Where there's life, there's hope.

Dad lay on the bed. It was his first day at the nursing home. The place was quite nice, in a predictable sort of way.

All places like this save the finest work of the interior decorators for their lobby. Then it's downhill from there. The conference rooms are quite nice. The nurse's stations are crafted from high-quality wood and attractive formica (my office should be so efficiently and attractively designed).

Dad's room was attractive enough. Certainly not hospital-neutral in design but close. We were looking around and putting his things away when Judy showed up. She asked us to sit down and proceeded in a cloying, condescending manner to explain that we needed to discuss some items of great importance.

Apparently, she'd not read dad's chart and had taken it upon herself to cover the nursing home's ass by asking a number of questions.

"I just received the DNR order from your son, the lawyer, in California. If you choose to sign this, we will not take any heroic steps to prolong your life if you code. Now, if ya fall outta bed and break your hip, we'll take you to the hospital and get ya fixed up." (By now I was getting sick of the "ya" being used instead of "you" as a feeble attempt on her part to endear herself to us, or at least to sound familiar. I chose not to upset the apple cart by saying anything about it, though.)

Judy continued: "You must be aware that your condition is considered by us to be terminal. You'll have to make up your mind whether you'd like to go to hospital when you become too weak to get around or if you'd like to remain here to succumb."

At that moment, tears streamed down my wife's face. She looked at me with that look that says "don't, please don't hit her even though her actions are reprehensible." It was only because of that look that I kept my rage from getting the best of me. But I wanted to slap this person and slap her hard.

"We don't need to have this conversation because there's a copy of my father's living will in his chart, which you apparently overlooked."

"Oh. Eh, uhm, I'll go make sure that the paperwork meets our requirements. But you know, you must be realistic at this point about terminal illness." She spoke as if my father wasn't even in the room. What she didn't know, and what I assured her, was that we'd had this conversation with dad's oncologist before he even left the hospital.

Dad is such a strong man, his first concern was that my wife had been unnecessarily upset by being forced to witness this conversation. His second concern was for my own feelings. He and I hugged, and I stayed with him until I knew that he and I were going to be alright.

Dad's oncologist is a roly-poly man in his sixties. Very good at dealing with patients and family. Well-recognized in his field as being successful with most of his patients. But he'd given up. He said that dad's death would be painless and be more like going to sleep than struggling. The cancer would've caused his liver to fail before creating the painful "eating away" that some cancers cause.

I, however, was not going to give up.

My father grew up during the Great Depression. We were also poor when I grew up. Dad did his best, but is a simple man who put food on the table and clothes on our backs. My mother refused to work to contribute to the family's finances, and consistently blamed our modest means on my father's refusal to ask for raises. God forbid she'd have to lift one of her precious, delicate hands to help make life better for us all. I'm convinced that she was a rich socialite in a previous life.

Now, people like us were under the (ignorant) impression that world-class medical care was reserved for the rich and famous. That's why I didn't call Memorial Sloan-Kettering earlier on during my father's illness. At this point, I figured, the worst they could say was "no."

With trembling hands, I Googled their website. What I found was so hopeful, so reassuring, it caused me to weep openly. A telephone call gave me all the information I needed. After answering a few questions and giving up medicare and insurance information, we were given a date to bring dad to the hospital. The case manager told me that they'd be very happy to accept him, as they've been focusing a lot of research lately on cancer in the elderly, as well as the particularly virulent form of cancer that my father has.

When I got off the phone, I whooped with joy and immediately contacted my brother. (My mother had not yet been informed of dad's terminal condition, as she was fighting her own battle with depression). My wife was equally ecstatic.

The next day, the grin on my father's face when he got the news said it all to us. Tearfully, he explained that my refusal to give up (after he, in fact, had) was the best gift I'd ever given him in his life.

All we need do now is hang in there until his admission. The rate of remission for my dad's kind of cancer, following Sloan-Kettering's protocol, is head-and-shoulders above any hospital in the world.

It's been a few days since we got the good news. My father's appearance looks better already. Perhaps that's because so much of one's health (good or bad) is connected to one's outlook. I'm ashamed to say that God gently made me aware that we all were in good hands, even though I had let my faith slide a bit in light of what was happening. How selfish of me.

I found myself as an observer again last night. I was in the role of taking a close friend to see her close friend, whose son died of an apparent accidental drug overdose yesterday morning.

The scene was one of great desperation and desolation. The mother and her three sons were left to their own means by a father who decided he wanted a different life. His comment upon making a guest appearance at the house of mourning was that he could not be expected to help pay for the funeral as he had just taken on a large mortgage and house and didn't have any "free cash." He then stated he was too upset by "this poverty" to stay any longer and had his current wife help him out to the BMW.

I would love to say these sort of scenes are rare aberrations, but they are more common than I am comfortable with. The contempt that the "successful" have for those that struggle in life is one of the things that threatens to unhinge my efforts at staving off anger. In working with teenaged girls, I've found it to be just as common within families as it is in the greater context of our society. The more one has, the more threatened they tend to feel by those who could use their help in getting over the next hill that has risen up in front of them on their path in life. This makes me enormously sad.

It reminds me of when I worked as an assistant to a lawyer. Construction on a neighboring building has displaced the bus stop and left those using the stop standing just below the large picture window in the lawyer's air conditioned office. He was sitting at his desk asking me to type up some documents for him when he looked down and said, "Look at all those lazy, shiftless bastards." A year later I was riding the buses with those lazy, shiftless bastards who tend to get up at four in the morning to be at work by seven and then work well into the night, cooking, cleaning, and doing all manner of menial labor just to be able to afford a place to live and put food on their table. Oh, and the lawyer punctuated his statement with, "I can't work with them out there. I'm gonna go play some golf."

At one point I was given a fairly clear direction. I could either join the judges in their air conditioned offices or hang with the bus people. I chose the bus people and will every time. If I was stranded with nowhere to go and I had to rely on someone for help...

This week I will be moving again. For a while I may be at least partly homeless, but situations have come to light that may keep that from happening. For some reason, whenever I face difficulty in life, dozens rise up to offer me what they can. Everyone needs that. So few ever really get it.

Help someone out today by giving them what you can to lighten their load. If your burden is heavy, may someone find you and bring you what you need to make it to the next mile marker on the road through samsara.

I need to find a support group for women currently in long distance relationships. My fragile heart can't take the emotional stress alone and if one day I suddenly die of a heart attack, you'll all know why.

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