The Cat’s in the Cradle

My son (who is no longer on Facebook and thus can’t be embarrassed by this anecdote) is not overly-affectionate. As a child, he was a hugger, but by adolescence, a side-armed squeeze of the shoulder was the most I could expect as the Christmas party or hospital visit wound down.

I make this observation not as a criticism, but rather as an acknowledgement that people process emotion differently. Did I miss the little boy who would climb into my lap and wrap his arms around my neck, holding me in his embrace until my heart had re-filled with love? Yes, of course. But I wouldn’t trade him for the insatiably curious, determined, good-hearted young man he has grown into.

That said, about six months ago, after my last serious hospitalization, his hugs began gripping tighter and lasting longer.
Today he came to see me for his final visit before returning to college.

We’re both determined to see one another when he returns for Christmas break at the end of this year–but planned this visit ‘just-in-case.’

He sat down next to me on the bed and wrapped his arm somewhat uneasily around my shoulder. I was so stunned by the unusual gesture that I didn’t know what to do. For a moment, two decades dropped away, and I was certain that–were I to turn and look at him–I would see the churubic face he wore as a toddler instead of the guarded but angularly handsome face that is his now.

His arm on my shoulder made me feel so warm and complete and full of love and I’d just begun to move my hand upward to grasp his when, overcome with the weirdness of it all, he withdrew his arm as I stared at my shoes, too stunned by unfamiliarity to react in a meaningful way.

We talked for a couple hours afterward. It was a good visit. He’s a good man and a good person.

But the whole time I couldn’t help but wonder what it might have been like had I managed to reach up and clasp his hand in time.

You have to act in the moments. They’re all we have.

Never Break the Chain

“Listen to the wind blow, down comes the night
Running in the shadows, damn your love, damn your lies
Break the silence, damn the dark, damn the light

And if you don’t love me now
You will never love me again
I can still hear you saying
You would never break the chain.”

-Fleetwood Mac

So, I was interviewed by hospice yesterday. Two lovely nurses came by and asked questions for about an hour. It was at the behest of my palliative care doctor, with whom I had a video appointment last week. When she had suggested that I be evaluated by hospice, I decided to humor her.

Hospice means you’re imminent–or, if not that, certainly not far from it. If it doesn’t imply a timetable (which, even though hospice people are quick to tell you that it doesn’t, the admittance criteria sort-of suggests that it does) it certainly carries a sort of psychological weight.

“You’re not getting out of this…” it says.

And I’m not. I know that. I am chained to this fate.

But, when your endless-numbered-days bleed from one into the other, and your hours stack indistinguishably upon one another in a macabre, terminal Jenga game, day after day, it’s easy to delude yourself that it will all simply continue, stretched out into a bleak, bland future where you continue to exist, somehow. Your logic and science and medical tests pale in comparison to the undeniable fact that you’re still here, decades after they’d said you’d be dead. It feels as though things can just continue as they are, as they have been.

In short, it’s easy to lie to yourself.

Then, two very lovely nurses come along and brighten your morning with their cheery dispositions and helpful manners and remind you that they’re here to help you die the best way you can, because it is fast-approaching.

And you answer their questions and play along, certain that this is all just a bureaucratic formality–something rushed into being a bit too soon, but which would be rude to interrupt or oppose. You tell yourself that it is insignificant because it will never be approved by The Director, so it is all just a bit of play-acting that we are all going through. Harmless, really. Hospice is for people who are about to die soon. You, obviously, are not about to die soon. Not soon enough to require hospice, anyway. It will never be approved.

As they pack to leave, you exchange parting pleasantries.

“Sorry to have wasted your time.” You say.

The nurses exchange a quick, knowing expression.

“Why would it be a waste of time?” One asks.

“Well, I doubt I meet the criteria.” You’d said.

“Oh, you certainly meet the criteria.” Says the RN in charge. “We’ll take the paperwork back for The Director to look over, but expect to be approved in the next few hours.”

They call you back a few hours after they have left. Your nurse will be there to admit you into the hospice program as soon as is convenient. Will tomorrow be OK?

No. That’s too soon, but you can’t think of a reason why. It’s just too soon.

Tuesday?

Oh no. The home health aid who fetches your meals and washes your clothes and runs your errands and helps you shower and takes out your trash, she comes on Tuesday. You can’t start dying on Tuesday. Too much to do.

Wednesday morning?

Your mornings are usually busy. You nap and dream and pretend you haven’t spent the last seven months in the same room. That won’t work.

When can you start dying? Wednesday afternoon? We need to get started. There are forms and paperwork and examinations. There is an opening Wednesday at 1pm. Can you start then?

You assent.

They put it on the schedule. It becomes real and tangible.

Wednesday at 1. The beginning of the end. You make a note on your calendar. For no discernible reason, the Fleetwood Mac song “The Chain” keeps playing in your mind, over and over.

Never break (the) never break (the) never break the chain…”

Housekeeping: #NaNoWriMo

There likely won’t be many long pieces from now through the end of November, as I’m gearing up to participate in my first National Novel Writing Month –an Internet-based creative writing event which challenges writers to create a novel-length (50,000 words) manuscript in thirty days. I’ll still be posting, but they will be shorter, less substantive pieces than, say, Hair-Trigger Nation, or First One’s Free. Expect more content like The Comforting Roar of Eternity or NFQ –short little observational blurbs that I can hopefully imbue with a little craft and poetry.

Sincere thanks to everyone who has read, shared, and/or commented in the past two months. I really appreciate it.

Here’s hoping that I end November with something publishable!