May 8, 2013
60 of 65
There Is a Season
Some of us marry; some become college graduates; some travel overseas; some are healthy; some are ill; some are famous. These are common occurrences for many (not all) people and are easy to write about or discuss. More difficult is something that happens to every one of us – death.
Birth is also a universal experience, and it is much easier to discuss.
Together these bookend events provide an ebb and flow for families. When I was born, there were three people in my immediate family – my parents and me. Over the next few years the family grew to five as my brothers were born. It continued to grow as my brothers and I married, bringing spouses into the family, and becoming parents ourselves, adding children and nieces and nephews.
Of course, it actually grows even more than that. When I married Cathy, she not only became a part of my family, I also became a part of hers. Times of growth are good times that seem to go on and on. Even when all of our next generation has been born, those children continue to grow and learn and marry. Somewhere in the whole process, though, a difficult change occurs. There is a pause to what had seemed an endless time of increase.
In our family, the first such pause was in 1997 when we lost Cathy’s father.
He had suffered from Parkinson’s Disease. It is likely his illness resulted from many years of working with lead type. It has been shown that prolonged exposure to lead at least doubles the risk of contracting Parkinson’s. Two other men with whom he worked were also stricken by the disease. There is no way to know for certain, though. He lived 75 years – good years until the last few.
The rest of the family carried on without loss for more than a decade.
I have written of how my father was stricken with pneumonia during a trip to Texas in 2009 and of the wonderful way he was brought back home to Colorado to recover. While still in Texas, my mother had felt ill and experienced chest pain. The emergency room doctor had recommended that she also be admitted to the hospital, but she refused.
A few months later, my father was recovering nicely, but my mother remained tired and worried and hurting. One night the pain became so intense she had to be taken to the emergency room, where a chest x-ray showed spots on her lungs. Over the next few days, further tests were conducted and she was diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer. She had never smoked a day in her life, but this was a “rare” form of cancer suffered only by women who were non-smokers. We also learned that the cancer had metastasized to her brain.
The doctors believed the brain tumors could be reversed through radiation and chemotherapy. They were wrong. The radiation and chemicals used for those treatments have the single purpose of destroying cells. In a perfect world, only abnormal cells would die while normal ones remained strong enough to survive. However, the “normal” cells in an 85-year old body are not all that strong. Her condition deteriorated due to the treatment.
She remained at home, living as she always had to the best of her ability. As she became weaker and experienced more pain, my brothers and I suggested the possibility of hospice care. She and my father both resisted. They thought that would mean giving up, and they were fighters. Finally, during the first weekend in August, she was in so much pain that they agreed to try the palliative care.
That Sunday afternoon, she was admitted to the hospice facility, hoping that the pain could be treated and she would return home within a few days. She was given medication and quickly fell asleep. My brother Jim stayed with her that first night. I came early the next morning, so he could go home and get some rest. As I entered her room, I saw she was still sleeping. I also saw what seemed to be the shape of a large angel standing next to the bed. This was one time it was not encouraging to see an angel.
A nurse soon came to check her vital signs. The pulse was very weak and the blood pressure was falling. Half an hour later, it was even worse. I called both my brothers, one of whom picked up my father and brought him to the room. We contacted all of her grandchildren, and those who were in Colorado came to see her. When everyone had gathered, here pulse stopped completely, there was no breathing, and the shape of the angel was no longer there.
My father held up better than I had expected after my mother’s passing. He was much stronger physically than he had been for months, and he was staying in touch with old friends. My brother Jim and I took turns going to his house after work each day to fix meals, clean up and check on how he was doing. My brother Lonny was 90 miles away in Colorado Springs, so he was only able to visit on weekends.
One afternoon the week before Thanksgiving, Jim got to the house and found our father lying on the floor. It seems he had been sitting on the edge of the bed the previous night, had slid off and did not have the strength to get back up. Jim called me and we took him to the emergency room. We were told that he seemed to be dehydrated and very tired, but otherwise okay. Nevertheless, he was admitted to the hospital for observation. I was with him as they asked the admission questions, such as, “If you should stop breathing, or your heart should stop beating, would you want us to try to resuscitate you?” He said, “I hope that you would.”
That seemed positive. He was looking forward to getting out of the hospital quickly this time.
However, he was slow to regain his strength, and remained in the hospital. We were hopeful he would be out by Thanksgiving, when the whole family was coming to our house for dinner. Two days before the holiday, I visited him, and I thought he seemed stronger and grouchier than he had been. I thought that was another good sign. Right after I left, our son Michael called his grandfather from Montana, and they had a pleasant conversation.
Four hours later, shortly after midnight, my brother Jim called and said the hospital had telephoned him to say that our father had taken a turn for the worse. Jim said he would go to the hospital and let me know if I should come, too.
His condition turned out to be worse than we had feared. He had developed aspiration pneumonia. Apparently the hospital staff had not made certain the bed was raised sufficiently when he was eating, allowing food to enter the bronchial tubes as he swallowed – a serious problem for lungs that had not completely recovered from nearly fatal pneumonia a year earlier. To complicate matters, his chart had been marked “DNR” – do not resuscitate. The treating physician later said that he had discussed resuscitation with my father when I was not there, and it had been decided that no extraordinary measures would be taken to extend his life.
I do not know what was said. I felt though, that he was tired and lonely and ready to be with his wife again.
We had the physician connect him to a respirator, but that extended his life only long enough for most of the local grandchildren to come and say goodbye. Lonny was living in Texas then. I called to tell him what had occurred, but he was not able to return to Colorado in time for his own goodbye.
At Lonny’s wedding, some 33 years earlier, it had been my part to read from Ecclesiastes, “To every thing, there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven . . .” The same passage was read at my father’s funeral.
So, only about 100 days apart, my parents both passed from this world to the next. It was only about 100 days later when Lonny was diagnosed with myelofibrosis. I have written at some length to describe how the only possible treatment for him was a stem cell transplant, how I donated stem cells for the procedure, how his condition improved and how he eventually relapsed and passed over as well.
In a very short time, the size of our family decreased significantly. Our daughter Suzanne has married, though; so we now have a son-in-law, Jeff.
Indeed, there is “a time to be born and a time to die; a time to plant and a time to reap.”