Dad has stage 4 lung cancer. He skipped the other stages and went straight to stage 4. He’s always been an impatient fucker.
We’ve just found out, maybe 20 minutes ago. As we wait to pick up a massive bottle of liquid morphine, bigger than a hipflask, I want to say things like, “life is short”, and, “we should all live like we have stage 4 lung cancer” or, “make sure you stay positive”. And, “don’t stress about things”. Then, “live like nobody’s watching”. “We all have to die someday”. And, “is your will up to date?”
These are the words that come to mind when I learn that dad is really really sick. Not just the aches and pains that any 85 year-old complains about. What do you say to a man who was already beating the odds, what with being 85 and all, but now has a definitive end, of sorts.
But I can’t say these things. I would punch myself in the ovaries if these words escaped my lips. And I would stab someone in the third eye if they dared utter them in my direction.
So I sit and think of all these words instead.
We’re sitting and waiting for Jeff at the pharmacist counter, and dad says, “so I guess this is it. The end.”
He lowers his head into his hands. A farmer’s hands. Broad and rough, with deep lines darkened by primordial grease and steel factory by-products. A real man’s hands, they might have once been called.
He’s crying, gently. This is new and I’m not sure what to do. The coach in me clamps my mouth shut – let him get it out uninterrupted. But this is my dad. And like many dads of his era, he doesn’t cry. I should do something.
I get up and wrap my arms around his shoulders. I tell him I’m sorry. I cry with him, gently. He squeezes my hand. This grief is about us all.
It shouldn’t be a shock that an 85 and a half year old man is going to pass in the not too distant future. I mean, not soon. The man really is very healthy. Except for the cancer in his lungs that stops him from breathing normally. I mean, he could last another 15 years. Who knows? But it’s rather unlikely, as these things go. Around 0.02% of us will see our 100th birthday. Although, that’s double the percentage in the 1990s. So who knows?
We think of death in an abstract kind of way. We say “when I die…” but we don’t mean it literally. It’s a thing that happens later. Much much later. And mostly to other people. So when you know for sure that it may be over in mere months, that’s definitely too soon. Nothing abstract about it.
And I think of all the things I actually want to ask dad, but I don’t believe I’ll ever say.
Do you think you’ve lived a good life?
Are you satisfied with what you’ve spent it doing?
What do you regret?
What do you want me to know about you?
What do you want to spend the rest of your life doing? Let’s do it.
Stage 4. I mean, we measure pain in levels of 1 to 10. How did cancer, of all fucking things, only get 4 stages?