"Every time you love just a little
Take one step closer, solving a riddle
It echoes all over the world
Every time you opt in to kindness
Make one connection, used to divide us
It echoes all over the world
Every time you choose one more morning
Goodness or meanness, life has one warning
It echoes all over the world" - Dar Williams
The urge to fix, repair, alleviate weighs me down like a lead vest. I am in Southern California for the weekend, visiting my grandfather for perhaps the final time. Landing at the tiny airport, I walk down the ramp to the tarmac toward the receiving area I've been coming to since I was born. As a child, it was filled with aunts and uncles holding my cousins in their arms, hair shining in the warm sunshine, waving like homecoming princesses on a parade float. This was the place we came for summer vacations and Christmas with my mother, surrounded by her sisters and parents, instantly becoming a part of this chaotic, noisy bunch.
This morning, I can see the fog in the distance and smell the salty, sea air. There is nobody to greet me. Two of my aunts have long since moved out of town and my cousins are all grown with homes and lives of their own. I roll my suitcase along the pavement, inhaling deeply and filling my lungs with the moist air as I wonder what the day will bring. Grandpa has been defying the odds for the past two years since he was told that the pain in his legs was caused by bone cancer. He put up with radiation and two rounds of chemotherapy before he decided that enough was enough and the treatment was making him feel worse than the disease.
He is determined to play golf at least once a week and continue to live in the condo he's been in for over a decade. In the last six months, however, he has been hospitalized several times and now requires hospice nurses to check on him several times a week. He is living on Vicodin and Fentanyl patches and friends and neighbors who drop by to have meals with him. At over six feet tall, he weighs less than I did as a teenager and can only manage to sleep in his recliner. His sense of humor has not suffered one bit. He finds joy in the companionship of his cat and the golf tournaments on television.
Last week on the phone, I worried aloud that my visit would wear him out.
"I'll kick you out when it's time for my nap," he replied brusquely. This giant of a man who tells it like it is, accepts no bullsh*t and has the ability to send you his love telepathically has discovered his limits.
Tonight I picked him up in my rental car to take him to an early dinner at his favorite restaurant. I offered to stop by and get take-out so he could eat in his recliner but his response was instant, "No. It's much more fun to go sit with all the other people."
Over steaks and martinis ("at least three olives, please") he professed his pride in his children and grandchildren, "If I only have six months or a year left, that's okay. I don't begrudge it. I've had a good, long life."
As we head back to the condo he shows me the swelling in his legs and feet. Every other part of his body sports loose skin, bones and tendons showing as he moves slowly to get in to his chair. Above the top of his sport socks, the skin bulges and as he removes his socks there are deep craters in his shins left by the ridges in the fabric. The skin on his toes is taut and shiny, his feet look like absurd balloon animals. I am struck by an urge to offer some magical wisdom. I want to fix this. I envision lowering myself to my knees and massaging the fluid from his toes and ankles - pushing it up into his thighs and letting his lymphatic system filter and drain it. It seems too intimate. I could do this with a stranger, a patient, but not my own grandfather. I am reduced to tightening my jaw and murmuring sympathetically. He is not asking for me to fix anything. He is not complaining. It is me who is uncomfortable with his illness.