I was going to write a series of writerly posts about what’s been going on, laying it all out before you the way the scenery of a long mid-country drive in your borrowed tank-like SUV unrolls as you go from Illinois to Iowa to Nebraska to — finally, mercifully — Colorado, where you eventually see mountains in the distance and then the city of Denver so you cheer “Denver!!!” and you’ve never been so happy to be somewhere, but the truth is I just don’t have it in me right now so I’m going to slap it all down on this page without being writerly at all.
My dad has pancreatic cancer. My mom, who has dementia, was doing okay under his care and in her established routine but is having a very hard time now that everything has been disrupted. Ben’s dad has pancreatic cancer. He and my dad were diagnosed within a month of each other.
Last week, I was in Chicago to help with my parents and to take Soren to meet Ben’s dad for the first time. While there, my mother, who had been highly agitated and confused the whole time, had a heart attack, got a stent, and was briefly hospitalized. Long story short I put my mother in a home because I was afraid she couldn’t get the care she needed anywhere else with my dad in the hospital. Before I got there, she had been driving around (this is terrifying), decompensating, and not taking care of herself or anything else.
My dad. He had surgery just over two weeks ago and has been in the hospital since then. He was supposed to go to a rehab facility (the same place my mom is currently staying) but as I found out yesterday, that’s not going to happen. When I last saw my dad (on Saturday), he looked great. He was sitting up, joking, eating, in reasonably good spirits. From what I can piece together, that was his last good day. Since then, he’s been confused, saying some things that are true (“I was an electrical engineer.” “My daughter lives in Denver.”) and some things that are false (“We’re all in Denver.” “I was a long-distance runner.”). Friends who went to see him reported that he was too confused to work his phone, which explains why he hasn’t answered or returned any of the 900 phone calls I’ve made to him since returning to Denver.
I got a call from his doctor yesterday and it took a while for it to sink in: The cancer is in his liver. They can’t fix it. The tumors have grown a lot since the surgery, which is a very short time for tumors to grow so much. His liver is failing and that’s why he’s confused. He’s way too sick to try chemo. There is nothing else they can do. He’s not getting better. It’s time to consider hospice. The consideration of hospice falls to me, what with my mom having dementia and all.
I had to repeat some of this information several times. There’s nothing else they can do. He’s not getting better.
So now I’m going back to Chicago, I hope getting there in time to be part of my dad’s last days. I have to tell my mom what’s happening and get her over to see him. She is going to be absolutely destroyed. All she has wanted this whole time is to be back at home with my dad, because that’s the only world that makes sense to her. I have to convince her that, that world not being possible and because she can’t live by herself, the best thing for her to do is move across the country to Denver, a place she doesn’t know, so we can help take care of her. My mastermind idea is that we move to a house with an attached apartment and maybe hire someone to help. I don’t know.
Then there are so many things: houses, cars, stock portfolios that terrify the holy hell out of me. Decades of stuff — stuff I have to figure out how to handle. And that’s just my family and not even getting into Ben’s dad’s situation.
I apologize if you’re reading this and you’re someone I should’ve told in person. I’m fried and I’m doing the best I can. The good news is I’m learning that we become equipped to somewhat reasonably handle situations more horrible than we ever imagined and do things we never imagined doing. We’re capable of a lot of good stuff, which is one nice thing to learn.