Sometimes hope and prayer and good intentions are not enough. You are beaten down. Defeated utterly by a faster, stronger, more ruthless nemesis. That’s what Leukemia is–a nemesis to humanity. On one side you have human will, and with it medical knowledge collected over the centuries. On the other you have a disease that simply confounds everyone and defeats the human spirit. Hope is all you have to hang onto against an opponent you do not understand. That is the brutal truth about Leukemia: the essence of it, the reason it exists is not yet understood. Doctors have their theories. Some may even be based on truth. But theories do nothing when up against a disease so strong it can destroy a person from the inside. When something can so quietly and quickly tear apart so much, it’s enough to make you question everything you believe. It changes you forever.
There is a certain beauty to the sadness and melancholy feeling that surrounds a death scene. In a way, it is equally as beautiful as a child’s birth. A birth, a beautiful moment of celebration–months of preparation, hours of struggle, rewarded with a new life. A death, a beautiful moment of incredible sadness–a lifetime gone by so fast it seems a shame to only get to say good-bye so late, as the light gracefully fades from the eyes. Death is the only thing we cannot measure or test, the one thing we can not replicate. There’s just an ending, and whatever lies on the other side is shrouded by the dying person’s belief. It’s quiet, leisurely and secretive. You know it’s coming, you’re just not sure when, and the actual moment is not ever truly known to those witnessing the final scene.
I wanted a sign. I felt sure that God would grant me the ability to see the angels come through the window and take my Father’s spirit up to heaven. I kept glancing out the window and waiting for the angels to appear, lift him out of his diseased body and take him to paradise. Fool that I am, I thought I would be able to see it with my eyes.
I saw no angels.
I saw enough of death.
When death comes, it is the silence that is most horrific. It surrounds, crushes, and even though I spoke to him, at times shouted at him and cursed him, the silence of his responses drowned out my voice. I expected him to get up and walk out of the room. Or call my name. Or tell me to stop talking so much. I suppose the least I expected was for him to tell me I’d be okay without my Dad around. But he did none of that–and I’m not sure what I would have done if he had. He just lay on that bed, looking calm and peaceful, as if he did not have any worries anymore.
I did not look back as I followed my wife out of the room and into the hallway.
I stood under the shower and scrubbed the sickly sweet smell of death off my body. I tried to wash it out of my nostrils and my hair. No matter how many times I stood under the steaming hot water, I could not get the smell out of my head. It was in my senses, in every pore. It dawned on me that maybe that is what we all took from the room–the smell of death. I did not cry about it. I just listened to the sound of hard water tit-tatting on porcelin and stared at the wall. I don’t really remember when I stopped staring at the wall. Maybe I never did.
Ah. But I am here today to talk about life. This is the thing that matters, the grind and the effort, the wonder, the tears and triumphs. You know – there’s life and there’s breathing. Which one you do depends on you. For me, I chose breathing until someone shoved me off the wall and I could no longer breathe for suffocating.
The living don’t care much for the dead, at least they shouldn’t – there’s enough to do, enough to worry about, without having to cross into another world to obsess over the fate and feelings of those long since past.
Here’s the thing:
Many years since my father’s death, the small tear on the corner of my heart remains; unhealed and unrepentant. Nine years. In that time, life has gone on around me and more often than not I have been a bystander.