Keep breathing.

He’s lost about 35 pounds in the last month, but he’s essentially the same guy. Friendly but reserved, stoic, working the room, managing things. An IBM man.

I got here two weeks ago, a day before his first round of chemo. I stayed nearly a week and tried to find ways to be helpful.

Two days after flying home, I got a call indicating that I should come back.

All day long, the phone rings: family, members of his church, nurses, hospice, neighbors, friends — the man’s known and liked by many, many people.

We’ve sat and talked for a few hours here and there; I brought a mic along so we could record some anecdotes about himself and our family. My father’s a born storyteller, but even if I remove 75% of the embroidery, they’re still ripping yarns:

  • Many young men in the early sixties got involved in the civil rights movement because it was a fine way to meet girls.
  • If your boss at IBM asks you to make a collections call, try to ascertain whether the customer is mobbed up before you remind him of his contractual obligations.
  • My grandparents had a tremendous Meet Cute; she dropped her books, and he stopped to pick them up.

As ever, things shift from good to shit and back again in a flash. As I was helping him into bed from his wheelchair tonight, a TV presenter with bad hair and a nice suit explained that optimum health can be achieved if you maintain the right balance of micronutrients. Dad looked at me and rolled his eyes.

“Amazing how many names we have for snake oil,” I said. He laughed as he lowered himself carefully and tried to get comfortable.

Earlier, he’d fallen asleep in the living room while watching the local news (WOMAN INJURES ANKLE RUNNING FROM BEE SWARM). Everyone else had gone to bed, but he said he was more comfortable in the recliner than in bed, so he dozed while I ignored a loop of  crime-scene tape, police cars and shocked neighbors from various felonies and family tragedies. I just sat on the couch, watching his chest rise and fall for the better part of an hour.

Before I came out for the first visit, a friend told me:

Keep breathing, my friend. Stay in the present as much as possible. Hold/touch your dad if he’ll let you.

We hug hello/goodbye, and we aren’t afraid to say “I love you,” but that’s about it as far as the demonstrations go. Tonight, I knelt behind his chair and laid a hand on his shoulder; we stayed there like that for several minutes as he slept.
I don’t think I’ve ever felt closer to the man.


Filed under Personal

9 responses to “Keep breathing.

  1. aaronhurley

    Hang in there, Walter. I’m so sorry you’re having to deal with this but so happy you’re able to be there with him.

  2. aaronhurley

    Hang in there, Walter.

    I’m so sorry you’re having to deal with all of this, but so happy you’re able to be there with him.

    We’re thinking about you and your family.

    • Thanks, Aaron. My friends have been especially kind to me recently, and I appreciate it more than you’ll ever know.

      As I said to my godfather yesterday, “I don’t have to be here; I *get* to be here.” I’m grateful.

  3. Oh, dear Walter, you’re navigating the Bardo state well. Your hand on his shoulder and not being afraid to say, “I love you” are profound. My heart is with you.

  4. I love the photo at the top. Your parents?

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