Regular readers of my blogs know that my mother chided me for snapping at a Barnes Hospital nurse during one of my mother’s cancer-related stays. She told me that even cancer is not an excuse for rudeness, a lesson that I sometimes fear I learned too little, too late.
As my father-in-law struggles in the last days of his own cancer, I am reminded of my mother’s stoic character. Jay tells me, “Everything tastes like cancer, honey”, but then lets me hold the glass and the straw as he greedily drinks the fresh ice water that I’ve gotten for him. He calls one of the people from his wife’s church; I watch and listen as he talks to her, a gentleman even in his frail state. He lies against his pillows and asks, in a sweet, quiet voice, if I can raise the head of the bed for him. He wants to know when his son is coming, when his daughter is coming, when I’m coming back. I tell him what he wants to hear and then kiss him goodbye for the fourth or fifth time, mindful of the undeniable possibility that I might not feel his skin against my cheek again.
He could live for a month or a day; I don’t know. Cancer obeys no rules.
I read his email to him every time I visit. One of his friends sent him an email with a joke in it yesterday. I handed him the laptop so he could read it for himself because I thought from the title that it was sexual but it turned out to be a humorous jab at Democrats. He read it out loud to me and cackled. His pleasure at the joke touched my heart and made me smile. As he handed the computer back to me, our eyes met and I felt my favorite curmudgeon’s love flow into me. Then I showed him something else funny, a joke about cremation being one’s last chance to have a smoking hot body. And Jay’s laughter filled the room once again. I will hold that sound in my heart forever.