Friday, September 25, 2009

Death of a Salesman

Would you buy a used car from this man? Hard to believe, but at one time a lot of people did. After retiring from his career of 43 years, my father took a part time job at a local used car lot. He had spent the bulk of his adult life at the helm of a company that customized heavy machinery and dealt with the headaches of specialized production. The idea of "it is what it is" had a certain allure for him; if the car wasn't what the customer wanted, they could look at something else or look elsewhere. His no-nonsense regular guy approach had a certain appeal at the lot; many of his customers repeated their business time and again. It also didn't hurt that he really knew what he was talking about.

My dad left high school 3 weeks short of graduation. " A 36 Plymouth was more important." he said when I asked him why. He returned from the war and went to work for a construction empire with a heavy equipment division. Initially a mechanic, his knowledge and work ethic came to the attention of the company's president. The next stop was the sales department and from there he worked his way up to vice-president. A high school dropout taken under the wing of a construction magnate - you don't hear too many stories like that these days.

My brother and I heard "I'm going to throw in the towel" so often that we would chant it at the dinner table. We couldn't possibly understand how hard he worked to deal with the production aspects of the job as well as the revolving door of shiny new talent came and went. He outlasted most of them and had to clean up their inevitable messes when they left. But he stuck it out and provided us with a comfortable life. We weren't rich, but I was spoiled enough to be the only one in the neighborhood with a unicycle, stilts and a pogo stick. Yeah, you're envisioning the kid you hated-and you're pretty much on target.

All his years of hard work did not save my father from the ravages and trials of old age. My mother developed dementia and spent the last two years of her life in a nursing home. Six months after she went into the facility, my dad's macular degeneration took a turn for the worse, making it necessary to take himself off the road. Never a mass transit guy, he figured out the bus schedule and made his way to visit my mother even in the worst of conditions. She passed away over two years ago, when fluid around her heart took her in a mercifully short three day period. He knew she was in a better place, but he's never completely recovered from the loss.
He has since weathered the decline of his eyesight, spinal stenosis and a prostate biopsy revealing the presence of prostate cancer. Several months ago a CT scan and an MRI revealed a mass in his left chest. His physician and a consulted oncologist have diagnosed a malignancy, possibly non-small cell lung cancer. Not wanting to undergo an invasive biopsy and subsequent treatment, my father has opted to let the disease take its course. His pain is at times incredibly intense and he is often overcome with emotion. We have enlisted the help of hospice and I am doing my best to deal with the situation from a distance. My brother and I are tag-teaming in an effort to keep him in his home as long as possible. It's a little tricky, but at least it's only a 3 hour car ride and not a plane ride.
We're doing our best to take it a day at a time. I'm a newbie to this cancer game and I'm finding out how much of a straight line it isn't. Yesterday he was in agony from the pain of a sleepless night. This morning he was talking about making French toast. How many obituaries have you read that mention a "brief battle with cancer" or a "extended illness"? You never know what goes on between those words until you walk the walk. I'm sure I'll have done a lot more walking before this is over. It's a good thing I'm in decent shape.

1 comment:

  1. You're in my thoughts, Joan, and I'll keep your dad in my prayers. Big hugs....