During this Father’s Day week, I reached an ironic, if not macabre, milestone. My dad died of cancer at the age of 52 years and 210 days. On this past Monday, my time on earth exceeded his by one day.
Sometimes, well-intentioned relatives remark that I remind them of my dad, whom they recall as personable and even handsome. I appreciate the compliments but secretly hope that the resemblance doesn’t extend to our respective prostate glands.
As this milestone passed by, I flashed back to dad''s final hours. I was eleven. No one, I’m sure, expected me, then, to be sensitive to the agony caused by metastatic cells camping out in my dad’s bones. In fact, as my parents did their best to conceal the dire prognosis from me and my siblings, we bought the ruse, no doubt with currency of subconscious compliance.
This week, I couldn''t "feel dad''s pain," but I pictured his struggle. Now, as a practicing oncologist with a modern armamentarium of analgesic medications and palliative interventions at my disposal, I can usually do something to help, but for a child in 1972, there was only pathos. Back then, I knew nothing of what it meant to suffer. Today, in retrospect, the sadness becomes more vivid as I look back through the eyes of the adolescent who was me. Dad had no hope of celebrating the later-life milestones towards which many of us aspire.
This week, three of those milestones occurred within a four day span. My wife and I marked three decades of marriage. My son-in-law graduated from medical school. And, my dad''s baby brother blew out 90 candles on his birthday cake. I feel deep sorrow when I think of dad’s not being around to celebrate those milestones with us, but the joyful events, themselves, offset some of that sorrow.
In theory, medical literature offers conflicting opinion regarding the ability of patients to extend life by "willing" themselves to reach upcoming milestones. In practice, almost all of my colleagues, I think, would agree that looking forward to milestones enhances quality of life.
I reflect on this week and conclude that milestones are, in fact, stones. Some, like the day I equaled dad''s allotment of time on this earth, are rough-textured. Others, like significant anniversaries, graduations and birthdays, are smooth to the touch. But all of the stones are precious. Each stone has immense value. None can be discarded. Stone by stone, we build the intricate monuments of our lives.
Until next Monday, Shalom.