When I got there on Friday night, I walked across the street and had a brief moment when I was convinced that God doesn't completely hate me and everyone in my family. It didn't last very long. (I'll tell you about it tomorrow).
I then stepped into the liquor store and bought a bottle of champagne that I could not afford. Also a few bumpers of Saison Dupont and a biggish Chimay Reserve. As I was paying, my brother drove up in front of the liquor store, wordlessly took my bags, and went back to buy about three times as much as beer as I had bought. When he got back in the car, we looked at each other for the briefest moment before saying nothing and driving back to the house.
My brother Buzz and his wife Leta have worked in television for most of their careers. As a result, they share a habit of closing awkward and painful moments by making a gesture very like the fading of a screen to black - and say: "and... scene."
Then we are free to break character, go for more drinks, re-stabilize our MELPs, whatever needs to be done to maintain the composure and dignity of a family sitting out behind a house situated in a golf course, getting drunk, talking about the death of its leader. That's what we did all weekend (except for when the baby could hear. Then we talked about whatever. And no, we have no problem drinking around the toddler).
Depending on how you look at it.
On Friday at about noon, my dad was told for the second time to go home and polish up for an early death. He didn't ask questions because he already knows: six to eight weeks at best. Four weeks is more likely. Less than four would be common and less than two, improbable, but still possible. He felt quite good, so on the way home, he stopped at the local nursery to buy petunias to plant that afternoon. On the way back from the nursery, he called each of his kids and then his four brothers to give them the news, just like he did nine months ago when his doctors told him exactly the same thing, which is: recurrent Acute Myelogenous Leukemia is not treatable. You'll live longer if you just go home and dance around the house in your underpants. (I am not sure they said that part about the underpants, but it was definitely in the subtext. Party while you can. You don't have long).
Many of you already know that the doctors were wrong. He felt bad for a few weeks, and then slowly trended better. By the end of the eighth week, he was doing yard work and building a retaining wall out of Tennessee flag stone for a lower deck down by the water. By the end of week twelve, he had gone camping with his friends, raked and burned the leaves that were still green when he was told he about it to kick it, and made plans for a Christmas. He finished the wall - and built the deck. He never went back to the doctor to find out why he wasn't dead. He never even considered being re-evaluated for further treatment. "I am done with doctors," was all he would say. No one blamed him.
None of us blame him now, either, for saying he still doesn't completely buy that he is dying. He had is bad artificial knee drained last week and got a whalloping bunch of anti-biotics and now he is home feeling just about the same as he ever did. When I told him I would be within a six hour drive on Wednesday, he said, "Don't bother. We have plenty of time."
Depending on how you look at it.
My dad got a lottery ticket of a break the last time he was told he was going to die. He should have, by every statistical and anecdotal measure, died. The fact that he didn't makes him one of the one hundred and twelve people since 1879 to have untreated AML and and not die of it. No one bought tickets for these odds, I admit. But who would?
We didn't have the courage to hope it would happen the first time. Can we do that this time? No. And yet we are not left with any choice. We have before us a man with no time left who insists he is not in any hurry to die and feels pretty good. He knows he is not likely to stay feeling good, but at the same time, he just had such a wholly unsatisfactory experience with medical people that he is unimpressed with their predictions of his demise. After all, they were wrong the last time. In fact, they have been wrong every time they predicted that dad would crash. (Three times, total).
So what do we do?
We wait. And wait. And if we are lucky we wait some more.