Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Ku'u home

Yesterday, after morning traffic had dissipated somewhat, my mom drove into town for an overnight visit.  Our plan was to spend the afternoon with my widowed aunt and and her daughters at Northside Hospital's Cancer Center.  My aunt was recently diagnosed with inoperable pancreatic cancer and was to have a procedure to stint a biliary duct that had been blocked by the growth of a cancerous lesion.

As Mom, Philip and I had a light lunch, we were mindful of the fact that my aunt has been unable to eat meaningfully for months.  She has been so wrapped up in the care of her second husband (my uncle died some years ago), that her own health has suffered without remark, with hardly even any notice.  If it weren't for the unusual metallic taste in her mouth and the recent yellowing of her skin, we might still think that Aunt Laura "just wasn't eating right".  The fact is, she's hardly eaten at all and her body is noticeably wasted.

To myself, I wonder, "What is the point of sitting with the girls during the procedure?"  But the answer is self-evident.  It's a demonstration of love and care.  It's a repayment of the kindnesses we received when Dad was in decline.  It's a distraction from the galvanizing fact that a life we value is about to end.

In a pre-operative appointment, the physician was hopeful that the stint could be placed endoscopically, a quick, efficient procedure from which Aunt Laura could quickly recuperate.  Once the duct was open, many of her symptoms would be alleviated.  The tumor would still be present.  The prognosis would still be grim but she would gain some immediate, day-to-day relief.  Most importantly, she would have a bit more time free from disease-related stress to plan and make decisions. If the endoscopic procedure didn't go well, they would place the stint via an open procedure, meaning longer recovery and increased likelihood of complications.

The girls, daughters, daughter-in-law and granddaughter were gathered in support of their mom.  A quick pre-op visit revealed that Aunt Laura was at peace.  Just the day before, she had secured a supportive accommodation for her husband who suffers from age-related memory issues.  Were she able to join him there, the facility would welcome her in an apartment-like setting with her husband.  So many concerns were addressed with that one decision and commitment.  But the one that mattered most and most immediately was never at issue:  Aunt Laura was at peace with the idea that her time on Earth was nearly done; she was confident in her physician and reliant upon the Physician.  Her composure must surely have been a gift to the girls.  It was to me.

As her procedure began, we sat together in the surgical waiting room, engaged in the idle prattle of the concerned, a thin guise for the fear and uncertainty that prevailed.  We reminisced, smiled, laughed and supported those we love with the good-intentioned distractions that serve so well.  After an hour or so, we learned that the procedure had gone as planned and that Aunt Laura would be free to go home in another hour, or so.  This hurdle had been cleared handily.  There would be time and relief now to prepare for the next hurdle and for the end of the race.

When Mom and I returned to the apartment, an appetite-stimulating aroma wafted out as the door opened. Philip had been busy doing his part to support the cause, preparing his Aunt Anne's Butter Chicken, jasmine brown rice and broccoli for our dinner, left warming on the stove until he returned from afternoon yoga. Mom and I shared some wine while waiting. By the time he got back, we were ready to be comforted by Philip's culinary expression of love and support.  Dinner was the perfect period at the end of a lovingly-written sentence. 

In retrospect, what Mom, Philip and I did was so little.  In reality, what we did was very nearly all that matters in life.

If, in our very "busy" lives we can't take time to help our fellow travelers along their path, what, exactly, are we here for?  We concern ourselves with so much that, in the end, is of little real consequence.  Why is that?  To distract ourselves from our own mortality?

"Denial is not just a river in Egypt."

To be continued...(thank God!)


  1. You have always been a beautiful soul, Anthony. Once again, your thoughts beautifully composed and expressed here. I am thankful to have had your acqauintance in my life's history.

  2. As am I to have you in mine, Marv; thankful and honored.


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