A few weeks ago I was on the phone with my dad. I had called to talk to my mom, but I could tell he just was not his usual self when he actually wanted to talk. With an audible ache in his voice he said, “All my friends are dying.” That simple sentence has resonated with me since he uttered it. At the time, I jokingly said, “It’s the circle of life, Dad. Your time will come, but not until you are at least 100.” However, I know that my parents will not be here forever.
My dad is 77, and my mom is 72. My dad is a cancer survivor; he’s been in remission for over five years now after an aggressive treatment for multiple myeloma. All things considered, he was very active and healthy both before and after his diagnosis. My mom is a lifelong smoker; seriously, she’s often bragged about smoking since she was 12. 60 years of this deadly chemical addiction has left her with COPD, emphysema, heart issues, and who knows what else. She leads a sedentary lifestyle, and I worry about her daily. We have all begged her to quit countless times over the years. She is a stubborn old Southern woman, and I do not foresee it ever happening. This saddens me profusely.
Today it was my mom I talked to on the phone. She just called “to let you know that Mr. R died.” Mr. R was a lifelong friend of both my parents. He was an educator for over 30 years and recently resigned as the mayor of my hometown. As most with his affliction, he was already in stage 4 of pancreatic cancer when he was diagnosed. He had some treatment to lengthen his time, but he knew the odds were not in his favor. He, too, was a lifelong smoker. My mom and he used to cut class to smoke. After his diagnosis, my parents visited him often. My mom said goodbye to him on Friday, as hospice indicated it was time. When my mom called today, she stated that he picked up smoking again a few months ago because he said, “What the hell? I am dying anyway.” She went on to describe his quality of life the past few weeks, and trust me when I said that it was far from exceeding standards. I bit my tongue and listened. I waited for her to say, “All my friends are dying, and I want to live just a little longer.” She did not, nor did she say that she was going to “quit for real this time.” I actually heard her light up a cigarette while we were talking.
I resisted the urge to ask her “Don’t you ever want something more?” In the end, I choked up and responded, “I’m sorry he is gone. At least he is not in pain anymore. He will be missed.” What else do you tell your parents when all their friends are dying? I really wish I knew the answer.