Saturday, March 28, 2009

Long Way To Go

When we moved into this house a few years ago, one of the things we got used to seeing was this one guy from maybe six or seven doors down walking a big wooly dog around the neighborhood. Never really got to know him, can't say we ever spoke except to roll down the window and say hello, but he was the kind of walker who would smile at a car driving by and sometimes give a little wave, a reassuring part of the scenery.

Turns out he had cancer, diagnosed about five years ago and the prognosis at that time was that he had five years to live. He had a wife and a young son and I'd say about a year ago the nightly walks with the dog stopped, and he dropped out of sight. Window blinds frequently closed, cars coming and going at odd intervals.

We're friendly with the people who live across the street, and more often than not when we were over there so was this man's son, while he was off getting some kind of treatment and trying as hard as he could to stay alive a little longer, his wife shuttling him back and forth to the city or somewhere else. They were both teachers and she was trying to make it all work. The job, the son, the husband and his grave illness.

I saw him probably six or seven months ago, driving by on my way to work, walking very slowly between his front door and car, extremely thin, using a cane to brace every step. It was terrible to see, he was dying.

I pass their house on the way out of our development every morning, and on the way back every night, and occasionally when my mind wasn't somewhere else I'd look at the new siding they'd recently put up and think about what they were dealing with inside, wonder what he was doing or thinking, trying to fight for life while coming to terms with the inevitable. What must it be like, to know. The last falling of the leaves you are likely to see, the last cool October night. The recognition that the rusty towel bar in the bathroom that always annoyed the hell out of you is destined to have the last laugh. Envying the permanence of trees.

A few months ago things seemed to be looking up, at least for the moment. The experimental regimen he'd undergone had helped him put on some weight, he looked almost normal again. Gwen said she'd heard he was doing well.

She called me at work Thursday and in a trembling voice said that as the big yellow school bus pulled up that afternoon they were taking him out of the house on a stretcher, ambulance waiting, he'd taken a severe turn for the worse. His son got off the bus to see the paramedics wheeling his father down the front walk, oxygen mask on his face, I can't even imagine.

He died the next morning. Since then there have been large collections of cars parked outside the house, paying respects and gathering to grieve. We talked to the girls about it and they seem to grasp what has happened, very focused as one might imagine on the man's young son, Jack.

"He's 8, Dad," Madison told me in the car earlier today. "He's in third grade."

"Is that right," I said. "Third grade?"

"Yeah. He has a long way to go without a Dad."

The line hit me hard in the moment and it's still here right now, exactly as she said it. Ten words. Perfect, terrible and real.

He has a long way to go without a Dad.

Cherish every moment. Every breath.


Blogger Katherine said...

What a sad story. It is very sad that it takes something like that for us to remember to cherish what we have.

1:53 AM  
Anonymous Elise said...

Hubby lost his mom when he was five. Accident. He was immediately removed from his dad and environment and sent to his mother's family in France, and eventually adopted.

We now have a son and his greatest fear is for our son to lose his mom too. He gets regularly nightmares about that.

He doesn't say much about that, told me once about the night when his mom died, and never again. But I can feel sometimes his anxiety and pain, through the way he is with our son - or with me when I get upset at our son and "reject" him.

Kids so much need their parents.

10:52 AM  
Anonymous Tamara @ Watching the Grass Grow said...

Oh my gosh--such words of wisdom from your brilliant little girl. I have a student whose mother died a few weeks ago after a long, debilitating illness. The girl is doing remarkably well right now, and we've discussed what a relief it must be for a child of 11 or 12 to have the uncertainty gone, and not having to watch her mother suffer anymore. I know while that might be the immediate effect for this girl (and the little boy of your neighbor), she'll have a "long row to hoe" as well.

2:51 PM  
Blogger Cat said...

Sometimes, this world isn't so perfect... In French, we have a saying that goes "truth comes from the children's mouths" (meaning that children have wisdom beyond their age).

9:16 AM  
Anonymous Corina said...

Amazing words from your girl. A long way indeed. I will cherish each and every moment with my children. I know my hubby does the same.

12:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My husband and I both agree our worst fear is that our two sons should have to grow up without one or both of us through tragedy such as this. Your daughter's statement is so full of truth. Deep thoughts for one so young. Children really do understand much more than we think.

7:31 PM  
Blogger illusionary said...

This nearly made me cry...He has a long way to go without a Dad..

I live in a hostel, away from my parents....I wish I could hug them right now...

9:54 AM  
Blogger Ashley said...

Gosh, and I've been so worried about the recession. It could always be worse and this was a much needed reminder that we need to be grateful for what we have.

Thank you!

7:56 AM  
Blogger Charisse said...

Wow, I'm sitting at my desk at work crying now. That is so, so sad. Beautifully written, too. But so, so sad.

3:12 PM  
Blogger Goodsell Family said...

Thank you!

4:18 PM  
Blogger moi said...

Last summer, I found myself in a hospital bed, the word cancer being thrown around like a hot potato. I have two daughters (then 5 and 3) and the helplessness was overwhelming. I learned something.
When faced with the fact that we all will meet our maker one day, I am reminded of the quote "All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us." -(Gandalf, Fellowship of the Ring)
I have dedicated what remains of my life to bring brightness and hope to those around me, and leave the world a better place. God bless.

9:51 PM  
Blogger Horseartist said...

You've a very perceptive daughter. I was like that boy. My parents died when I was 5 and 7.

When my daughter was 2, my biggest fear was that I would die and leave her alone, like I was left. She's now 19 and my son is 13. They are well on their way and my fears about leaving them are gone.

I was glad to know that patterns don't always repeat themselves.

10:58 PM  
Blogger RYD said...

Thanks for your comment on my blog. Your story made me weep even more than I already have been. My dad died when I was 30 and that was a long time to not have a dad. He missed my marriage, my two children being born and my mid-life crisis. Now I take solace in the thought that he hasn't missed it at all - he has a birdseye view.

7:05 PM  

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