Glenn + Eleanor
Two bright stars of light, overlapping in the briefest moment in time. She is all future, one and a half years old. He is 67 and dying, slowly moving towards wherever she just came from, soon to be a wonderful memory to us, most likely nothing to her. As she begins to speak more and yell louder, he gets quiet, his voice thinning to a whisper. She's growing rapidly, eating everything. He wears his wedding ring on his middle finger now, hasn't eaten a meal in months. She gets a new tooth every few weeks. His dentures don't leave the nightstand. They never really mention that cancer causes even your mouth to lose weight. The further she moves from the beginning, the closer he gets to the end. Two stars zooming past one another in opposite directions.
Helping a loved one die well has been one of the most profound, beautiful experiences of my life. Terminal illness is familiar to my family; cancer is unfortunately familiar to nearly all of us. I've learned many surprising lessons along the two Hospice journeys I've taken in my life: how to clean the phlegm from a tracheotomy tube, the best angle to hold a feeding tube to reduce gas, the optimal position for pillows to minimize discomfort in a hospital bed.
But by far the most valuable thing I've learned in my adult life is that there's just as much beauty and grace in the end of life as in the beginning. It's just much harder to see. Maybe we choose not to.
The way a foot massage does more to relieve cancer pain than any morphine pill or fentanyl patch could.
Watching a chubby toddler waddle and joyfully squirm into a hospital room, mercifully oblivious, moments after you received the worst news of your life: your cancer is inoperable.
The simple pleasure of being able to eat, and keep down, a spoonful of mashed potatoes. A jar of baby food. Two bites of garlic bread. The delicious relief of an ice cube. And soon, the smell of fresh coffee.
Witnessing God work through the love and grace of caregivers.
The strength of a spouse who must simultaneously give comfort while saying goodbye. Watching my mother do this all over again, ten years later, first with my dad, now with my stepdad. Dealing with crushing, relentless demands yet transforming into superwoman right before my eyes. Whispering to my daughter: hey - that's your grandma. Isn't she incredible?
The awesome opportunity that Hospice gives us to say a proper, lengthy goodbye. To smile, laugh, cry, remember. The mercy of being given time. I know everyone's not so lucky.
Getting birth announcements and "We're expecting!" news from good friends, the reminder that life constantly renews, knowing that God will keep showing up in our lives, over and over again, even in dark moments.
When Glenn arrives where he's going, I hope he's greeted by my father - who left a million moments too early, and eight years before his first grandchild arrived. I asked Glenn to tell my dad what his granddaughter is like, how Eleanor is a good, smart, lovely girl. That she definitely inherited his sensitivity and sense of humor. How she spent the opening paragraph of her life with him, sharing the final chapter of his. She'll never know or remember either of her grandfathers, but she'll certainly carry their goodness with her wherever she goes.