Sunday, April 19, 2009

Wife Rule #106: Love is Forever

My dad has cancer again.

We only got the definitive results from the biopsy a few days ago, though the radiologist's report more or less confirmed this fact to us two weeks ago.

Yes, it's bad. It will take a miracle--and I mean an undeniable, unexplainable, statistic-defying miracle--to have more than about a year with him.

We are hoping for that miracle, but in reality we are left not knowing for sure what the future holds. That's the tricky thing about life-and-death situations; you never know for sure what's going to happen, and if you spend all your energy guessing and second-guessing what to do now based on what might happen, or even weighing what you did against what ended up happening, you eventually go crazy.

I learned this during the two weeks my father-in-law was in a coma after his accident. I fretted about how much of my work leave to use, how to manage our young children's lives, and how to support all the members of my family simultaneously, especially my wife and children. It seemed like I was continuously driving back and forth between my work, my parents' home where our children were, and the hospital, which was four hours away in another state.

In the end, based on an optimistic long-term projection for the future we had chosen to hope for, I convinced my wife to leave the hospital waiting room--where she had more or less lived with her mom and siblings since the day of the accident--and brought her home. The goal was to be a complete, normal family again with our children while we waited for Dad to recover. My wife never saw her father alive again; he passed away the day after we left.

Despite the way that series of events turned out, my wife and I have no regrets in deciding to come home when we did. In situations like that one and our current one, you eventually realize that you really have no choice but to keep living your life as normally as possible.

But that's almost impossible to do.

For one thing, the spectre of death casts a long shadow over everything, and I mean everything. During the brief but frequent mental moments where work, chores, children's requests, and the many other persistent stimuli of "normal life" temporarily quiet down, thoughts of Dad's cancer are always there.

These haunting thoughts seem to especially worm their way into the foreground at night or in the early morning. Or during lunch. Or in the middle of a work meeting. Or while driving home. Or while doing dishes. Or whenever one happy thought happens to trigger another, which triggers another, which all of a sudden turns into a cancer thought.

Cancer, that dreadful word that describes an out-of-control process that has been set loose to wreak havoc on a body, can also eventually destroy the heart and soul, if such thoughts are left unchecked.

Truthfully, I had no idea how heavy this shadow had grown on my shoulders until my wife and I got a babysitter and headed out for our normal Friday date. It was the first thing that felt "normal" all week long. My first reaction after hearing the news was to want to be with my parents all the time. I'm not sure I could help anything, and we had talked on the phone with them most nights that week, but I just wanted to be with them.

My wife, who had been the epitome of an empathetic angel all week long, perhaps recognizing in me the first signs of the emotional torture she knew all too well, gently suggested that perhaps we shouldn't go see my parents.

I didn't have any alternate ideas. It was raining. It had been dreary and drizzling all week. My wife suggested checking out the new aquarium. I heeded her counsel and agreed that my parents could probably survive one night without us, and we went to the aquarium.

It was a delightful escape into a world of brook trout and brine shrimp and coral reefs and spotted sharks and freaky little petting zoo shrimp that like to help you exfoliate around your cuticles when you immerse your hand into their tank. I had five on my hand at once, all plucking away. My wife thought it was creepy, and there isn't much that raises my spirits more than creeping out my wife.

After the aquarium we had dinner at an Italian restaurant. She agreed to let us eat Italian nachos, an appetizer, for the main course. They were smothered in cheese and chicken and olives. She looked so pretty sitting across the table from me. Our eyes made a lot of contact; hers creased and shone in a way they hadn't for over a week. Our mouths smiled as they spoke again of normal things, of our kids and landscaping and what we like and dislike. Her hand was warm as I held it while waiting for dessert. It was late when we finished. The kids were in bed when we got home.

And it was then that I realized that a 100-pound brick had been lifted off my back--one that I didn't even realize was there. My concern and sympathy and worries and prayers are still firmly with my parents, but the dread, the terrible weight was temporarily taken away.

I wish every man could have such a wife.

Thankfully, my father does, and together they are going to make it. I don't know exactly what "make it" means in the near term, but I know that they will in the long run. They are eternally bound by cords of love and trust and commitment and covenant.

Though death will eventually separate us all, its inevitable shadow doesn't need to spoil the time we have together now. After all, it is death that is temporary; love is forever--and with such immortality, love casts a light brighter and more penetrating than any fleeting shadow.


Jenny and Al said...

Thanks for writing this, Matt.

Shell said...

beautifully expressed. Thanks for sharing your thoughts

The Raderstorf's Rock said...

matt, why was i surprised at what a beatiful writer you are?? sometimes i feel like it is offensive when people are having these trials to say "i'm sorry", but I really don't know what else to say...I am sorry that such a wonderful family has to endure such pain. I am sorry that your father, a man who has given my Mom so much love and comfort throughout the years has to suffer. Mostly I am sorry that all of his Grandchildren will not have the memories I have of your Dad. Hopefully your memories will help comfort you. with love erica

LuckyMatt said...

Erica, thanks for your kind words about my family and my dad. He really is a wonderful man.

Emma said...

Hi Matt this is your cousin Emma Pyper Enszer. Jenny directed me to your blog. You are such a beautiful writer. I have been praying for your father to have another miracle. My prayers are with you all.

LuckyMatt said...

Thanks, Emma. We sure need your prayers. I hope all is well with the Pypers too.

Mom said...

Thank you, Matt for your beautiful thoughts and love and support. I love you.

Christy Edgel said...

Matt, thank you for sharing your heart; your words are so beautiful. I am so happy that you have such a wonderful wife to help you through this time, and that your dad has Aunt Janice with him, too. I just wanted to let you know my family is praying for Uncle Steve and you all; your family has and always will have a special place in my heart.

LuckyMatt said...

Thanks, Christy. Your support means a lot.

Amy said...

Prayers are being said for your dad all over town and in many temples. He is lucky to have a sensitive and caring son that can express his feelings about him so well--how many fathers go through life never hearing "I love you, Dad" from their sons? Yet the whole world can plainly see your love for your dad! We love him too. Janice and Steve have been Brian's second parents, and we're praying for a miracle.

LuckyMatt said...

Thanks very much for your prayers and kind words, Amy.