Back in 1993, my daddy had been experiencing health issues. As one might expect, he consulted his physician and within a short period, the diagnosis came back: brain tumor. Of course, they recommended an aggressive treatment plan including surgery to remove the golf-ball sized glioblastoma from its nesting place inside his skull. At the time, he was seventy years old, enjoying retirement in Florida and he had even taken up the game of golf … not so much to play competitively but to regularly enjoy an invigorating time out of doors.
The photo above pictures my parents. I think they must have been eating at a Mexican restaurant, but this was a typical pose for my dad, being silly, finding ways to entertain others. This picture is a perfect example of his playful personality.
As he was prepped before his surgery took place, the hospital personnel chatted with him. They knew the seriousness of this operation and the potential that Daddy could die on the operating table. In his conversations with them, he was his usual buoyant, gregarious self, seeming to show little concern about the outcome. When they queried him (thinking perhaps he simply didn’t understand what he faced), he told them: Whether I live or die, it doesn’t matter. I’m confident in my eternal destination. He was at peace with his situation.
He did come out of that February 1993 surgery but the prognosis wasn’t good. While the surgeons had removed the mass of tumor, the nature of a glioblastoma (as I understand it) is to disperse small threads of itself (like roots) through the brain, so even removing the pernicious tumor doesn’t eradicate it entirely. His doctor laid out the facts and urged my dad to undergo chemo after the surgery, but that’s when Daddy demurred. I think when the doctors opened up his skull to perform the surgery, Daddy knew he was already on the fast-track to his eternal home.
After his recuperation, he and my mom spent time traveling and visiting the important people in their lives. They returned to Philadelphia where they’d met, they explored places they’d never seen before, they spent time with each of their offspring (and families) who were spread out in multiple locations. There was joy in the journey and in the shared experiences … and even though the specter of death was never far away from their consciousness, their time together was precious to both my mom and dad.
The photo above is another example of his lightheartedness. Even in his later years, he lifted weights and tried to stay in shape. Showing off his muscles (and urging others including me to do the same) was a regular habit. Mugging for the camera was as well.
The final time I saw my dad on this earth was Thanksgiving 1993. He and Mom had visited us in Arkansas in late summer and they already suspected the tumor was growing. After visiting us, they returned to their Florida home and prepared for what was to come. Daddy was dead-set against any further surgery and, short of a miracle, he knew the sand in his hourglass was rapidly diminishing. By Thanksgiving, he was still aware and mobile but slightly lethargic. He tired easily. In some respects, it seemed as if his psyche was doing a slow release from the world his body still inhabited.
When I sat with him, he urged me to press my fingers to his head and feel where the tumor had been and was now growing back. There was a palpable indentation under the skin. I couldn’t tell what might be tumor, what was skull … and I didn’t want to hurt him by pressing too hard. I just recall how vulnerable he seemed and how I wished I could forestall what was to come. I couldn’t. Before the year ended, he was bedridden and he quietly entered into Glory on February 24, 1994, five months shy of his seventy-second birthday. Having the surgery had bought him a year (almost to the day).
My paternal grandmother also died of a brain tumor when she was barely sixty-two. Though I don’t know whether Grandma’s tumor was a glioblastoma, I live with an awareness of this possible familial thread. I’ve always bragged I plan to reach age 100, but I acknowledge that would be by God’s good grace.
The news story of a 29 year old woman with a stage 4 glioblastoma has certainly been on my mind. I cringe when I read this woman and her husband appeal to a romantic notion of death with dignity. Every fiber in my being wants to scream NO! (I posted a poem The Passing Fancy that summarizes my thoughts on the matter.)
Let me say it here with emphasis: DEATH IS INDIGNITY!
Did you get that? Death is the ultimate insult! In one irreversible moment, SIN triumphs … because Death is the result of Sin. But Jesus Christ (by paying our sin penalty with his death) set into motion what lovers of Narnia know as the deeper magic from before the dawn of time. Death was turned on itself and we have the promise that “Death is swallowed up in victory.”
I certainly sympathize with this young woman in her grave situation. Still, I think of my dad’s final days (details my mom shared with me). He might have prolonged his life had he gone to the hospital, but he and Mother agreed (long before they faced the end) that he would stay at home (with Hospice care) and let life take its natural flow down the inexorable path to death. As he slipped into Eternity, she held him in her arms, knowing with certainty that he’d lived exactly as long as God intended, no more, no less … and then he passed quietly into his Father’s arms.