Friday, September 19, 2014

It's not dying; it's really living

My uncle Mark successfully beat off Leukemia twice; but you don't die of cancer, you die of side effects.

Graft vs. Host Disease has been his companion these past six months as his body tried to win over the stem cells' loyalties. Just yesterday, his youngest brother drove down to the UW hospital with Mark's Beagle, Cleo. Mark's wife and two kids helped the nurses put him in the wheelchair, as all care is palliative now, and the Doctors said comfort is the most important priority. 

On the way down in the elevator, he was already calling Cleo, giving everyone the giggles with his stentorian tones as the elevator doors opened halfway down on surprised hospital visitors greeted with "CLEEEEEEOOOOO...CLEEEEOOOOO". We met the family, scattered outside along the edge of the Montlake Cut, between Husky Stadium and the waterfront of Lake Washington. Mark in a wheelchair, watching Cleo and three rowdy granddaughters and an infant grandson tumble around on the grass and chase each other. 

My mind is going through the snapshots in my head:

Aunt Gwen, a nurse, gently holding Mark's head up when he got tired, so he could still see the kids and the dog. 

Different people picking Cleo up to hold her up to Mark's face for kisses.

Telling jokes and stories and catching up on family events, laughing about the inevitably funny and ironic things about death and illness. A streak of irreverance keeps our family mostly sane.

Occasionally one or two grandddaughters coming close for a kiss and an "I love you, Hoppa Mark."

My cousins and aunt smiling, playing with the kids and talking about the boats going through the small lock into Lake Washington. 

Mark's son and daughter sit on either side of his hospital bed, holding his hands and filling in the gaps of his words like an odd game of Mad Libs. 

Mark asking for a cheeseburger and a microbrew for dinner, getting a recommendation for a good kind of beer from my brother, first. His wife Maddy on the phone with the cafeteria,  asking him if he wanted lettuce and tomato. He said "Yes. And a microbrew." Maddy (to the cafeteria) "Yes he would like lettuce and tomato--and a mic...OH, YOU." He had us all laughing most of the time, actually.

The hospital doesn't serve beer, but they let him have a cup of coffee, since we passed the cafe on the way up to his room and he breathed in deeply and said it smelled so good.

I guess most people would say he's dying, and that it's terribly sad. Separation always is. But the pictures I'll carry in my head show he's really living his last moments. The sweet and bitter, the salty and sour. He's tasting it all and living well and bravely his last memories, awake. 

So this morning after I wake up (which is usually after my morning workout), I make myself a cup of coffee, and I put on some of the leftover dulce de leche whipped cream from cooking class this week in it. 

I fry a free range egg, from my friend Julie's hens, and slice up some garden tomatoes and a nectarine. 

I put the coffee into a pink-rose bone china teacup. And as I taste my food and start my day, I give thanks for the riches of true living. May we all live well.

https://www.caringbridge.org/visit/marklangstraat/tributes

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