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On life: blessings in disguise

Warning: A personal story and thoughts related to living and dying follow, as do recollections of recent events. If easily bored or depressed, you might want to skip this one.

So keep’em coming, these lines on the road
And keep me responsible be it a light or heavy load
And keep me guessing with these blessings in disguise
And I’ll walk with grace my feet and faith my eyes

from the song, Faith my Eyes by Caedmon’s Call.

Life has a way of throwing curves at you, even when you think you are prepared for the inevitabilities which come from simply being one of the billions of fragile creatures that inhabits this planet. Despite what we think about ourselves, and the ways in which we collectively fool one another into believing that bad things won’t ever happen to us, there’s something on the horizon for all of us, and not a single soul on the planet will escape it. At some point in our lives, we each must face our own mortality.

It either happens unexpectedly, or, perhaps worse, with plenty of advance notice. For example:

I’m sorry, sir, you have cancer and you probably only have a year to live.

The things that go through one’s mind at such a moment are, at least for now, unknown to me. Though I can easily imagine what I might think, until I actually hear those words directed at me, it will remain speculation.

Recently, my father, who is approaching eighty, received such news. I was there visiting my folks when he first heard words similar to what I wrote above. I was visiting with my mom, sitting in the kitchen drinking coffee (something my family does a lot of), when my dad returned from his follow-up appointment with his doctor to get the results from his recent physical. I’m not sure exactly what it was, but I could tell simply by looking at this face that something bad had happened. His expression was a subtle mix of confusion, a “deer in the headlight” look, and, for lack of a better word, shock. After a few awkward moments, my mom mentioned that my dad had just returned form his doctor’s appointment. As is her usual way, she downplayed everything to a ridiculous extent, saying only that they’d found a couple of spots in his lungs.

That was it. Nothing more. My dad knew the reality. I knew the reality. My mom, I believe, really was attempting to avoid the reality altogether. So we all sat there at the kitchen table and sipped our coffee. Several minutes later, someone spoke. I don’t remember who, but after that, we all fell into our roles of denial and our visit continued.

Since that day, weeks ago, my dad and mom and us kids, have experienced firsthand a whirlwind of tests, bad news, worse news, some hope, and finally, acceptance and treatment. At this point, my dad is in the middle of treatment, receiving both chemo and radiation over the course of several months. We’ve been fortunate so far, because side effects from both treatments have been minimal. And even better, my dad has been feeling just fine throughout it all.

So where are the blessings in all this? Easy. We were blessed with my dad’s good health for almost eighty years; an intact family with parents married over fifty-seven years; time for all of us kids to return home to be with him and my mom through this tough time; an opportunity for me and my siblings to spend more one-on-one time together with my dad than in as long as I can remember; treatment that has progressed well with little of the debilitating side effects that are so common. And for the first time this year, I’ll be spending father’s day with my dad, something I’ve not done since I was a kid. I’d say that was a pretty big blessing as well.

Perhaps the best of all blessings, though, just might be the change in my father’s outlook on life. He seems to be a man changed by the prospect of staring death in the face. Seeing such a thing has a way of shaping one’s perspective into something focused on the important things in life rather than on one’s self and whatever petty problems may have been around before.

A final note. It was just about a year ago that I first felt the sting of death, though not nearly to the level of potentially losing a parent. It was small, yet painful, and it forced me to realize that death really does exist, that things don’t just continue forever unchanged. Unbelievably, this reminder didn’t come until I was over fifty.

On losing Milkdud


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