had a chance to tell him those things, and to say goodbye.

His chemo began in January. It was as awful as chemo always is, robbing him of strength, energy, appetite, and it meant that his study was turned into his bedroom. My brothers cleared everything out, making room for the double bed, a headboard (custom-made by my Darling, complete with outlet and light switch for a reading lamp), a couple of bookshelves to hold medications and various supplies, and the rocking chair.

When my dad came home from the hospital, he was a completely different man. We had seen him change so much with the birth of the Frog, and subsequent grandchildren softened him even more. I think we kids saw a side of our dad that we needed to see. I know I did. Cancer softened him in a different way. It brought out his faith. I saw my dad, who's spoken prayers consisted only of "Bless us, oh Lord..."--at least where we could hear him--begin to ask for prayer. We had a Mass said in the study for him (he was Episcopalian...long story). The priest from our local church came to anoint him.

Many pastors from other churches in town came to pray with him. His profession had been building and tuning pipe organs, so he knew a good many clergy from many different denominations. Over the course of the next six months, people he had known for years, decades, came from all over the country to visit with him.

His radiation treatments began on Ash Wednesday. He looked forward to seeing the wonderful staff at the center, and wore the same yellow chamois shirt every day to his therapy sessions. Though initial scans didn't show great progress, he continued with the radiation, with either My Darling or my sister C., home from Kansas, driving him the 35 minutes to the radiotherapy center and then home again. The Frog went along often, charming the staff, collecting stickers, and providing about as much medicine as any other treatment had. She called the radiation machine the "Sunshine Machine," understanding that the way it worked was to give Papa as much sunshine in three minutes as she could get in a year.

He weakened further, despite efforts with Ensure, juice made from fresh, raw fruits and vegetables, and apple juice from the pharmacy that looked like boxes of Juicy Juice, but packed three hundred calories. The radiation, because of the location of the tumor, had burned his esophagus so much that he could no longer eat the things he loved. His diet consisted largely of yogurt (which he and the Frog called Yogur-Tea) and canned peaches.

Home health nurses had been making regular appearances, along with companions who would stay with him when we couldn't, and people who brought in meals and helped with household tasks. Soon, though, the term was no longer "home health," but "hospice." Scans showed that the radiation had not been successful, and that the tumor was growing rather than shrinking. The radiation was slated to end on Good Friday.

My dad did get to come to the performance of the Messiah that spring. (Sidenote: Yes, I know. Spring is the time for the Second Part, with the Hallelujah Chorus and all that, but to state it plainly, my dad just liked the First Part better, so that's what we did.) His fine friend of nearly 30 years had agreed to both conduct and play harpsichord--one that my dad had built. We had a lovely orchestra, and two of my brothers and I were in the chorus. It was as fine a performance as any I've heard or been part of. And it pleased my dad.

On Sunday, July 16th, 2000, I received word just before the beginning of Mass (I was supposed to cantor) that I should go home to my dad. Word came via a man who had been my dad's surgeon and friend, and who had gone to great lengths to lead my dad to Jesus through prayer. He found a replacement for me sitting in the congregation and drove me to my parents' house.

All that day we gathered around my dad and helped him begin to die. We fed him for the last time that day--he never asked for food after that afternoon. We gave him his medications for pain or anxiety whenever he indicated he was in need. We reminded him who we were when he would wake from his naps. We helped him to the toilet. We calmed his fears. We rubbed his legs and feet, stroked his hair, and loved on him the best we knew how. This was the most love I'd ever seen happen in my family--all the love we never showed our whole lives, and there it was for my dad when he was on his way Home.

He would begin praying, "Our Father..." and we would take over. My sister and I prayed Rosaries together. We didn't know about the Chaplet of Divine Mercy--I have no doubt we would have prayed that, too. When he spoke in those strange and fearful phrases before death, my sister crooned to him and answered him in soothing words, "You did everything you were supposed to do. We all have exactly what we need to keep going. We'll take care of Mom. It's OK for you to follow Jesus. We'll be right behind you..."

He slept fitfully that night, with the Frog sleeping on the couch near his chair, and woke a few times Monday morning. That afternoon, a hospital bed was brought in for his comfort. It was set up in the living room. By Monday evening, he was slipping away. He didn't wake much at all on Tuesday. One or two of us was always with him though, making sure he had anything he needed.

Wednesday morning, at about 5:00, the phone at our apartment rang. "Come home," said my brother. "His breathing is different, and we don't think it'll be long." The Frog and the Pickle had spent the night at my in-laws' house, so we grabbed the 8-month-old Reepicheep and drove the six blocks to my parents' house. We all sat around the bed. We took turns listening to his heart, because he only breathed about once every 8 or 9 minutes. We all knew this was an electrical impulse from his brain--that he had gone. His heart stayed strong though, and we marveled at this. My brothers, all three, worked together to stop the oxygen machine that had been helping our dad for the past six months: one unplugged the machine, one turned it off, and one removed the cannula from him. None could see the others, so my sister counted to three and they each did their jobs at the same time. Still, his heart kept beating.

Eventually, my exhausted brothers and sister, My Darling, and I chose to lie down. My sister and one brother went upstairs, one brother was on the couch, one in Pop's chair, and My Darling and I were on the bed in the study. Mom went out for a cigarette. It was about 9:00. The hospice nurse came in at 9:10, and took his vitals. My dad's heart beat once or twice, then stopped.

She timed his death at 9:15, Wednesday, July 19th, 2000.

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