Saturday, June 21, 2014

i can't believe this is the end

I am devastated.

Standing in the middle of GIANT--in between an American flag outdoor chair and a table stacked high with Entenmann's mini muffins--I received a phone call from my dad on Monday at 7:23 pm, informing me that my grandfather had been diagnosed with lung cancer.

I can't breathe.

I've had a week to process, and while the tightness in my chest has died down some, it's still there.  And no amount of distractions (real life or purposely invoked), have been able to stop the sudden, constrictive flashbacks I'll have at the most inopportune moments.  But life goes on.  So it goes, as Kurt Vonnegut was so fond of saying.

This is the way the world ends.

But what Vonnegut and so many Modernists (Post-modernists?) failed to mention was how much death actually hurts.  It hurts so badly.  And it's not as though I'm a stranger to death.  After all, I'm a product of 9/11, and just three years ago, I witnessed my grandmother's final days in hospice, her battle with Alzheimer's finally lost.  I'm not naive enough to think that my experiences measure up to someone who has lost an immediate family member (I can't even imagine), however I've earned my share of battle scars from my grandma's death.

But this is different.

My grandfather was like a stand-in dad for me.  While my father was emotionally distant and physically unavailable (because he had to financially provide for our family), my grandfather was steadfastly available.  Where my own father was quick to wound with his own words, my grandfather was quicker still to tell you how much he loved you and how proud he was of you.  When everyone else had given up on the idea of me ever learning how to ride a bike, my grandfather was out with me every day until I finally learned how.  When my little sister and I missed the bus (because we'd been watching The Ink and Paint Club), it was the first time I'd ever heard him swear, but he came all the way over to our house to drive us to school.  A month ago, at the age of 86, he helped me move when I lost out on my apartment in Harrisburg.  We're talking a man who wholly understood what Christ meant when he said learn to be the servant of all.  Granted, my grandfather smoked for a decent portion of his life, and he was believed to be exposed to some kind of asbestos during his time in the Navy serving his country in WWII.  But he quit smoking cold turkey, and up until maybe five years ago, he would run up to ten miles every day of his life.  He even beat colon cancer close to ten years ago.  The guy's a machine.

And now, he has lung cancer.

This is the way the world ends.

Now, at this point, I have no idea what stage his cancer is at; hell, I don't even know if it's treatable.  I've heard radiation come up, but at his age, is treatment even a viable option?  These are all questions I never thought I'd have to answer at this stage in my life, and given the choice, I'd opt to never have to answer them.  But this seems to be the hand I've been dealt this retched year of 2014.

I know as a Christian, I should view this experience as the the book of Ecclesiastes does.  That whole,  "A time to be born; a time to die" thing.  That he's heading back to his heavenly home, to sit at the feet of his Father.  But realistically, my attitude is far more selfish and, in all honesty, resentful.

My grandfather was supposed to dance with me at my wedding.  He was supposed to be around to meet his great grandchildren.  He was going to be the first person I told when I won my first publicly elected position.

If you'll indulge my petulance for just a moment:  it's just so unfair!

This is the way the world ends.

What really concerns me, though--what truly terrifies me--about the whole situation is the well-being of my soul during this time.  When my grandmother passed away in 2011, watching her waste away in hospice was one of the most difficult things I have ever witnessed.  To watch someone so smart, so capable, and so independent simply waste away, to watch attendants change a grown woman's diaper decimated the very foundations of my faith.  I spent the next six months or so angry with God, wondering why he would allow such a demeaning and humiliating end for for one of his children he claimed to love unconditionally.

My faith has been no stranger to the crucible of life in the years since, but I don't trust myself to be able to recollect God's goodness in times such as this.  And perhaps that's the point.  My depraved nature shouldn't be trusted.  My inability to face death straight on, my weakness, is where God's strength is able to shine most brilliantly.  I am not the first Christian to struggle, to doubt, and I most certainly will not be the last.  But in this moment, in the days following that harrowing phone call from my dad, I will make 2 Corinthians 12:9 the cry of my heart because I don't have the strength to audibly utter the words, and because honestly, I don't have any other options.  "But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.'"

Today is my grandfather's 87th birthday.  The irony has not escaped me, nor has it ceased to piss me off.  This is a man who served overseas in Italy during WWII, who worked two jobs to put his two kids through college.  A man who lost part of his finger  on the assembly line at Mack trucks, who cared for his Alzheimer's ridden wife for fifteen years.  This is a man who is my best friend.  And after all that, to celebrate his 87th birthday tomorrow, we're having salads and eating ice cream cake.

Not with a bang but a whimper.