Dad, again

Sigh. Time for one of those moments where I look up and say, "Not again. I'm not laughing, dammit."

Another email from Mom tonight. This one had words that I've known that I would hear someday: "The doctor told us yesterday that [your] dad has some spots that have shown up on his lungs, so we are scheduled for more surgery Dec. 26 for [a] biopsy on them."

Both of my parents are heavy smokers, and have been so for as long as I can remember. It's not necessary for me to say the word; you undoubtedly know what I, the nonsmoking child of two chain-smokers, have on my mind.There are other things this could be. It is true that my father has had pneumonia several times, and this could be scar tissue resulting from those illnesses. He was also exposed to asbestos during the 1960s; this could be a reaction to that.

While I know it's a mark of childishness to zero in on the worst and think about it irrationally, that unspoken third option is the one that terrifies me. As the token non-smoker in my family, I've given up on trying to tell my parents that I don't stay in their house for very long because the smell makes me want to gag and choke. Or that when I come home, I make comments about "boiling" my clothes to remove the smoke smell.

For years I have looked at my parents and feared the day that I finally received news like this. It is painful to look at your parents and say to yourself, "I know what will probably kill you—and you know—and you either cannot or will not do anything to prevent it."

I know that my father is not in good health. Mom and I have tried as best we can to be lighthearted about his surgery. She jokes about how his surgical staples make him look like Frankenstein, and about how he used a walker to get around after surgery.

But deep down I know what we're too afraid to say: my father's health seems to be faltering. We've been bouncing from one crisis to another for years now; it seems almost as if we're pulling numbers out of a hat to determine if the next crisis is going to be a major one or a minor one.

The child in me wants to believe that somehow, my parents will always be with me. The adult in me knows better, but just can't seem to face that fact. Like a truth too painful to face, we look at it and joke, or only look at it askance; rarely, if ever, do we face our fears head-on and shine the light of day on them. These aren't the monsters under our childhood beds; these are the kind of monsters that get uglier and more painful when examined. They don't just go away.

I want to believe that everything is going to be okay. But there's this still, quiet voice in my heart that says that when I go home for Christmas, maybe I'd better make sure that I say everything I've always wanted to say. Better to look silly and overexuberant than to have regrets over things left unsaid. After my grandfather's death I mourned not only his loss but the wealth of things I never said because I thought I had more time to say them.

I guess come Christmas, we'll find out if I've learned anything.