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Thursday, October 16, 2008

You're never ready.

Death is always surprising. It defies even the most educated prediction. Doctors can guess and patients can prove them wrong. You can see the signs, but the moment of death is still shocking. My grandmother died several years ago in a car accident, two weeks after she had moved to a nearby nursing home. I was shocked. When my father called to tell me, I had to ask again at the end of the conversation if she was dead. He had told me, but it seemed impossible.

My father-in-law died Monday afternoon, ten months after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. It was shocking. He wasn't ready and we weren't either. I admired the way he spent these last ten months, always ready for more treatment, refusing hospice care because he wasn't dying any time soon. He didn't make funeral plans, because no funeral was imminent. Bosko was a doctor who specialized in infectious disease, so he was neither ignorant nor unrealistic. He was optimistic and stubborn enough to deny death until it came. I don't think hospice care is a bad thing. On the contrary. A close friend of mine is a hospice nurse and I know she has helped many families through a difficult and often lonely time. But I understood and admired my father-in-law's refusal to accept that kind of care. I believe his stubbornness gave him months of enjoying his grandchildren, his sons and his wife.

People say love is most intense at the beginning of a relationship, for the young. My father-in-law and mother-in-law must have been madly in love, because they married just three months after meeting each other. He was a doctor in Pittsburgh, where my mother-in-law, a nurse and Fulbright Scholar, had come from France to study. She had been given a list of people she might want to meet in Pittsburgh. He was described only as someone who "speaks French, plays tennis." Although I didn't know them when they first met, I can't imagine him being more in love with her than he was in the last few months. When he was with her, he smiled. When she left the room, he looked for her. When she was out on an errand, he sang her praises and talked about when she might return. More times than we could count, he said how lucky he was to have her and how madly in love with her he was. He forgot any less than perfect moments in their marriage. They were nothing compared to his love for her. He called her an angel.

His stubbornness was rivaled only by hers. He complained with a smile about how she forced him to get out of bed and go out to a movie or dinner. She would make a great personal trainer. When he wasn't quite as sick, she made him go for walks in his neighborhood. They went to the same cafe every morning for croissants and coffee. They were known wherever they went. It's hard not to notice a stylish European couple, so obviously in love. I hope my own marriage is as strong as theirs when Alex and I are older. Selfishly, I hope my husband is as in love with me as Bosko was with Odile.

For a brief moment this week, I entertained the thought that owning pets might have made Bosko's passing less shocking for my children. He loved them and they loved him. When he was too tired to talk, he enjoyed watching Baby J barrel through the room. He called him "The Tank." My older children will always remember Slava at his house, with the Serbian priest from Charlotte. They'll cherish memories of playing tennis across the street from his house, showing off their skills, hopefully developing the lifelong passion he had for the game. I don't think a dead dog or cat, or even a series of dead pets, would make this any easier for them. Do people really think that? That one death makes the next easier? That's a little bit simple for my taste. I did have pets when I was younger and they died. Still, I was floored by every death that happened. My grandfather when I was eleven, my other grandfather, O.J., when I was already a mother of two, my grandmother, Nana, when I was a little older, and others, even those who weren't mine to mourn - my friend's parents, someone's child, someone else's friend. Although we knew it would happen, Bosko's death hit me like a ton of bricks, a punch to the stomach, choose your cliché. No cliché is strong enough. I loved my father-in-law and was stubborn enough to think he might be around for a lot longer, in spite of everything I knew about his health. We'll miss him more than we knew.

Namasté, y'all.

10 comments:

Lizzie said...

Thanks for this.

*~Dani~* said...

Again, I am sorry for your family's loss and have kept them in my prayers all week. This post is a lovely tribute to your father-in-law. I feel like I know him, even just a little bit. You have wonderful memories which are important at this time. Take care of yourselves.

jo said...

It is always too soon to lose someone you love.

Thank you for sharing him with us.

jcristg said...

this is lovely.

Marianne Thomas said...

Blessings to all of you. A beautiful tribute.

Jane said...

Thinking of you all. This post is so true. There is no way to be prepared. It always takes you by surprise, even when you have plenty of time. No such thing as prepared.

Roger Hutchison said...

Wow...what a beautiful piece. It made me remember my Grandmother - and boy do I miss her. Thank you for opening up your heart and for sharing this reflection with us.

Jonny's Mommy said...

It never gets easier.

So sorry for your loss.

I lost both my grandmother's about five years ago. Both were somewhat expected, but a shock all the same. And it was so hard on our family.

This was nicely written.

Brenda said...

I am so sorry. Peace to your family.

Kathy said...

Oh, I'm so sorry. I've been gone and am just catching up.