“Your mother won’t let me drive can you take me up to the job fair.”
It must have been a rough night because he both looked and sounded rather high on morphine. I am not sure which was more frustrating to him the fact that he was reduced to such a strong dose of medication or that the side effects left him incapable of fully functioning.
Of course we would give him a ride. The job fair was right next to the library and the boys and I could easily entertain ourselves in the shelves of books while dad went looking. He was searching for something to do. I am not sure if it was a new career he hoped for or a volunteer gig to fill his mind on the days the monotony of being still was too overwhelming. He had worked his whole live and being idle was not settling well.
It was a quick trip through, apparently the presentation was not anything like what he was anticipating. He ran in to an acquaintance who said to him “wow you are are so pale, you could use some blush or maybe a little lipstick.” I suspect she was trying to beat dad to the punch. He was always dolling out the one liners, the sarcasm and yes the inappropriate jokes, especially to the ladies. At any other time in his life it would have been appropriate. But today it meant his disease was becoming more obvious.
Outside of his family and close knit friends dad did not announce that the cancer came back. He had beaten it 4 years ago and that is what most people in his wider circle knew. He held on to this desperately wanting it to be his story again 4 years in the future. So much so that when I let his church community know he had passed they assumed it was a heart attack.
This boggled my mind because he was disappearing. Weight falling off of him faster then even the most amazing of diets could claim. The color draining from his skin with each day. He was clearly, in my eyes a man who was ill. But I learned people see what they want to see. They ask what is polite to ask. And hold tightly to the patterns of interaction that keep their worlds running as evenly as it possible. This is how my dad could pass week after week in to his church community and have no one notice his cancer.
But that day, those words stung him. I could see it in his eyes. Clarity returning as the drugs left his system. It made me aware that communication, is as much about noticing the person in front of me as it is about the words I choose. Taking that extra second to look in to someone’s eyes may save me casually tossing about the sorts of words that could deflate their spirit. And to also stand, still holding attention to the person in front of me, to make sure my words land softly. I may never know all the burdens a person I bump in to carries along in their day but I can be aware enough not to add on to them.