Wednesday, May 26, 2010

A visit worth taking

I made an impromptu trip to Florida to visit my uncle a week ago. As I mentioned about a month ago, he has been diagnosed with terminal cancer. While we thought - including him - that he likely had several months to enjoy life a bit, he took a turn for the worse two Thursdays ago. A serious infection in his lungs other than the cancer sent him for a loop, a trip to the ER, a multi-day stay at the hospital, and then a trip back home the day before I arrived.

From what I understand, it was "this close" to my packing a black suit vs. a pair of jeans. I wanted to say good-bye if that's the way the conversation broke. If not, we'd talk about whatever else happened to come up.

As it turns out, he improved ever so slightly so I could enjoy a meaningful - albeit brief - visit with him. I was on the ground a tick over 24 hours, and I got to spend about 90 minutes with him - 90 fantastic minutes. Some highlights for me included:
  • I drank a couple of stray beers found in his refrigerator. Because I'm using humor as a way to avoid the realities of his situation, I told him I'd take care of his brew since he was in no condition to drink it himself.
  • Nestled amongst the diversity of single beers was a Corona Light. Knowing his disdain for Corona, I removed it from the refrigerator, held it a moment, slowly turned around, and looked at him with a puzzled look. Despite his frailty and weak voice, he managed to utter through his oxygen mask: "Not mine! Brother-in-law's!" I couldn't help but laugh at his distancing himself from it.
  • With his current condition and dependence on a continual, heavy flow of oxygen, he can't smoke, have a beer, down a shot, or even sip a cup of coffee. His only vice allowed right now is Diet Dr. Pepper - and its even a struggle to drink it and keep it on his stomach. One of his goals is to rebound well enough to walk to the end of the driveway to get the newspaper and steal a smoke on the way back to the front door.
  • By mid-afternoon the day of my arrival, his voice had faded to a barely a whisper. He pointed to an empty can of Dr. Pepper which was my cue to get a fresh one. He took a small sip. Sure enough - not good. A coughing fit hit him. My aunt quickly wanted to make sure he was OK. After the coughing stopped and he had regained his composure a bit, she asked him very directly but lovingly: "Are you okay? Do you need anything?" With a voice as resonant as the Who's Yop heard by Horton, he managed to pipe up one word: WHISKEY! I couldn't help it and just started laughing.
  • During my stay, he felt well enough to be brought twice from the back of the house to the front living room. This was a big accomplishment for him considering his condition during his 4-day hospital stay. He didn't stay long either time, but I think it was rewarding to him to "live" in his living room vs. being confined to his bedroom.
  • As we sat near one another during his first visit, I ran out of things to talk about. We covered the Celtics playoff hopes, the Nashville floods, the Gulf oil problem, my upcoming visit to the NASCAR race in Charlotte Memorial Day weekend, my parents' health, etc. Most of those 'conversations' were one-sided as I started a subject, and he either nodded or offered an occasional syllable or two for his viewpoint. I was done - out of subjects. But as we sat a moment in silence and I stared at the wall a moment wondering where to go next, he cleared his throat and started to speak. He finally addressed the elephant in the room...
  • He told me in a quiet voice yet one clear enough for me to hear that he was ready. He doesn't want to go, but he is ready when it happens. While looking directly at me, he said he'd had a great life and that he'd be selfish if he asked for more of it. The last line dropped me.
  • I felt my eyes fill with tears and my throat tighten. Now I really wasn't sure how to continue. All I could get out was that I understood his opinion about not wanting to be selfish. But I also said I was selfish enough to ask for more time for him to be with us. After that, no more was said for the moment.
  • Thursday mid-day, I was able to spend a few more minutes with him before heading for the airport. We watched a bit of CNN and ESPN. Finally he said he wanted to take a nap and thanked me for visiting. This was the moment I had to leave. Once again, I didn't know what to say. Good-bye seemed both cheap and final. So I opted for "We'll see ya later. How about we visit again in Tennessee?" He smiled, shook my hand, and said "in a month". If those words end up being the final exchange we have in this world, I'm OK with it.
I'm really glad I had the opportunity to go, and I truly think it was meant for me to be there. I had no hassles from my VP about taking two days off with virtually no notice. My team didn't need to contact me much in the two days I was gone. Southwest did their part and got me there and back right on-time. And I was able to help my aunt a bit with a few menial tasks - taking the trash to the curb, helping home health folks get in the house, look in on him while she was on the phone, etc. The whole trip was smooth as silk.

Its been a week since I was there. The great news is his voice and stamina are continuing to return. He's getting to the front of the house with a walker now vs. being pushed in a wheelchair. Other relatives have booked short trips to visit with him about like I did. And he's enjoying them.

At some point, the cancer is going to kick his ass - hard. But for now, the healing of the infection is allowing him to again to enjoy some meaningful time with friends and family.


Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Is God Speed Faster than Light?

Today, I again picked up on a phrase folks seem to use a lot: God speed. It was used in referencing the anniversary of the death of someone. Its not a new phrase. Its been used for as long as I can remember, and I'm sure I've used it myself on occasion.

But for the most part, I've quit saying it because I'm not really sure what it even means. God speed? What is that?
  • Are folks saying the recently departed should hurry quickly to heaven? If so, shouldn't the phrase be Heaven Speed?
  • Are folks telling God should speedily draw the soul to heaven? If so, is it our place to tell God what to do and when to do it?
  • Are folks telling God to drive fast? If so, that's silly too. God doesn't have a car. And if he did, he certainly wouldn't have to worry about speed limits because he is God. What cop would write him a ticket?
Look, I'm not mocking God. (The third bullet was a joke - not a mocking. Capiche?) I'm a believer, and I'm just trying to get a handle on what the phrase means.

Searches at,, and even the always-accurate (wink, wink) Wikipedia weren't much help. Phrases such as the following were found:
  • an expression of one's good wishes for a person's success and safety
  • success or good fortune.
  • used as a wish to a person starting on a journey, a new venture, etc.
  • a band featuring 1970's teen idol Leif Garrett (thanks Wikipedia for nothing)
Good wishes? Best of luck? Starting a new venture? This just in: the person is gone from this world. Their soul either went to the pearly gates or not. A trivial "God speed" seems to be analogous to a shoulder chuck to the soul as it hurtles towards the light.

If I really wanted to be a fundamental literalist about it, a pretty good case could be made "God speed" is an example of using the Lord's name in vain. It sounds like a more pleasant, well-intentioned phrase relative to the more repulsive GD. Yet if you invoke God's name but don't know its meaning, isn't that the ultimate "in vain"?

For the rest of us who remain, our lives on this earth do remain a bit of a lottery. So to each of you, I wish you God speed in living yours - well, all except the part about trying to find an out-of-print Leif Garrett LP.