That’s exactly how I’ve been feeling lately.
As with Alice in Wonderland, this summer I fell down the rabbit hole and ended up in a parallel universe.
It’s still my life, or is it?
It all began innocently enough, back in that London hotel room on Easter afternoon. I can still visualize myself resting on the bed after a full day of sightseeing and a celebratory pub lunch. A casual look at Facebook, taking in the message from my sister-in-law that my father had had an emergency appendectomy and was doing fine.
Except that eventually he wasn’t. First they found gall stones, testing led to the discovery of a tumor, another surgery with heart complications, then the diagnosis of cancer.
Let’s not forget the pulmonary embolism which was detected weeks later during testing to ensure his heart could withstand the pending six to eight-hour surgery to deal with the cancer.
Overlaying my father’s medical drama was the awareness of the continually creeping memory problems, forgetfulness, lack of focus, reduced concentration and mobility affecting both parents. It’s not as if my mother doesn’t have her own health issues which require monitoring as well.
There was no denying it: we were all coming face to face with the tough issues associated with aging.
Not those experienced early on in the process: the need for reading glasses to peruse a menu, not quite catching all of a conversation, aches and pains as our bodies remind us that we aren’t teenagers anymore.
I’m talking about the more difficult challenges associated with being elderly, however that state is characterized in one’s culture.
My parents are 81 and 79. Just as we’ve seen with Husband’s parents, somewhere along the line they passed the threshold from an active, vibrant retirement into something far more sedate and limiting.
That is not to say that life isn’t still enjoyable and enriching, because it is. They have a relatively active social life in their retirement community, with plenty of treasured friends and neighbors keeping track of each other and appreciating each other’s company.
They can still get around fairly well and care for themselves, but the cracks in the armor are clearly beginning to show.
Arriving in the US for the first time in two years, we headed directly to my parents home near the west coast of Florida. My father had lost weight (who wouldn’t, after a month in the hospital?) but his color was good and he was regaining strength, walking up to a half mile most days.
Surgery loomed over us, but one that promised to nip it all in the bud. Buy time, hopefully years. He and my mother were upbeat, choosing to focus on the positive rather than go down that other path.
Leaving them to head north and check out some candidates in Daughter’s university search, it actually felt good strolling those campuses in the summer heat, listening to cheerful coeds and earnest administrators regale us with the impressive merits and virtues of the various schools.
Taking in the mesmerizing information and corresponding visual imprint at each campus, it was easy to slip back into a life that feels full of options, choices and endless possibilities.
Inhaling the intoxicating perfume of youth does that, doesn’t it?
We were slowly making our way back south in the middle part of our trip when the call came. Another ‘where were you when…?’ moment.
The cancer, aided and abetted by the time-consuming pulmonary embolism, had spread rapidly. There was nothing the doctors could do.
Talk about a game changer. Out went the old plans and in came the new.
Reeling from the shock, flights were changed and itineraries adjusted as we all clamored for time spent with my parents. Husband and Son would accelerate their arrival.
Emphasis was on helping my parents through this new turn of events, and sharing that most precious of commodities: more time with my father.
Prior to returning to my parents’ home for what would now be an extended period of weeks rather than days, Daughter and I paid a visit to Husband’s mother in a different part of Florida.
Suffering from dementia, albeit a kindly form, this petite 86 year old resides in a well regarded facility of wonderful caretakers who ensure she doesn’t wander away. There is much she has forgotten, yet it is a blessing that she recognizes her family. She also believes all of her relatives and friends – a lifetime’s worth – are alive and nearby.
Her mother? Meeting her for lunch later at their favorite bistro. Her husband? Away on a business trip, returning next week. Her closest friend, the one who attended Husband’s and my wedding? She’ll be seeing her the next day.
Except she won’t, as they are deceased. And so it is another blessing that she doesn’t recall that, or get angry or confused when time passes and they do not show. Because she’s forgotten, and is already looking forward to new things. She can’t be disappointed about things she doesn’t remember.
She retains much of her former personality so is easy to converse with, often recalling past events if you jog her memory. She generally spends her days in a pleasant mood, enjoying the people surrounding her, always surprised by and delighted with the actual visits of family members.
When Husband visited her a couple weeks later, amazingly she still recalled Daughter’s and my visit, telling him all about his own daughter as if he is unfamiliar with her.
We are fortunate to still have her, grateful for the chance to spend time with her and trigger whatever connections we still can.
Would she consider herself lucky? I have no idea.
As for my father, his prognosis for time remaining is being reconsidered, but it may well only be months. In re-biopsying the tumor, it appeared to be a slower growing one than originally thought. Rather than the six months initially mentioned, perhaps it was now a year or two.
That jubilation was sadly short-lived, however, as subsequent review now shows that it is a particularly aggressive type of tumor after all. To say the news took the wind out of our sails is an understatement.
As I’ve learned in my time spent down the rabbit hole, peering through a distorted looking glass at one’s own possible future, there’s always another doctor with whom to speak, yet another appointment to attend.
More doctor’s offices, hospitals, waiting rooms. More options, however limited, to discuss and consider.
It’s more than a ‘before and after’ thing going on here, not simply splitting my world into two parts separated by the news my father was in deep trouble.
And it’s more than acknowledging that we really don’t have any time promised us, none of us, hence a reminder to truly live life to the fullest each and every day.
It’s the bigger issue at play: realizing that in living in the presence of the aging of others, we face our own advancing years. Our own mortality.
This is now my life, isn’t it?
[Image credit: Podpad, portfolio 3419, freedigitalphotos.net]