Sunday, May 15, 2011

Papa Greek

My father-in-law is dying. 

Over the last few weeks, watching him fade away, I so desperately wanted to say goodbye.  But I was too chicken.  No one else seemed to be acknowledging that he was leaving, and, well, I just didn’t have it in me.  I would hover outside his bedroom door, afraid to be alone with him.  I’m not proud to admit this, but it’s true.


Last Sunday morning, we got a call that he’d fallen in the night, trying to go to the bathroom.  We went to see him, and he told Tony he wanted to go into the hospital.  Actually, that’s not what he said.  Mama Greek had been driving us a little bit crazy with her frantic, ceaseless worrying and trying to feed him soup and leaping around whenever he had visitors.  Papa Greek’s words were, “Get me to the hospital and away from her.”


When Tony told Mama Greek that Papa Greek wanted to go to the hospital, I believe her words were along the lines of, “No way in hell.”

“We get him diapers,” she told me, as we sat at the kitchen table.  She and Tony had been yelling at each other for the past hour, and now Tony was off clandestinely meeting his uncle, to develop a strategy to negotiate between his dying father and his hysterical mother. 

“Some women take care of their husbands for years," she added.  "It’s okay!  I get gloves.” 

She talked about the gloves a lot. I just sat there and listened and didn’t say much.  I have not been able to muster a lot of compassion towards Mama Greek in the last few days.  What makes it harder is the moments when I see Tony yelling, fussing and fixating obsessively in the exact same way as she does.  If there is a Jesus, I hope he forgives me for this.  I’m learning that sometimes, you really don’t feel the things you’re supposed to feel. 


It was decided that Papa Greek would go into the hospital on Monday.  On Sunday night, I finally found a way in.  I started with a joke.  I said,

“I can’t believe you’re leaving me alone with these two.”

He smiled and said, “You’ll be okay.  No one is around forever.”

He stuck out his arms, which are so thin and fragile now it breaks your heart, and pulled me to him.  And he said, “I love you so much.” 

And through my blubbering, I was able to say what I wanted to say, which was, “I’m really going to miss you.” 

“I don’t have the strength to stay,” he said.

And I said, “It’s okay.  You can go.” 

Then Tony came in and got onto the bed next to him, and we all held hands and cried for a while.


I wish it had ended like that.  I think Papa Greek does, too.  The day he left to the hospital was torturous.  We had to wait 3 hours for the ambulance, since it wasn’t an emergency.  He was agitated and very upset.  Mama Greek was, understandably, beside herself.  She was down on her hands and knees,  rummaging through cardboard boxes in the closet in his room for his slippers, which she insisted go to the hospital with him.  She sent me out to buy him a new pair, which didn’t fit, so she sent me back to exchange them. 

Papa Greek hasn’t walked in days.


They play CNN in the “Family Room” in palliative care.  This makes so much sense to me.  Watching the world end and Americans justify kicking imams off planes, anyone would want to get out of this place as quickly as possible.


Yesterday, I went with a very close friend of Tony’s family for a meeting at the funeral home.  The woman we met with wore a massive jewel around her neck.  It’s horrible, but I stared at it the whole time, wondering if she stole it from a dead person.  I can’t help it.  Maybe funeral home owners should think twice before sporting that kind of bling.

She asked if we were Greek, and I, accidentally, said, “Yes.”  When I corrected myself, the family friend, who I think of as the sister-in-law I never had, said, “If you aren’t yet, you will be soon.”  The woman’s eyes lit up, and we immediately had to talk her down from a funeral package that costs twice as much as your average wedding. 

“He’s a simple man,” my sister-in-law explained, of Papa Greek.

The bling lady told us about one of the more modest packages, but made sure to mention some of the add-ons you can get, like something called a Serenity Table.

“You display the deceased person’s personal belongings,” she said, to which we both turned grey.
“It’s very touching,” she added, quickly.  “I can’t tell you more, though, because I’ve only seen it once.”
The Serenity Table costs $450.


My mother-in-law has said she wants to get a $5000 casket for Papa Greek.  Tony told her that if she does, Papa Greek is going to come back from the dead and haunt her. 


I’ve realized the most peace I feel these days is when I’m sitting with Papa Greek, holding his hand or massaging his feet.  It seems weird to say, but it feels kind of like being with a newborn baby.  When people get to that stage, I think, they become pure again.  They don’t have the slings and arrows of normal humanity anymore.  They just exist.  I feel protective of him.  It’s so weird that he is the same person who replaced the metal grate in my garage, who gave a speech at my wedding, who danced at Tony’s aunt’s and uncle’s 50th wedding anniversary party less than a year ago.  Now, he’s just a being.

Soon, he will just be light.

I’ll say it again: I’m really, really going to miss him.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Stomach cancer with Papa Greek (some moments from the last few weeks)

The tumours in Papa Greek's stomach have caused a huge amount of fluid retention.  At first, before it was getting drained out regularly, he looked like a malnourished child, or Victoria Beckham.

“He look pregnant,” Mama Greek agreed, then went into a detailed description of her own pregnancy with Tony, 41 and a half years ago, which she’s related to me at least fifty times before. 

“The doctor tell me what day he come,” she concluded, “but he come 10 days early.”  

Which, if you know Tony, is not surprising at all.


We called the CLSC so they would send a nurse to Mama and Papa Greek’s house to do an assessment.  They called back while he was asleep, and Mama Greek couldn’t take a message, because her English isn’t good enough.  That's when Tony and I realized: we needed to get them an answering machine. 

I called Bell, who said they could install voicemail at my in-laws place, as long as they got verbal permission from Mama or Papa Greek.  Tony explained this to Mama Greek, who flew off the handle.
“We’re tired,” she said.  “Leave us alone.  Your father’s sick.  Don’t you know that?”

They don't agree on much, but Papa Greek said later that he, too, was against the idea.

“I like it when people call,” he said, “but I don’t want to have to call them back.  And what about the people from Greece?  They’re not going to understand.” 


I am really squeamish around anything to do with barf, but I like my mother-in-law’s term for it.

“Throw out,” she says, as in, “This morning, Papa Greek threw out.” 

I find it easier to take.  As if he's just getting rid of stuff he doesn’t need. 


The CLSC nurse came to do the assessment: 2 hours of questions and instructions.  After she left, I reminded Papa Greek of something the doctor had said: that he wasn’t supposed to mix liquids and solids, because it was more difficult to digest, and might make him sick.

“Like soup,” I said.  “Just have the broth, then have the vegetables and the noodles later.”

“Really?” Papa Greek asked.

“Yes,” I said.  “Like the doctor told you.”

“I don’t remember that,” he said, then translated to Mama Greek, who nodded.

“I give him this,” she told me, and pulled a bowl out of the fridge, which contained soup - with noodles in it.

“No,” I said.  “He can’t have the noodles.  Just the soup.  Otherwise, he will throw out.”

“But he likes it,” she said, looking hurt.

“I know,” I said, “but the doctor said 'no.'” I indicated with my hands so she understands.  “No water mixed with food.”

“But he never get sick from this,” Mama Greek pointed out.

“Okay,” I said, “but he might.”

“But he eat this,” she informed me, puts it back in the fridge, and walks away, the matter clearly settled.