I watched my father suffer for 4 and a half years with non-Hodgkins lymphoma and then lay on his deathbed for days while hooked up to life-support machines and morphine. And this is what I believe— that at the moment of your death, you will not remember pain. That all those memories turn into places of love.
When my father could no longer control his bowels, he knew he was going to die and went into the hospital. On the bed, sometimes, he would have accidents. He’d pull his IV’s out, wobble out of bed, his hospital gown trailing brown excrement behind him.
“Vicky, don’t look,” he’d say to me, to spare me from seeing his illness.
“No, Dad. It’s okay,” I’d say flippantly and help him to the toilet.
I closed the door for him and while he was cleaning himself or relieving himself in there, I’d pull the dirty sheets off the bed, throw them in the hamper down the hall, gather new sheets from the pile in the nurse’s station, make the bed, wash the vomit and urine basin, and place them by the bedstand. When he was ready to come out, I’d walk him back to the bed. He was in no condition to be using the restroom by himself, but he did it. We both acted and felt that all his conditions were normal: the hair turning white and falling out, the puffy cheeks, the bruising and degeneration of his once taut arms. He showed me where they had poked into his veins, how his skin was getting wrinkly and dry.
We marvelled at it. “Oh, that’s what happens,” like two kids sitting on the pier.
We didn’t see his aging as a weakness because we always knew it was just the cancer, not him. The day I grew up, was when my father trusted me enough to show me himself at his weakest because it was a statement of faith, “Vicky, I know you will never see me as ugly, that you will always remember me as strong. That your memories won’t haunt you, but bring you love.”
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