Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Five years is a bench mark for cancer survivors.  If you go five years without the big "C" rearing its ugly head, you are supposed to be "in the clear".  You will always have cancer, as we all do, in some form or another.  It's just that the body has found its own way of killing the genetic mutants.

Every survivor breathes considerably easier when they reach five year, all clear ...

I am stunned that I have not visited this site in almost three whole years let alone written anything.

Where had I been?  What went on?  Have I reached my five year all clear from grief?

It is hard to realize that so much time has gone by.  So many changes.  So much growing up within our little family.

My father, Tolek, finally made the big move to Vero Beach from his sumptuous apartment in Aventura, Miami in August on 2011 at the ripe age of nearly 85.  It took many years of intense persuasion but we finally got him a great condo a mere six - not five or seven - minutes away from our home.

My father and I struggled my whole life with our relationship.  As an alcoholic and survivor of not only the holocaust but also as a fighter for the Promised Land - a Jewish State, he never really recovered from his early teenage traumas, and coped as best he could. Alcohol. 

Tremendously intelligent, he was a loner and often lived a fantasy life which included having business cards printed up that said "Dr. Teofil Cadmon".  When I asked him what the heck he was doing handing that out, he told me that he had gone to enough courses through his work with Western Electric/Bell labs/ATT to afford him a PhD so he gave it to himself!

Although his health was declining, he was still very independent, driving, shopping and cooking for himself.  Living so close to us, one of us saw him daily and we really felt like a little family for the first time.  We developed a routine and he was always up for an outing anywhere.  He was particularly happy if it included a meal for which he would always gladly pay. 

As a newbie resident of  Vero Beach, we went about the geriatric task of finding all new doctors and made regular visits to each one of them.  Slowly, Tolek began to let go and trusted me with his medical information and speaking to the doctors.  He believed he was as tall as he was when he was 50 even though he was at least two inches shorter than me and argued it at the offices!  He also believed himself to be at least thirty pounds lighter.  Many times, I would  excuse myself when he was in the examining room to go and get a quick word with the attending nurse or doctor to give them the real low down ...

In August of 2012, he was hospitalized with heart failure.  He had arbitrarily decided to stop taking one of his medications, which led to massive fluid build up in his chest.

He was discharged after three days but it was the beginning of the end.  

I have to give huge props to the staff of nurses from the VNA of Vero Beach.  Each and every single one of them who came home to visit and care for him was beyond caring, loving and so very kind.  After a second visit to the ER, he asked me to sit down when I was finally allowed in his room.  He wanted to speak and he did not want me to interrupt, a bad habit which drove him bananas.

He had been alone in the room for over forty five minutes and had clearly come face to face with his own mortality.  He apologized to me for being a terrible father.  In fact, he said that it was remarkable I turned out as well as I did considering how dreadfully I had been parented on both sides of the Atlantic.  He held my hand, thanked me and told me he did not deserve as kind and caring a daughter as I was.

Although he was coasting, hospice came in for long term assistance.  I was supposed to go to London but cancelled my flight in the last minute as he was beginning to fall from a weak heart.  

I moved in.  We were the unlikeliest of room mates.  After fifty years, we were living together again.
On October 28th, 2012, Kaelin, Corey, Daniel and I along with two dear friends, celebrated Daddy's 85th birthday.  That made him the oldest member of his family to ever reach that age and not die an unnatural, early death.

On Halloween morning, I went into his room.  He was cold but so was the room.  He was peacefully sleeping, the oxygen machine pumping away.  I went to call my mother and while I was on the phone, Daniel came over to visit.  A few minutes later, he came into my room and just held out his hand.

My dad had passed away as everyone should.  Peacefully, happily, safely in his own bed, in his own home.  In his sleep.  

Those last three weeks were the best time we ever spent together.  In dire circumstances, in the shadow of death, he gave me the greatest gift of all - he let me know that I really was loved and appreciated by him and his apology erased a lifetime of painful memories.

Kaelin stayed with me at Daddy's and for some reason, I did not return home but rather remained in his condo until December.  I felt his presence all the time and it was comforting.

Two days after his passing, I made reservations to come to London to spend Christmas and New Year with my mother and a very ailing Peter.  I wanted to spend the holidays with family, as it should be.

Upon my return to the States, I also returned home, much to the disappointment of my boys who got quite used to having the house to themselves!  I really needed to reclaim my territory and made sure I marked all corners.

My dad's death was more bearable than Vic's as it came after a long, long life well lived.  But I realized that my father had also become my buddy, my go-to friend when I needed company or an outing.

I missed my pal and again, I sort of disappeared into my own world, my room, forsaking the gym, people.  My life, which had taken on some meaning whilst looking after Tolek, was again rudderless.

It was not but a few months later that I ended up in London as Peter's diabetes affected his right foot, culminating in the leg's amputation last year, at the age of 91.

I spend six weeks in London that summer to help.  I have been returning every two-three months since.

We all returned last year again for Christmas and New Year, flying on Christmas Eve and leaving on New Year's Day.

A new tradition.

It is now December 2014.  I am in London again, spending my first Christmas without my children, who will be arriving next week.

I have learned the importance of compassion, kindness and patience.  I have learned that the smallest acts of kindness can make a difference in someone's life.  I have learned not to have expectations of people or things as it usually ends in disappointment.  Being expectation-free with very liberating.

I have rekindled old friendships and firmly established and cherished the precious ones I have.  I am so grateful to those people who have stood by me and just loved me, unconditionally through these past years.

What will happen with my mother when she loses her partner of 29 years?  It is my hope that she will pick up her life and continue with her causes, which still excite and fuel her.  It is my hope that my children will get to experience the Lili that I used to know, full of life, laughter and song, a happy woman, far from the burned out caregiver that she has become.  It is my hope that she and I have a few more years together, that we can enjoy life and that we can still share some journeys - together. Just the two of us.  

Teofil Josef Angstreich-Cadmon
aka Tolek
October 28, 1925 - October 31, 2012