My dad was diagnosed with stage 4 (terminal, inoperable) lung cancer on July 22, 2009. Already metastasized to his brain, he has over 35 tumors. Last Monday, almost exactly a year later, I received a call that he was entering hospice (a facility or program designed to provide a caring environment for meeting the physical and emotional needs of the terminally ill typically refraining from taking extraordinary measures to prolong life. Yes, I looked it up - when it's someone you love, you want to make sure it really means what you think it means!). So last Friday, I got on a plane to Mountaintop Pennsylvania. Here's the trip in a nutshell.
Thursday: Get more details, Dad's in in-patient hospice. Purchase full-fare plane tickets (yikes!). Ask via facebook if anyone can park my van and get me to the airport, received a call within 10 minutes from a friend who can and will both drop me off & pick me up! HUGE blessing! Borrow carry-on luggage from work friend to avoid luggage issues. Pack.
Friday: Up early, drive to Minneapolis MN. Easy directions to my friends, airport on time. Check in. I've been bumped and will not leave airport until 2pm (was supposed to have been 10 am). See many travelers yelling at airport personnel about losing precious vacation time while I contemplate telling them there are more important things to miss than vacation, sit around, eat a mozza panini, wander airport, decide to be nice to every employee I meet and that I don't want to work in an airport, ever. Finally enjoy my flight, squished between the window and a man who doesn't want to talk. Enjoy the view above the clouds, read 5 pages on iPad and hear announcement to put away all electronics - it's a short flight to Chicago. Check departure info on next flight to Scranton PA, 7pm... 8pm... Still being nice to airport staff, they notice. Do they not hear thank you or see people really look at them all day? Sad. 9pm departure, move gates two times, opposite ends of the airport, still trying to be nice, finally 10:20pm departure! Arrive in Scranton at 1:20am, airport is closed, security looks pissed he had to be up to greet us, I give him a big smile. I wait outside the airport for my dad's son, I haven't seen him in 15 years, will I recognize him? I don't, but take a chance on a random shadow waving at me from a strange car. It's him. We arrive at my dad's at 2:30am. Strange sense of peace all day, even though none of this has gone the way I planned or imagined.
Saturday: Wake up in a strange bed, dog snuffling at the door, shower & get ready in strange bathroom. Discover the phones are not working, try to locate number, call repair guy, let them know we must have a phone due to medical emergency stuff, they came quickly. Just one of the things my dad would have handled. My brother picked me up to take me to see my dad. I hung out all day, visiting when he was awake, showing pictures of his grandkids, reading while he napped, met some of his friends and relatives, saw how he was loved and liked. Clara drove us home, I ate at home with Clara (his wife of 33 years), fixed the thermostat (it was 91 degrees in the house!), played with the dog, visit with Clara and see some beautiful quilts she handmade. I expected this all to be uncomfortable, but it was really nice, she was so gracious, and I was so thankful to be there.
Sunday: Clara got up early to go to Mass. Wish I'd gone, I didn't think I had anything nice enough to wear (I'd only packed easily pack-able/foldable clothes) but after, she said people even wear shorts & jeans, out to breakfast with Clara & Peter (brother) and to the nursing home. Spent the day with dad, just the four of us. Dad seemed to have a bit more energy, probably because of less people in and out of the door, we talked about how long he and Clara have been married, why they live in Pennsylvania, the military in Iraq, how the news is depressing, and took pictures. We finally left around 8pm, Clara and Peter said goodbye first and left me to say goodbye alone. We both cried and said how we wished we had more time, he didn't expect it to happen this fast, unspoken was our regret for all we'd done and not done, poor decisions neither of us can take back, spoken was the love. Really, what else is there but love? Hard. Stuff. Back to the house, pictures in the yard to keep my mind busy (Rose of Sharon, bees, hummingbirds, berries & flowers), pack, ready to leave at 4:15am. Can't. Sleep. The first and last time I will be in my dad's house. The dog peed in my room, he's not getting enough attention, poor guy.
Monday: Up too early after up too late, out the door on time, brother drove to the airport, pretty silent, we're both tired: mentally, physically & emotionally. He's a Army Drill Sergeant who is in charge of every aspect of recruit's lives, making them into soldiers, now overwhelmed with trying to fix the unfixable. Parted with hugs & thankful words. Plane on time to Chicago, miles at Chicago airport to try to go standby to get on an earlier flight to Minneapolis, no dice, and my original flight is on time (miracle!), and my ride picks me up, delivers me to my van and provides mapquest to get to my grandparents, newly in an assisted living facility. Nice apartment, Gramma keeps smiling vaguely, saying her son is quite ill with something in his brains and can't remember Micah's name and thinks Grace is Mary's daughter (my dad's sister who never had kids), I show some pictures from my trip, Grampa cries. (Grampa's should never cry, and children should never die before their parents. More. Hard. Stuff.) Mapquest from their apartment to my aunts where I'm spending the night is wrong. I stop the van, curse emotionally, cry, call Micheal, cry some more. I am just so DONE. Finally at my Aunt Elaine's, dinner at Olive Garden, up talking, too tired to read, sleep 10 uninterrupted hours, up and drive home with two stops: Tobies for rolls, TJs for brats. HOME.
Funny signs I didn't have time to get my camera out for:
On a restaurant marquee: Hiring Rainbow Trout
On a bus stop bench: Kwak Personal Injury Lawyers, We're on Your Side
At a bike rental shop: We Put the Fun Between Your Legs
(Note to self, have camera handy next time)
1) I felt this amazing blanket of peace throughout the whole trip. My brother said I was amazingly strong when really it was God, your prayers at work.
2) Sometime over the course of the trip, my dad & step-mom's adopted son Peter became my brother. Previously, I never knew what to call him, not a half or a step or just adopted... now I do. Brother. I've never been a sister before.
3) Clara is funny, I never knew that. (Why did the Pope cross the street? He crosses everything! --This from a super serious Catholic with a heavy Spanish accent.)
4) All the baggage, all the junk in my life and my dad's life that could get in the way just melted away. When it comes right down to it, all that matters is I love him, he loves me.
5) O'Hare Airport in Chicago has a dinosaur and toilets that give you a clean seat with the wave of a hand.
6) When my brother was driving me to the airport he said, "I'm sure dad understands why you have to leave," which could have been, may have been a jibe. But, like a wine taster, I could see it, taste it, kind of swirl it around in my head while I contemplated it, and spit it out. Weird picture, I know, but the usual for me would be burning, unavoidable guilt, but this time I could let it pass me right by and not own it.
I'm so glad I went, I(we) accomplished more than I even knew I was going out there for.
If you pray, please pray for peace, no pain, that insurance would go smoothly to cover hospice care, for Peter and Clara who are in the middle of this - much more than I am, and for all the things that go with losing a dad, husband, friend... Thank you!