Thursday, August 8, 2013

Gene, Billy, Chris

This lesson begins with a Rooster. One of six brought to our backyard by my husband back in April to cut our costs on organic eggs, and to teach our children the prequels of McNuggets. When they're chicks, you can't tell how they'll turn out, so we named named them androgynously. Gene turned out to be a fluffy white chicken, with a regal red gobble gobble and crazy feathered feet. He prided himself as ruler of the roost. A natural leader, he kept the hens in check and coyotes at bay. He let his power go to his head and started bossing the human chicks. Mild pecking at first, then a targeted sight on the weakest of the boys. We waged a war with foam weaponry and rubber boots to show Gene who was boss, yet he remained intent to usurp. There is no home for wayward roosters, so, aligning with our initial intent, Gene had to go.
We research how to proceed. I bow out, realizing that I have no business consuming any more nuggets if I can't face the reality of what that means. Shaun trudges forward. He too now sees that if he can't do what he's planning to do to Gene, he deserves "to have a bucket of blood thrown on him by some PETA freak." Days pass, Shaun is thoughtful. I remind him that he doesn't have to do it. He believes that he does. As Tuesday evening approaches, he is nervous, not wanting Gene's last moments to be chaotic because of The Farmer's inexperience. He prays; audibly, fearfully, for him not to suffer as he gently removes him from the coop to the block.
I decided not to be present and went inside.
A shaken Shaun appears a bit later, begging me to never let him suffer. That if something should happen, be sure, but to never ever leave him alone with his thoughts and pain. I had to promise. Standing in our kitchen. Frantically, I did promise, to ease my love's shaky soul. He worried that he let Gene suffer through the night.
Tuesday's spark: Even chickens deserve mercy.

Billy came to the clinic about 4 years ago. Birth complications landed him with profound Cerebral Palsy. He knew no different at 5 years old, but Billy couldn't move. His brain and muscles irreparably not speaking to one another. He had a trach to facilitate his breathing. Quite frankly, he was the picture of therapist's worst nightmare. All we could do for Billy was keep his joints stretched out to prevent him from turning to stone. We helped his mother better handle his trach by her constant suctioning of the goo his body couldn't handle. A sound I had to gracefully run like hell to avoid during two pregnancies to keep the cookies in my stomach and the lights on in the attic.
There was no progress, in a business that prides itself on making things all better, all stronger, all ready to
head out and face the world. Billy got passed around to all the different therapists as each one individually burned out on the lack of hope Billy's case brought.

As I sat through Billy's funeral on Wednesday afternoon, surprised that I wasn't weeping at the slideshow backed with Clapton's Tears in Heaven, I listened to the preacher-man talk but couldn't quiet my head-voice.
"We learned unconditional love from Billy"
What? I learned despair.
"We learned what true love looks like through Billy's fragile body."
Hardly. I saw suffering.
"We learned kindness through his short life."
Enough. I appreciate the mercy of his death.
Wednesday: Billy deserved mercy. And he had to wait too long for his prize.

I "met" Chris and Dena Battle through the network of Internet support forum for RCC. I stumbled across an article he had written for the Arkansas Times? about his struggle with getting an accurate diagnosis, his search for the right team to treat his cancer, and was green with envy with how much better he was than I at being funny about cancer. Chris and Dena penned their way through 4 years of constant struggle to find a drug that slowed his cancer. He let himself be the lab rat for every thinkable trial, experiment, drug cocktail so he could stick around for his little girls. He did not enjoy the complacency we have with a drug that has worked. Every option he tried failed him. And brilliantly, he and Dena penned every step of the way for the world to see. Check out if you want a remarkable read. They lobbied to the FDA. They ANSWERED EMAILS joyfully when I asked them their opinions on Dad's care. This struck me as impressive as they are my contemporaries. They have two young children and jobs and stage 4 renal cancer and they always found time to help.
I could not fall asleep last night. I was thinking about Gene, and Billy, and Chris and Dena's girls, and couldn't stop my gut from wrenching about what Dena would soon be facing. She could just as well be me, facing the imminent death of her love, and her upcoming life of bittersweet moments she will see alone. I looked at the clock at 3:12, and was startled when Shaun nudged me at 7:30. I fixed my coffee, weary from my sleepless night, checked my phone to see how many things I'd missed, and was met with Dena's Facebook post that Chris had died, with her and his parents present, at 8:00 this morning.
I cried for Chris, for his anguish to stay against a disease that wouldn't quit. I cried for Dena, who will lead her babies through this nightmare on the fumes she's got left. I cried for Kate for having to brave a reality I haven't had to bear at four times her age. I cried for Josie because she's old enough to know, but not old enough to understand. I cried because all Dena deserves right now is some mercy.
Thursday: we all deserve it; but none more than Dena today.

This week has taught me to find more moments to offer mercy.
Dishwasher still not unloaded? Find benevolence. Stepped on another damn Lego? Offer clemency. Catty office drama? Bring tolerance. Ready to send the nasty email to get your point across? Try grace.
I'll lend my share of mercy to Dena tonight, and hope I never need it back.

Cancer sucks,

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