Today my mom sent out a prayer request for my dad, who has not been eating because of the maintenance chemotherapy. She wanted to wait for him to okay the e-mail or to write one of his own, but as time shrinks his stomach and swells his abdomen with swamp-water-like fluid she decided not to wait.
I feel strange at work, where the reality of my parents’ situation occasionally spills out of my mouth as my vocal chords constrict all on their own when co-workers unexpectedly ask how I am. I don’t tell them because I don’t want to think about how I should act. I only want to feel the feeling of being me moment-to-moment as I carve out this life in which people I think of today give me plenty of notice that they’ll be gone tomorrow.
Truthfully, I have always felt good thinking about impermanence. It’s only when I begin to think of the permanent that I begin to feel trapped. It’s terrifically clichéd, but it feels good to think of a world that allows me to know my granny, my granddad, my Aunt Barbara, my Uncle Lynn, and my dad, and to think that that same world that still holds all their sweet memories in all those generous forms will be the same world that no longer hold their confusion and pain.
Not that my dad is dead yet because, like me, he is not.
But, like me, like you, he is everything and nothing—an amalgamation of how he perceives, how he is perceived, and all the rest that is unknowable. Isn’t that a nice thought?
And sitting here on the tail end of summer as an autumnal crispness is just creeping into the air and thinking about the immense gift of these past two years with my dad. Well, if this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.
Nine days ago Lynn Hughes, my uncle, died. He had been fighting cancer, but that is not how I remember him.
I remember him strong and energetic. I remember him always having just finished some project or about to start another. I remember him coming back from runs and finishing his peanut butter on multi-grain bread toast as I was waking up. I remember his commanding, football coach voice. Above all, I remember his intensity. He focused on whatever he was doing in a way that seemed impenetrable at times. There are not many people like that. I will continue to remember him as someone who was intentional and open, and I will strive to embody these traits.
I know that eventually the pain of this wound will subside.
A year and a half ago when my granddad died, I wrote and drank out of grief. The night before my granddad’s memorial, we were all gathered at my aunt & uncle’s and at some point my Uncle Lynn started pouring straight vodka. I drank and drank because it was the only way to express my grief and because in their home I felt intensely safe. I have never been so sick in my life as I was the next morning, but I wouldn’t take any of it back. Things had shifted and suddenly I was sure of my family bonds.
Being adopted can do strange things to a person, and for all the love my family offered me, until very recently I still felt apart. That Uncle Lynn (not to mention my whole family) never treated me as if I were different was entirely lost on me until the difficulties of the last year began to settle in. Growing up, my life was laced with ramifications of trusting too much, which was exacerbated by being someone who always veers towards being trustful. It was much easier and safer for me to distrust everyone because I had no tools, not enough experience, to be able to differentiate the people who wanted to use me from the people who were invested in my well being.
Now that I am growing older and gathering experience, I am beginning to see what I have more clearly. And, like when my granddad died, I again find myself in a place of gratitude for having been given the chance to know such an inspiring person. However, for now that gratitude is shrouded by an acute grief for this bittersweet and encompassing loss.
For Lynn Hughes. You are missed and loved.