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Con Los Pasos Contados

January 2013
Few days in.  Happy to be here.  The situation is one that we are all getting used to.  New Year rang with bad news of cancer back and spread, and even worse news from doctors that it was ‘terminal’.  Walking my father to the doctor’s office, he is out of breathe after a few feet, we sit, take a break.  Then it comes.  Black clumps of blood, he can’t hold it.  It all comes, just outside the office.  I’ve never seen anything like it.  Maybe this is like motherhood..before one worries whether they will know what to do, then instinct kicks in.  Love and care and need kicked in for me there, as I held him up, wiped his mouth, gently rub his back, cleaned his baseball cap that’d fallen into the pool of blood.  And at the end of it, look him in the eye and slowly put his baseball cap back on.  He nods and after we get our bearings, we keep going.

He got admitted that day.  After he got stable, my father, who I will typically refer to as ‘Pops’ or mi viejo got back to his jokes.  I asked him about my tias and he says Esas andan en el casino! Alli se la llevan.   Just then I wonder out loud, does he ever go to casinos?  Casi No voy..por eso..porque en el casino, CASI NO gana uno.  He chuckles, amused at his joke.

The way I’ve come to understand small cell cancer is that its like a chihuahua…chiquito pero molestoso.  We all try to hold it down, keep our spirits high.  He cries once in a while, but for other things.  He cries every time he would talk with his oncologist.  Proud as he has always been, the tears well up when the subject of insurance or payment came up.  A mix of gratitude and shame towards ‘his friend’, who said he wasn’t going to charge him to see him.  Right now he has no medical insurance and all of us put together can’t cover the costs.  30+ years of work and it comes to this.  We hustle to find a way through the tangles of health care.  And he laughed and cried, when, he wasn’t allowed to eat or drink for more than 48 hours..he would wake from dreams reporting that he had eaten french fries and a strawberry shake.  Then as some weird reality show about the US/Mexico border comes on, he sobs..I’m so thirsty..but what must the people who cross that desert feel?  But no matter how much pain, confusion or inconvenience he is cheerful, and somehow, charming.

I say this and I share it, because I don’t want to forget these moments with him. Because it is a lesson to be the best of who we are in the most harrowing of times.  He is still teaching me things..still..even as we all face the possibility of dusk flung on his life.  62 years old.

The other day we got a nurse who is from my family’s native Sonora, and we were all comforted how he was able to break down things in Pops’ language, literally and colloquial.  He didn’t sugar coat.  He told us that his liver was bad.  That we had to prepare our selves.  He described how he would deteriorate.  Advised us to think about end of life instructions.  Me, my two brothers and my dad just sat there, nodding..unchartered territory.  In the end he says, ‘Pues, que te puedo decir Luis?  A todos nos toca la muerte.  Lo bonito es que hay tiempo para disfrutar, para decir lo que se tiene que decir..pero eso si, estas con los pasos contados.’  

Your days, your steps are numbered.
And how do you count your steps, if you’ve ran and slide into home plate all your life? My father, whose favorite motto to me was always ‘Do You.’

I try not to think of how much I will miss him.  But I do.  I resolve to not have regret about time lost.  But I can’t help it.  It eats at me, and I hold onto the light moments, follow his lead..to be kind, to find humor in the cracks and crevices of life that unveils a reality we all know is there, but live with the fantasy that its not here, yet.

Its here…numbered days, counted steps.  I hold tight to the life jacket called hope.  But also know that the time will never, ever be enough.

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