Six weeks back, which now seems like an eternity ago, we threw the most epic bash for one incredible man to celebrate his life. I planned to write a whole post about that unforgettable party, but a week passed, I went to Disney World with my little family of 5, and the night I was flying home, my dad was admitted to a hospice house.
He spent 8 days there. Eight days I’d like to forget, but won’t and will appreciate. He arrived on a Thursday night in a pain crisis. Friday he was talking to the doctor about the next treatment that will fight his cancer. Friday night my dad faced his mortality in a night filled with anxiety. Saturday he was medicated. When we were with him Saturday afternoon we thought he was taking his last breaths, they told us to read the pamphlet on “signs and symptoms of death from 6 months to hours of end of life.” Then Saturday night and Sunday he was lucid and spent some very special time with our closest family. Monday was a bad day, Monday night my 7-month old learned to crawl. Tuesday was good, my oldest baby went to preschool and Dad was in a better place in his mind and body (that’s the yogi in me). Wednesday was another scary day. Thursday was better and we got to tell Dad he was going home. Emotion city. Friday—JAILBREAK. Dad came home. Whirlwind ensues.
Recalling that first weekend home, I can’t actually. I know we were together, perhaps staring at each other, or crying, or eating, or drinking, or worrying, or speculating, or listening or laughing. All of that has been going on since Dad came home. We visited cemeteries and bought plots, toured funeral homes, visited churches and talked to priests, planned the second celebration of life.
Guys. We have no idea what the hell is happening. But it sucks and I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy. My mother is an absolute effing saint–she is the ultimate caregiver, always by his side. This is so incredibly hard on her too, this is her best friend. I’m not sure if I have mentioned this before, but they’ve been together since they were like 14, married at 19 and 21. They have spent their whole lives together.
Laurie and Chris have turned their world upside down to care for my parents in their home, our newfound base camp. We are there all.the.time. Navigating through every aspect of our lives has been a challenge—our individual families, our careers, our health, our relationships, we are sucking at all of them but trying our damnedest. Dad too.
He is drawn to his phone. But because his clarity is a bit fogged, he has this immense anxiety to respond. And at times he tries, and at times he can’t. This is the man who is my father. He is a communicator. And this effing cancer and pain is taking that away from him. Don’t get me wrong, he’s still telling stories and laughing and lucid. But he’s also incredibly confused at times, and he knows it because he’s a brilliant man, he shakes his head and says “my brain just isn’t working right now.”
The biggest fear, which I hate believe is the inevitable, is that the cancer is further metastasizing, growing, causing more pain and ultimately affecting his brain and other organs. And since he is in hospice care there won’t be any more scans or treatment. Although my Dad would hop on the next chemo train if he could. It’s just that at this point the chemo could be more detrimental to his health, than no treatment at all. He’s not okay with this, he just wants to keep fighting and stay alive.
Where are we? Together. I guess that’s our secret. This little #TeamWhelan that once started as a party of 5 (“The Whole Family” Dad called us whenever we’d all be together when we were teenagers) we have been inseparable. And we couldn’t do this without our husbands, children and extended family and friends. My Dad can’t be alone at this point, which we’re okay with because we are spending and treasuring all this time together, rotating our schedules, managing the VNA and CNA, trying to give my Mom and Laurie a break. He’s resting a lot, but when he’s up and lucid we’re having awesome conversations and making as many memories as we can.
One night that Dad was on, he gave all the grandkids what we call “Bampie’s Boxes” it’s a legacy box if you will, which contains special things about Bampie.
And Laurie got frogs. She’s lost her mind. I’m kidding, the story there is that my dad’s favorite animal growing up was a frog. He lived on a pond and would catch them and put them in his pockets. When I was growing up, he was always saving the frogs that would get caught in our pool filter. And now, truth be told, the frogs “chirping” is quite serene, so welcome to the family Freddy and Betty Gorecki.
None of us know if this is it. Or when this might be it. Honestly, I left there today in a rush to get home and didn’t say goodbye to my dad (he was on the potty so I gave him privacy—regardless should have waited). Driving up the road I thought, “was that my goodbye?”
Here’s the deal, when he was in hospice we didn’t think he’d make it to Halloween. Not being negative nelly’s, we are as hopeful as he is, but shit wasn’t looking good. (Dad would want me to edit that). So Thanksgiving? Who knows? But Jack being Jack, this man will not stop fighting.
And honestly, admitting this is hard, I’ve asked him to. He doesn’t need to fight anymore. His first cancer should have killed him like 7 years ago. And he laughed at that. Twelve years later, and he has fought so hard, tackling 2 cancers. I bet we could contact the Guinness Book of World Records and say this man had the most consecutive weekly chemo infusions over 11 months (just one of the 12 years of treatment). And most recently just 2 quick (read grueling) jaunts to Germany for treatments not yet here in the US.
He has literally done everything, and now hospice is his best hope. Studies have shown that hospice care can extend your life. When we engaged them 2 months ago, our intake advisor said that we weren’t ready for hospice, and we weren’t but I’m glad we learned about it when we did.
What does he say to me when I say it’s okay to stop? He cries. He wants answers. And frankly I know that he doesn’t want to die or leave my mom. Or us, or his grandkids. And this is heart wrenching.
So we remain by his side, holding his hand, rubbing his feet, feeding him soup, sleeping in his bed, helping him to the bathroom, laughing at lunch, crying over what is, smiling at the kids, just being and cherishing every moment; riding this relentless roller-coaster with our eyes open, fully experiencing every incline, turn and drop.