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Monday, February 16, 2009

Stage 4

That was the word from the oncologist. I knew already that there were only four stages of cancer severity, but for a few moments, I somehow lapsed into a world of denial in which the scale topped out at ten.

No, still only four.

My dad wasn't at the hospital at the time the word came. In a stunning case of role reversal, being that he was the one to inform me Mom had cancer in the first place, I was the one who broke the updated news to him. This time, it was he who stopped in his tracks.

I'm realizing that my focus needs to shift now from my mom to my dad. It's a bit of an unfamiliar place. My dad and I have a wonderful relationship, but it's never been one in which we got all warm and fuzzy about our feelings. Mom has always been the go-to person on that level. But she is quickly approaching the end of her journey here, and it will be my dad and I left behind.

If I had a gun held to my head asking me which of my parents I'd choose to "go home" first, almost without hesitation, I'd say my dad. Not because I don't love him. I do, with all my heart. I just always thought she would have the tougher time being alone than he would. Maybe that's true. We'll never know. But I'm seeing that her absence in his life will devastate him to a degree I never imagined.

My dad is a former San Francisco police inspector. He's a former United States Marine. He is a man's man. As a cop, Dad had developed the necessary skill of detaching himself from the emotion and horror of human tragedy. He could talk about the events of his days as if he were talking about the plot of a movie. My dad would have made a great poker player.

Now he is beginning to wear his heart on his sleeve. It's something I'm not used to or prepared for, but it is encouraging at the same time. I'm encouraged that he has someone, me, who he can go to and be honest with, emotionally. I'm encouraged that he won't bottle it in. In the days ahead, we're going to need each other in ways we never have in our lives.

I'm seeing some wonderful things in him and their relationship, but at the same time, it's putting my heart through the paper shredder. I can't even begin to imagine how difficult it is to begin to say goodbye to the other half of yourself. I can't begin to imagine the significance of cherishing every single syllable that comes from the other's mouth because you just don't know how much longer you'll hear their voice.

I don't know if I'll ever be blessed enough to be married. I hope so. But I'm telling you now, I'm seeing the most profound love story play itself out to a very emotional end.

I want what they have.

But for now, Dad and I have each other. We still have Mom, and we're going to be taking mental movies of every moment we have left as a complete family.

OK, I need to end this now and deal with it.

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