I flew home from San Francisco for Thanksgiving the year my dad was seventy, less than two months before he died. My friend Scott picked me up from the SeaTac airport. We drove on the curving highway, across bridges, through suburbs and out into the blackness of the Cascade foothills. I remember feeling anxious to get home, knowing my dad had been having a rough time with the cancer and the chemo in what was his fifth year since being diagnosed.

When we arrived I hastened to the door as Scott grabbed my luggage. My mom greeted us. It was clear by her body language that dad wasn’t doing too well, so I hugged and kissed my friend goodbye and quietly shut the door behind me. She told me she had just given my father a morphine suppository.

The house was unusually dim. I stepped quietly into the family room where a rolling fire licked the glass of the wood stove. My father was kneeling on the floor, resting his torso across the denim couch, his slippered feet pigeon-toed on the carpet behind him. His orangey sweatpants—the ones with the white racing stripes and wavy nylon zippered leg openings—weren’t hitched up all the way, exposing his cotton boxers, akin to the trendy way boys and men do today. He was trembling and restless, moving his head around, his cheek flat on the cushion, trying to get comfortable. I could tell he was in immense pain by his shallow panting breath and tightly closed eyes. I wasn't sure he was aware of my presence.

I spoke softly to him, told him I had just come home for Thanksgiving. I knelt down next to him and caressed his hunched, bony back through his sweatshirt. I told him I wished I could take his pain away. He had no words. It was our most intimate moment together.

Often I think of the pain and suffering that my dad endured, so needlessly and at a relatively young age for such a vigorous man. No reason. Then my thoughts drift to so many others—my friend’s little niece who painfully—unsuccessfully—battled leukemia, and her five-year-old brother who had brain tumors and endured horrific treatments. I think of my close childhood friend who must cope daily with rheumatoid arthritis, and at such a young age. I think of my sister-in-law’s best friend who has been fighting breast cancer for nearly five years—now stage four—while raising a family as a single mom, and of my friend’s little boy who endured a life of pain and discomfort that no one completely understood and that came in reliably ceaseless waves.

And then there's Calvin, who I see—intimately—pummeled by the seizures, the drug side effects, the painful blood draws. Then I realize that one thing we all have in common, that makes us human, is suffering of one kind or another at some point or another. It is unavoidable, not something we can control. But what I learned that I have the power to control is to sooth the suffering of others, stroke their backs, speak softly to them or just listen, and try to make it better, if only just a little.

photo by Michael Kolster

No comments:

Post a Comment