July 18, 2020
Remember in my last post, when I said that my mom was allowed to visit my dad in the rehab hospital? Yeah, that policy ended. (Covid is the plague that keeps on plaguing, isn’t it?) The rehab hospital was wonderful, as far as hospitals go, but Dad had spent thirty-one out of forty-one days in hospitals, mostly alone, and it was high time for him to come home.
High time or no, the circumstance that precipitated his return home was another lengthy seizure. (I don’t know what your framework for seizures is. When I say this one was lengthy, I mean it lasted five hours.) When it was over, we knew there were two options for him — stay at the hospital even longer, in a neverending cycle of therapy and seizures, or come home. The vote was unanimous.
The question you may be asking right now is a question with an answer that’s difficult to type, difficult to say, difficult to actually put into words that are actually articulated to actual people. When I say “My dad is home from the hospital, and he’s now in the care of hospice,” I want to grab at those words as they leave my mouth and bring them back and hide them somewhere and apologize for them because those words can’t possibly be real. Those are words other people say about other dads, not the words I say about mine.
And yet, here I am, saying those crazy words.
Setting aside for a moment the implications of what it means to be in hospice care, hospice itself is amazing. The people we’ve interacted with so far have been kind, helpful, and attentive to the needs and wishes of my dad. They arranged everything for his transfer home, they arranged for a hospital bed to be delivered and set up, they arranged for nurses to come and help take care of him, and they arranged for his (many) medications to be delivered right to the door. Did you even know that was possible? If that’s an option, why on earth don’t all of us have our prescriptions delivered by personal courier straight to our doorsteps??
The day my dad arrived home (“home” = my parents’ house, which, if you recall, Todd and the boys and I are also currently living in), a hospice nurse came to do an intake evaluation. He spent a lot of time here, carefully walking us through important information and writing out detailed lists of medications. As he was preparing to wrap up, he asked my dad if he had any other questions. Dad scratched at the stubble on his chin with his good hand. “Well,” he said, “I have been wondering about the speed of light, and what happens in black holes.” The nurse stared blankly at him for a moment, pen poised in the air, trying to judge whether or not he was face-to-face with a patient who really had a burning desire to know the answers to these questions, before finally conceding a slight chuckle.
We might not have sorted out what happens in black holes, but we’re doing a bang-up job on quite a few other subjects. When my sister Emily learned about the seizure, she and her daughter hopped on a plane and flew out here, lickety-split, and since then this house has been full of conversations about books and politics and music and the bible and favorite quotes and math.
Sometimes, when the kids are chattering away with each other about silly nonsense, I look over at Dad, and he’s smiling as he watches them. Sometimes I see my mom bend over to give him a kiss, and he smiles up at her, full of affection. Sometimes my sister reads to him, and he smiles while he listens. Sometimes I play the piano, and when I glance over at him, he’s watching me and smiling. It’s like everywhere he looks, he sees something that brings him joy.
There are so many moments of surprising provision. Sometimes it’s simple, sweet things, like the joy of all of us being together. Sometimes it’s serious things, like some of the seizures which have stopped, practically miraculously, as suddenly as they started. Sometimes it’s something silly, like the morning Will (5) decided he was desperate for cupcakes.
“Dad,” he asked Todd, “can I please have a cupcake?”
“We don’t have any cupcakes,” Todd said.
“Well, can we go home and get cupcakes?”
“There aren’t any cupcakes at home either, Will.”
“When can we get cupcakes?”
At this point Todd probably said something wise and specific like “I don’t know, please stop thinking about cupcakes.” But why were cupcakes on Will’s mind in the first place? No idea. The kid likes sweets but cupcakes aren’t exactly his thing.
A couple hours later, my mom’s friend came by with lunch for us. There was a pan of homemade mac ‘n’ cheese, as promised, AND…a tray of cupcakes.
“I don’t know why I made these!” my mom’s friend said, with a sparkling laugh. “I hardly ever make cupcakes!” We stared at the tray, mouths agape.
Or several days later, when Mom said she wanted to go to the bakery at some point to buy some cinnamon swirl bread, and within moments I got an out-of-the-blue text from my friend, letting me know she was making cinnamon rolls and asking if it would be okay to bring some by.
Or the day we decided we needed some paper plates to help mitigate the insane number of dishes we were stuffing in the dishwasher every day, but I forgot to get them when I went to the store, and when I got home someone had come by to drop off a meal and, along with the meal, they had also brought a stack of 186 paper plates for us to use, as needed.
It’s amazing how a crisis creates beautiful moments, little points of light and beauty in a dark time.
As my mom said, it’s like God’s telling us, “Hey, I know you want to know what I’m up to. I know you want to understand. I know you want Dale’s suffering to stop. But I’m not giving you those things today. Today, I’m giving you cupcakes.” Dad’s brain cancer is a bitter thing, but God’s goodness is still sweet.
I’ll end here with a few verses from a passage we’ve been reading and talking about frequently. These aren’t nice words, they’re true words, and I see the life-giving truth of them daily in my dad’s life.
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18