Old Geezers Out to Lunch

Old Geezers Out to Lunch
The Geezers Emeritus through history: The Mathematician™, Dr. Golf™, The Professor™, and Mercurious™

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

A Normal, Human Story

To the many millions of on-line readers who have fretted about the recent dearth of creative output from Mercurious, the Professor, and the other Geezers...

...many apologies.

In the case of myself (Mercurious), I have to admit being badly blocked in recent weeks, probably because I've been preoccupied with the terminal illness of my father. (How's that for a downer? I know you were probably wishing for smart-ass social commentary of a light-hearted nature. Instead, this is what you get.) When something is constantly on your mind, it's hard to write about other things, and up to now I haven't felt at all like writing about something so difficult and immediate as a pending death in the family. Those of you who are "of an age" like the Geezers undoubtedly know exactly what I'm talking about. Most of you have dealt with aging parents, I'm sure.

A couple of months ago, my Dad had a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer added to some other debilitating conditions, and we're now in a waiting game as this especially ferocious form of cancer follows its natural course. At 82 years of age and in already in great frailty, he's already outlived the medical expectation for this diagnosis. No treatment is even being attempted.

For a little while, there was something almost sweet about the whole process, as Dad was entirely lucid for a good length of time after the diagnosis, and knowing the end was coming gave us a chance to say everything that needed to be said, to reminisce about the best of our family history, to say goodbyes in as many ways as was necessary. Dad never wanted to spend many years declining in a nursing home (we'd been through that with my grandfather, his own father, and Dad surely did not want that for himself). So he was actually pretty relieved to know that pancreatic cancer generally takes people rather quickly, especially when they are already compromised the way he is, and there was a period of painless relaxation for a few weeks after the diagnosis.

That period is now ending, and the hard end-game is beginning, I think. Dad's lucid periods are now shorter, with late afternoons and evenings now giving way to confusion about where he is and what's happening. We're told this is the result of toxins beginning to build up in his system, as liver and kidneys begin to function more and more erratically.  During his clear periods, more and more often what he expresses now is "I wish this was over."

And we wish it was over, too, though that's hard to admit. Who wants to openly say they wish a family member would pass? Partly this is about wishing for an end to the suffering of a beloved family member. But in perfect honesty and with less nobility, what family members also wish for is an end to the angst we experience ourselves during this vigil period. It's very hard to watch, and selfishly we wish we didn't have to watch it any longer. And nobody really knows right now if we'll watch it for another four hours or another four months.

It's sometimes said that the human spirit is tenacious. At the moment, I'm not sure that's really accurate. Dad's spirit is quite ready to move on, but what's tenacious is his hard-wired biology holding on. This is a guy who never took a sick day in 30 years of teaching school, and that pattern is showing now. I'm generally a decided romantic when it comes to a belief in the ethereal, transcendent nature of the human spirit and will. But what I see right now is biology taking precedent over spirit, in a way that you wouldn't expect. It's biology, not spirit, that's clinging to life.

This is just a normal human story. It's not particularly tragic when an aging parent passes after leading a good, long life. And Dad's life has been one that was lived very well, with steadfast honesty and good intent. But it's also part of the normal human story for there to be pain and difficulty around the process of dying. That's where we are at the moment.