Mirrors: Talking death over Skype
My best friend just told me that her father has terminal cancer. I know why she tells me this. We no longer have much in common. We rarely talk. But she knows I understand. It’s been almost a year since I lost my own father to cancer. And yet, I sit there staring at her, on Skype, unable to find a reassuring word.
Kenny was always the light one. I remember her coming to me in third grade, holding her Barbie, inviting me to play with her group of friends that had been together since Kindergarten. I was sulking, feeling embarrassed that I could not remember the word ‘sentence’ in Spanish (my native language). Not only was I the new kid with an unfortunate Argentinean heritage, perhaps the most hated country in Latin America, I was a fake-Gringa. I couldn’t speak well my own native language. All this drama was quickly dismissed by her. Come play. We’re 9.
This is going to suck, Kenny”
“How can I get prepared for something like this?”
“There’s no way to prepare.”
She cries. I look down to my keyboard. I mutter,
“I wish I could hug you. I’m sorry.”
I try to run through the catalogue of condolences, words, advise and support I got last year. I cannot recall anything I deem remotely helpful. Is she expecting me to generate some incredibly long winded analysis of the situation as usual? Rationalization is the best antidote to emotions, in my book.
Take care of your mother. No matter how hard this is for you, it’s way harder for your mother”
“Yes, I know. She’s not in good shape. But she’s so strong; researching, looking for options, medicines, treatment, diet. I tell her to be strong in front of dad.”
“That was the only thing dad asked me to do. To take care of my mom.”
“Your mom will fight till the end, she won’t accept it. She’ll fight for his life. You and your brothers need to fight for his death”
Kenny cries in such a composed manner. When we were little, her father put her in modeling school so she would ‘learn to be a lady.’ I begged my father to enroll me too. He said he would not be paying money to make me into a prostitute. Our fathers were perfect opposites. So Kenny has a perfect pose. All the time. In every picture she crosses her legs, she arches her back, she turns to her better side. I slouch.
I’m so angry, this (^#!^*!&!(#(^!*&&### illness”
“I know. It’s fucking unfair.”
“Take care of the paperwork though. Turns out dying is a crazy bureaucratic process and if you want your mom to be ok, make sure your dad passes all his assets to you. If you don’t do while his alive, even bank accounts can get frozen. Even if they are shared with your mom.”
“That’s ridiculous. I’ll talk to my brothers”
I don’t tell her about the screams. Or about the psychotic breakdown of the last weeks. I don’t tell her about the absolute destruction I felt when my dad stopped recognizing me. Will it help her? Would it have helped me to know? There’s nothing —NOTHING— sublime about this dying process. I get so fucking angry when I see movies/people saying that cancer gave them some sort of enlighten sense of being and fuller last minute life. Sorry, I know people need hope but I am passed that. It’s horrible. It’s torture. My dad was tortured to death by cancer.
And also take care of his pain. Get pot, vicodin, morphine, everything. The doctors in Venezuela were reluctant to give pain relief and pain is the worse of it all. One of you need to advocate for the most humane death possible. Only the nurses were more compassionate, because doctors are not caregivers”
I have been wondering why don’t feel compelled to run marathons or donate money or take pictures of myself saying things like, ‘end cancer.’ There’s only one thing I feel like saying is that we need to have more support for humane deaths. When dad was lucid he told me he was afraid of the pain and that I had to help him find a honorable way out. I failed, dad. Turns out we are more compassionate with our dogs than with our family.
Remember when we got drunk for the school christmas party and we both got grounded and your dad decided you were not allowed to be my friend anymore because I was bad influence? In spite of my bad behavior, my dad went to talk to yours and he convinced him to let us play together again.”
“Hahahah, I remember that! How old were we?”
“13, maybe 14. Do you know what my dad told your dad?”
Suddenly Kenny drops off Skype and I get a text message: “Lights are out in this shit hole.” She’s referring to the recurrent electrical outages in Venezuela.
I have to put Alma to sleep. Talk later?”
“Yes. I love you.”
“I love you too.”