Once There Was A Family

The family of four has been cut in half in two months.

Once there was a family. It wasn’t the perfect family, because no family is perfect. It was close though. There was a mother, a father, a daughter and a son. They loved each other. They supported each other. They laughed together. They fought. They had tempers. They were moody. They nagged. Mostly, though, they loved each other.

The father was a successful business owner, physically active, who loved biking, kayaking, yoga. The mother enjoyed her job as a therapist, where she helped people with big problems. The daughter was happily married to her father’s business partner and had three young children, loved by all. The son was a veterinarian, his life’s goal, and was looking forward to settling down and starting a family. He was a loving uncle. The family lived within ten minutes of each other, which had always been the father’s dream.

One day in the fall of 2013 the father is diagnosed with a deadly brain tumor and given a dim prognosis, after acting strangely for months. The family is devastated, optimistic but realistic. Over the next year he undergoes successful surgery and then radiation and chemotherapy. He continues working and kayaking, though it is harder now. After his sixty-sixth birthday the father begins failing. He has trouble fastening buttons at first, then has difficulty walking. He starts to use a walker. He goes to physical therapy, then reluctantly agrees to a wheelchair. He is hospitalized at Thanksgiving with blood clots in his lungs. The family spends the holiday in the hospital, eating turkey between blood draws. The father comes home to a hospital bed in the living room, where hospice and full-time nursing care await. The mother quits her job to be with the father. The son and daughter visit daily, often with the grandchildren. The daughter tends to the father as he deteriorates, but the son has difficulty seeing him so helpless, and keeps his distance. Throughout all of it, the father is a model patient, handling his situation with grace and gratitude.

In December, after complaining of stomach pain, the son is hospitalized and has surgery for a rare occurrence, called a celiac artery dissection. The mother goes between home and hospital, but the son recovers and returns to work. On January 11, the father passes away at home. He has no pain and is calm until the end, as the brain tumor has made him blissfully unaware of reality. The family never tells him he is dying, in order to spare him any fear. There is a large funeral, with family, friends, and clients paying respect, followed by seven days of shiva, as the daughter insists. The son moves in with the mother for awhile. The family tries to move on despite their grief over losing the father, and feel grateful to still have each other.

Suddenly, the son is hospitalized with acute pain. Doctors find two aneurysms, unusual for a 35 year old, and begin to suspect some type of connective tissue disorder. The decision is made to operate on the larger aneurysm first. The son has an operation on March 13 and comes through the surgery well. The doctors are now aware that the son’s arteries are weak and fragile, confirming their suspicions of a vascular disease. The mother sees the son once he is awake and when the doctors tell her visiting hours are over in the cardiac ICU, she kisses him goodbye. He will be transferred to his own room the next day to recover. The mother drives an hour home and decides to call the ICU to say goodnight. She is told the son has had a massive stroke. The mother and the daughter return to the hospital where they stay the night as specialists confer. Too much damage has been done to the brain, and doctors advise removing the son’s breathing tube. The son has left specific medical directives, as well as letters for his niece and nephews. Family and friends come to the hospital over two days to say their goodbyes. The breathing tube is removed and the son dies.

There is another funeral, this time standing room only. Shiva is held for just two days, as the mother insists. The family of four has been cut in half in two months, each by a goblin both completely incurable and unexpected. The mother and the daughter cling to each other, struggling to process what has happened to the family and learning to live with the huge hole in their hearts.

Sometimes it’s easier to pretend your story is about someone else.