How do you balance death, dying, and playdates? You don't. You will try and you will fail, but that's okay. Death might be fact of life, but there is nothing normal about it.
As Mommies, many of us are taught to believe that life is all about balance. We keep strict calendars and schedules. Our time is filled juggling activities, playdates, doctors appointments, volunteering, kids' schoolwork, homework, outside-the-home work, inside-the-home work, workouts, and more work, work, work. Sure it's exhausting, but we mostly love it. Then one day someone close to you tells you that they are dying and your balance is shifted. All those balls you are juggling start to fall one by one. The funny thing is you won't notice how many balls you dropped until the whole expierence is over. How do I know this? My Dad died of cancer on November 10, 2011.
My Dad was diagnosed with cancer around May of 2008. That Mother's Day, he presented my sister and I with matching shiny necklaces. He said he wanted us to always have something from him. It was a gesture I will always treasure.
During the first few years of my Dad's illness, I believed my Dad when he said he was going to get better. My Dad would drive himself to chemo and then to work. On days when the chemo made him feel really bad he would make my Mom drive him to work and pick him up. Even when they cut his throat open to remove lymphnodes he went back to work the very day he was released from the hospital. This was not a man who was going to let cancer kill him.
My Dad fought valiantly. The cancer was just stronger.
In August of 2011, my youngest daughter turned 2. The day of her birthday party was seared in my mind. That was the day I knew my Dad was losing his war with cancer. I threw a small birthday party at my house. My Father looked thin, pale, and sad. He was also in a great deal of physical pain. I could see in his eyes that he knew this was the last family function he would attend.
From August 2011 till his death that November, I tried desperately to pretend things were normal. I didn't want the kids to suffer. I wanted their life to remain as orderly as possible. I was delusional. Nothing about those months were remotely ordinary or routine.
I planned and accepted playdates for the kids, but those playdates were abysmal failures. Playdates are supposed to be lighthearted events, with witty banter and minor complaints about significant others. They aren't supposed to include the rants of a mad women droning on and on about her Father's cancer. Intense discussions about death and dying are conversations you have with your therapist or best friend not with strangers. This kind of talk frightens people. Needless to say the playdate invitations stopped coming. The funny part is, I was at a loss as to why people didn't want to hang out with us.
My Dad's lengthy hospital stay required us to drive hours daily to the city. Everyday after work, we would pack the kids in the car and head out to UCLA's Santa Monica hospital. My husband would drop me off at the hospital and take the kids to eat. Afterwards he would be pick me up, we would put the kids into pajamas and drive home. Going to see my Dad in the hospital was just part of our routine. I tried to pretend there was nothing unusual about it, but it turned out I was a terrible actress. My Dad often called me out on my fear. In a typical fatherly fashion he always tried to make me feel better. He would tell me that everything would be okay.
The children went to school, but all extracurricular activities went missing. Weekend outings to the zoo and natural history muesum were replaced by drives to visit Papa. The kids never complained.
When my Dad was moved into a convelescent home in the Valley, I still visited everyday, but I started going alone. My Dad began to change. He became more fearful and more frightened about the road ahead. My protector started to look to me for protection. My Mom and I put on a brave face as we talked to him about being transferred home for hospice care. He would be more comfortable and he might even start to get better. I believed my own lies.
The cancer moved quickly once he went home. He was heavily medicated for the pain. He stopped eating. The last words he said to me were, " I love you." The next day he stopped talking. He lingered in a state near death for weeks.
My kids would on occassion come to see my Dad. They would spend time playing in my old room as my Mom, the caregiver and I talked. We sometimes joked and laughed. We almost always cried. This strange existence became a familiar scene.
The amount of pain and suffering my Dad endured was shocking. I honestly thought that once he passed, most of the pain I felt would go away and be replaced by relief. But it didn't. The pain actually got worse.
It took me well over a year to learn to accept my Dad's death. He was an amazing man and I still love him with all my heart. I miss him everyday, but I am so thankful that he was my Dad for 37 wonderful years. I am not okay with the fact that he died or how he died, but I know I will all be okay. He told me I will be okay, and I believe him. Everyday I am learning to deal with his passing a little better. How do I know? The playdate invitations are starting to come again.