Monday, April 10, 2006

Time Limit

He's got less than six months. That's what the oncologist who's treating my father-in-law has advised. Less than six months.

Baseball season will be entering the playoffs in less than six months. The new fall shows will be debuting. The leaves will start turning red and gold, and some will already be tumbling earthward.

And R's father may not be here anymore. In less than six months.

I've seen this on television but never experienced it in reality. I've attended funerals. My mother's. A teacher's. They died suddenly, without warning. I've never known anyone who has been given a time limit like this. It seems surreal: the premise of movies and books about finding your true self.

A cloud sits over our living room. Every day, R has a moment where it hits her, and often tears spring from her eyes unexpectedly. She did not have the best relationship with her father. Like many children, she saw him leave home too early, establish his own life, move out of town and out of their lives. She has a brother who hasn't yet forgiven him, and may never. She is the oldest daughter, and tries to hold the family together with phone calls and patience.

I can only sit and watch. I think about my own father, who lives less than an hour from us and has seen his grandson exactly once. I wonder how long I have left with him, how long his time limit may be. His father died in his sixties. My father continues to work full-time, and is raising two young children, his new family, with his "new wife," as I call her. He works hard at home and at his job. How long does he have? Ten years? Five? How long do I have to mend our damaged relationship? How long, to make sure that I have no regrets when his time comes?

R got a phone call last week from her father's partner that things were getting bad. He was in intensive care. He was reacting badly to his chemo. Pneumonia in one lung. He was unable to walk, had trouble talking. "Come now." The next day, her own father took the phone and said he didn't want anyone coming out until he was better. Apparently, he's out of the ICU, but R took her phone to bed with her every night, waiting with dread for the phone call.

I want to be optimistic but have no idea how to even approach this. Will her father outlive his time limit? Will we have a year, two years? Or will it happen quickly, like a thief in the night? We'll be calling soon to make plane reservations, so we can fly to Florida and introduce Grandpa R to his only grandson. Their first meeting may well be their last.

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