"You never get over it. You just learn to live with it. When my Mom died I was seventeen.... You never get over it. You just learn to live with it." These were the words my Dad said to Paul's wife, Toby, and then repeated back to me.
Recently, my family went to visit a friend, Paul, in the Kaiser Permanente, Intensive Care Unit (ICU). Paul always treated my brother and I with kindness and was close to my parents. He was one of three people that attended my parents wedding and he was a medical school buddy with my Dad. Unfortunately, his cancer has spread across his body and made its way into his lungs and throat. He also has pneumonia. Outside his room I saw him with tubes in his arms and down his throat. It scared me. He didn't look anything like the way I knew him from childhood memories. I didn't recognize him without a smile on his face.
My parents led the way into this room. My Dad and Mom helped him move his feet back unto his pillows. He was barely conscious, and had a blank stare that moved between the three of us. I felt like a scared kid. I didn't know what to say, I didn't know what to do, and my parents did everything. My parents kept on saying, "Keep on fighting, Paul. You're so strong. Keep on fighting." His eyes barely open, he stared straight into me. What do you do when you're staring into someone's death? I don't have an answer, so I forced a smile.
When my Pop Pop told me that my visit would be the last time I saw him, we cried, we hugged and we smiled. It still brings tears to my eyes, thinking about him slowly waving from the front porch with his sunken eyes. The same eyes, that Paul had.
What's equally sad is what Paul leaves behind. While the experience must be very painful for my parents, it's tragic that he leaves behind a wife and two daughters, one in college and the other in high school. While I believe or at least hope that the twenties is the most difficult period in my life as I define myself through work and the companion I choose, (the naive understanding of course is that afterwards is smooth sailing) what are you supposed to do when you have to reset your life at 55? I'm 21 and it certainly puts bitching about my life in perspective. I can't begin to imagine the fear and pain that Paul's wife, Toby is experiencing. What is she supposed to do? How can she "learn to live with it?" Empty chairs and empty tables all over again.
Generally, I like the question that when life tosses a lemon, or in this case, a crate of lemons, how do you make lemonade? I see what's going on with Paul and his family and it's beautiful to see their friends showing support. My parents are being true friends and they're a role model for the commitments I should show to my partners. In short, while it's certainly no cosmic balance, I'm actively reflecting on this tragic event to show my appreciation for friends and family. It's petty, but it's an attempt. My mom wanted to play cards with me last night, and I really didn't have time, but I did anyways. She "beat" me. I kissed her on the fore-head when I said goodnight. I said the Shema with my dad every night that I saw him this past week. Lastly, I was lucky enough to speak with my brother on Friday night and Banrock, soon to be Mr. and Mrs. Banrock, on Saturday.
I spoke to Banrock on Saturday and told him that I wasn't going to be able to make it to his wedding. I feel like shit about it. If you're not making the time for life partners, who are you supposed to do it for? For a list of reasons, I can't. But here's where the story gets interesting. Banrock responded, "Charlie, I missed a lot of weddings in my time. Next time your out in Manhattan, you'll toast us." Wow, another example of Banrock giving better than he gets.
What an amazing friend. Instead of saying, "oh what a shame," or "I can't believe you can't make it especially given that you said you would," he makes an effort to make me feel less rotten about it. I'm so lucky to have such great partners and role models, and I'll do whatever I can to keep them.