I’ve been traveling this week to visit with my Dad and Mom and as you can imagine after receiving the cancer diagnosis they have been busy going to various doctor appointments. Late Wednesday evening last week Mother sent me an email asking if Dad had mentioned there was a family reunion coming up (it was yesterday). Of course my answer was, “No, no one mentioned that.” But I quickly spoke with my boss at work and he said, “Go” so I took off Friday morning. It would take about 10 hours to drive back home and late Friday evening I made it to my parents’ house.
But as is the case with driving 700 miles there will always be complications; this trip was no different. I tried to pack Thursday evening, but everything did not get in my bags until Friday morning around 9.30. This was already a negative for my traveling plans, and as it’s been said, “The best laid plans of man…” are not always implemented as planned (that last part is my own change to the quote). Typically I am not a good packer, but I am a good planner. So my plan was to leave between 7-8am, but 10.30 ended-up being my final departure time.
As I tweeted Friday morning a stop at Starbucks did not produce my sugar-free vanilla latte, but rather a cup of steamed milk (I did not realize this until I was on the road). So, if you frequent Starbucks take heed of the sign and taste your handcrafted drink before leaving. Fortunately for me I had chocolate mint protein bars in the car so my warm milk became warm mint milk; yum, yum, yum.
I drove for about 10 minutes and stopped for fuel, all pretty standard stuff. After filling the tank I picked-up a diet Pepsi, stretched my legs and arms then headed back out to the car. I checked the air in the tires, opened the door and got in, then headed down the highway. Little did I know things were about to get weird.
While driving I turned on the radio (if you’ve read other post you know I love my car time and music); and ‘bum-bump, bum-bump’ went the music. Just as I got off the main thorough-fare and out into the country I started to think about my Dad. I had thought about this part of the trip and already anticipated that the day would be full of sadness, worry and concern. Just as I started to think about how I would handle seeing my Dad for the first time I mumbled, “How will this go?” No sooner had the words left my lips than a man stuck his head up from the backseat and said, “What does it matter to you?”
This was quiet surprising since he looked sort of like me. He repeated, “What does it matter to you? Don’t you think it’s your Dad’s problem and you’re making a big deal out of nothing?” As I looked in the rearview mirror and pursed my lips to answer his question I thought, “This guy looks a lot like me. He probably already knows the answer”.
But I went ahead and said it, “He’s my Dad. I’ve loved him all my life. Don’t you try and make this a “him against me” situation? “He’s been alive since I’ve been alive. He’s part of my life, and I’m apart of his life. It matters a bunch to me.” He shrugged his shoulder and settle back into the rear seat.
He was so close to me I could hear him breathing and I smelled some type of cologne. The scent was familiar but I could not put a name to it. He cracked his knuckles, or something that sound like joints popping and cleared his throat.
I thought ‘This is a little uncomfortable” and I pushed a CD into the radio dashboard. My thought was that the music would cover up the thoughts in my head so I turned on some of my favorite music. I like to sing at church and the CD that was playing had several songs I’ve sung or would like to perform at church. You see, I could not forget the doubt and questions that were running through my head. Now the self-doubt and concerns were interfering with my concern for my Dad, I tried to keep my mind occupied by turning up the volume and singing along.
The guy that looked like me said, “Maybe the doctor is wrong…, maybe its not cancer.” What could I say to that, maybe the doctor was wrong, or maybe it could be treated” Then he said, “Yea, but what if it is cancer? What if it’s worse?”
Doubt, maybe it is cancer; maybe its not pulled on my emotions like a yo-yo, my heart couldn’t take a lot more of this. Then I remembered it was a long trip - this guy had to go. The more I thought about my Dad’s situation the worse I felt and then I thought, “I should not be alone”, but I was.
His last question caused me to consider that my Dad is no spring-chicken; that he has seen many people with cancer and that with the 6-9 months prognosis Dad has to be aware of what is coming his way. He’s seen many people with a similar timeline set. My eyes began to moisten, pool up and then small tears began to run down my cheeks. I wiped my eyes but the tears continued. My look-alike self said, “Hey, don’t think about it. Turn up the music, ignore it.”
But I couldn’t, thoughts continued to run through my mind; “What would it be like afterwards? What could we do now to make things better? When would things change for the worse?” I turned up the sound and started to sing even louder than the music and I thought, ‘Don’t think about it. Sing the song, sing the song. Imagine singing a song at church.’
So I did, ‘sing-sing-sing; sing-sing-sing’, but it didn’t work. The tears continued to pool-up in the corner of my eyes and then stream down my face. Breaths were starting to become a limited commodity and I thought, ‘This is different. I don’t cry, actually I am not crying – but I guess this is pretty close for me.”
I was traveling at a speed of 75mph and I considered that ‘driving under the influence of emotion’ is probably not a safe thing to do so I pulled over on the side of the road and waited for the tears to stop. While sitting there the fears swelled up into emotions that were unbearable, seemingly the emotion was inflicting pain and damage that would be irreparable. How could my heart take this, face my Dad later in the day and subsequently the ultimate, losing him to the demon cancer?
After 5 or 10 minutes (I wasn’t keeping track) the tears stopped and I wiped away the result of my pain, but the pain remained. The stranger said, “They always say a good cry is what you need. Let it out, let it out! Don’t you feel better?” I just shook my head ‘No’ and took a couple deeps breaths. Inside the quivering stopped and things seemed to be returning to normal.
I turned up the radio, put the car in Drive and continued my travels. In short order I spotted an exit and immediately thought, ‘Food’, but as I drove down the exit the realization was that my stomach was not ready to accept food. This was not a good idea, but I stopped for some more coffee and bottled soda for later. It was during this stop that the stranger stuck his head out again. This time he asked, “What are you going to do when you arrive? Are you ashamed you can not do anything to stop this?”
This was a concern I had the answer for, only God has this kind of control. But how can I be sure that everything that is possible will be done for Dad? I could talk with the doctor, but would not be local once I returned home. But I have a brother and a sweet sister-in-law that live local to my parents and who are always available to help; they visit often too. So, looking at my interrogator like I was looking at myself I said, “Leave me alone, this is taken care of.”
As I drove on I attempted to bury myself in the music, singing always soothes the savage beast, right? Well, it sort of worked. I moved on 100 miles, 200 miles but doubt and my visitor continued to visit me with emotions as the words of religious satisfaction in the music led me back to my concerns, doubts, and sadness.
I asked myself, ‘This happens to a lot of people, why my Dad? No immediate family; including cousins, uncles, and aunts have dueled with the cancer demon, why now?” My immediate option was to swallow the concern and drive on. It didn’t allow me to swallow the pain and my look-alike stranger remained with me to interject thoughts, doubts, concerns and agony along the way.
After approximately 12 painful hours I arrived at my parents’ home. Mother greeted me at the door. This time the greeting hug was longer, more laborious and it seemed as if we tried to send a more painful love message without saying anything. A moment later I was inside greeting my Dad too. We did not immediately go into a discussion of the situation, in fact we have not gone into deep discussion yet, but there is “the first” oncology appointment tomorrow, meaning there will be many more appointments of pain. All of which will allow my stranger to visit again (Yes he is sitting here with me while I type; ensuring that each description I’ve shared with you has at least a tinge of the emotion from Friday).
Please consider and pray for not only my family, but all other families that are facing the cancer demon, or other diseases that are challenging them. The stranger visits often; when people are alone and when they are not. Often we find solace in groups, but sometimes the power of the stranger can impact entire groups and families. Be caring and compassionate for others around you, for you have no idea when the stranger visits them, or which demon they face.