Friday, January 14, 2011

A Family Man

However slightly crazy, I always found an ounce of comfort in being sick. This feeling, I’ve decided, is because life exists in opposites - awake or sleeping, full or hungry, sick or healthy. In some way, I considered illness the price to health - like eating your broccoli before dessert or something - and rationed that sickness and pain now, meant more health later. Being snuggled in my bed as family fetched food and heat bags and whatever I called for, it was part of being sick, it was the environmental part of being ill.

I have a great-Uncle (we’ll call him Uncle Axel) who has Parkinson’s. He has been a surrogate grandfather to me as my only living grandfather lives far, far away - I have had dinners and laughs and hugs with him for my entire life. I suppose I remember a spry (though all terms are relative) Uncle Axel, but now his body has shriveled and become a prison for him, the man crooked in his chair, his hands quietly quivering. He is sick.

The comparison that older people become like babies has been made before. People talk louder and slower around him, they no longer ask him deep questions but rather, “what do you want for lunch?” I wonder if the questions and tone are patronizing to him, or comforting.

As I was leaving his apartment, his wife (Aunt Ruby we’ll call her) attended to the ringing bell that meant he needed assistance and took some food to him. The gesture both pleased and disturbed me. I was unnerved by the inevitability of his disease and his life - my sense of worse before better did not apply to him, this ‘comforting’ sense of being in bed was not comforting at all, because it was final. It was it.

How are we supposed to feel? Do we ignore these painful things and move onto happier thoughts, do we ruminate in them, do we attempt to improve the situation? He is still a person, disease or not, he is still the man that is married and has four grown children, seven grandchildren, six great-nieces and nephews, and on and on and on. He is the last remaining member of his immediate family. He is a survivor. He is loved. He is my Uncle. And he is dying.

I feel helpless and little in relation to Uncle Axel. I love him dearly and there is no longer the time to express these thoughts as eloquently as I wish, no ability on his behalf to sit still and listen and respond. How will he know how much he means to me?

Disease is different for everyone. It isn’t about what disease we have, but what disease or issue ‘has’ us - how much we fight (depending of course on how much we are able to do so), how much we understand, how much we are at peace with ourselves.

Tell the people you love that you love them. Thank the people who need thanking. Help the people who need it. Applaud the people who deserve the applause. Every moment is dually a moment gained and a moment lost - but by no means does it have to be a worthless moment.


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