The mere word “funeral”…
conjures up multiple images in my mind: none of them happy; all of them sad. Our good friend Kim had been diagnosed with extensive lung cancer in January. He apologetically called to cancel our RVing rendezvous at a Virginia campground in October…because he had to start radiation…again. Undeterred, we reprogrammed our GPS to keep our motorhome heading south. We’d bring the party to a nearby state park so we could visit them at home, working around his radiation treatments.
Nonchalantly, he reported that his doctor said: “Sorry, the chemo’s not working, we are stopping your treatments.” I fell hook, line and sinker for the denial that was so pervasive, so palpable, among his friends. We wanted to believe ‘so what if the chemo isn’t working, that means the radiation has to kill off this cancer.’ Our logical minds didn’t process the words “Stage IV lung cancer” nor did we ask questions about which chemotherapy drugs had been used. I’d volunteered earlier to help with researching his options, but I don’t know why I didn’t ask if he wanted me to call other cancer centers to compare protocols, or suggest getting a second opinion.
Over a long weekend, we shared meals, at home and in restaurants and had a short walk on the beach, with Emma Rose, his constant companion. Periodically, he excused himself to go home for a nap. Ask anyone who’s experienced the chemo/radiation nightmare—they’ll tell you about the mind-numbing fatigue. Because he brushed off our concern about his fatigue and nausea, we were lulled into believing these were short-term problems he had to endure.
After one last look at the Atlantic Ocean, as we were packing up the RV, Kim and Diana came out to say another goodbye, and thank us for changing our plans to include them in South Carolina. Our brains went on automatic pilot: “Hey, after you finish this round of radiation, rest up, and then join us in Florida. We’ll be waiting for you; it’ll be like old times.” We never discussed the possibility that we’d just seen him for the last time.
Imagine our shock a month later when Diana confided: “He’s slipping fast. We’ve moved a hospital bed into the living room. Hospice is helping with his medications.” After a flurry of calls and emails, we were on edge, dreading the news we never wanted to hear: this beautiful, kind, smart, gentle, funny, wonderful friend, husband, father and grandfather had vanished from our earthly sight.
Feeling numb, we drove twelve hours to be with the extended family the night before the Memorial Service. Less than twenty four hours later we made the return trip to our volunteer job in Central Florida. Imagine my shock a few months later when his wife said, “Well, you know sometimes funny things happen at funerals.” Although I’ve been researching end-of-life issues for a few years, I still get teary when I reflect on those that I’ve loved and lost to cancer.
Probably with a note of disbelief in the tone of my voice, I said, “Really? Like what?”
“Well, I remember when we came outside after the service at the funeral home, our beautiful three and a half year old grandson, Xander, looked up at the heavens and said, “Which cloud did you say Grandpa is in?”