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.
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.