Saturday, July 12, 2008

Could he have been...?

Could I have been a parking lot attendant?
Could I have been a millionaire in Bel Air?
Could I have been lost somewhere in Paris?
Could I have been your little brother?
Could I have been anyone other than me?

--Dave Matthews Band

The night we first met our oncologist, and got the horrible news regarding his tumor, prognosis, and impending treatment, I asked him a question.

"Is he already gone?"

"No," he answered, "He's not. Your son is still here."

I'm not sure he understood my question. I'm not sure that I fully did, or maybe that I could admit to myself what my question implied.

For many many months I've mourned Henry. Not my son, the three year old who has managed all of this horrific treatment fabulously, who makes me laugh, who has taught me so much about life. I've mourned who he was going to be, that he will no longer be. Future Henry. 8 year old Henry beating his dad at video games. 15 year old Henry breaking girls' hearts. 20 year old Henry coming home from college and eating me out of house and home, 6 foot 5 and dashingly handsome.


Ten years ago this summer my father was in a devastating car accident. He suffered severe head trauma, including a basilar skull fracture, subdural and epidural bleeds. He was unresponsive and in a coma for weeks, and rehabbed for years. He's now living independently, remarried, and quite happy. He's truly a product of the miracles of modern medicine, and had his accident not been quite close to Baltimore's Shock Trauma, he likely wouldn't have made it.

But the man who lives today, who looks and sounds like my father, isn't my father. My father is gone. Head trauma, especially to the frontal cortex, changes a person, both from a life skills and personality standpoint. He retains some preferences, some mannerisms that my father had, but he's a totally different person. Same building, new occupant. He's a nice enough guy, and I have affection for him, the way I would expect to feel about a long lost uncle, now found. But my father is gone.

I was angry for a very long time at Dad's doctors. It took me over a year to understand that he was gone. And they didn't tell us that, but they knew. The extended yet somehow unfinished mourning was difficult. It would have helped for someone to have told me.

Talked about screwed in the head. My feelings about my dad definitely were near the surface after Henry's diagnosis. And this is why I asked if he was gone. What I didn't specify to our oncologist was who I was asking about. Because Future Henry really was gone, already. And if I'd asked clearly, I think he would have told me.

Except, Future Henry had never been there. It was different than Dad, a much more static being than a three year old. How much of your child's life can you predict when they are three?

There's a saying in Buddhism: The glass is already broken. You can hold a glass, look at it, admire it, drink from it...but one day it will break, and be gone. Why be attached to something that isn't there?

I'm not mourning future Henry anymore. Maybe I will again, maybe not. I know I'll be sad at the trials he will face that he wouldn't have without cancer and treatment. But I'm more and more ready to see him for who he is. Who he always was.


SOCKS said...

We would all like to predict and plan our "ideal" futures. And the last thing anyone would choose to focus on would be the loss of a child or grandchild.

Live and Love each day - that's all we can do. And you do it best.

Anonymous said...

I am in love with the Henry that I have met and come to know during his battle with cancer. He is my HERO.

Dr. Smak, you say things in such a beautiful way. You and your family are also my HEROS.
Take care of your self too.

Anonymous said...

The old saying "you never know what tomorrow will bring" is quite true, isn't it.


Anonymous said...

I think Scarlett said it best, " I'll think about it tomorrow."
Or was it, "I'll never be hungry again."
Either way, live each day, do your thing, find happiness and take us all with you.
miss susan

Anonymous said...

If you think you have it rough...wonder what its like for your dad?
Not trying to be snarky....just trying to put a different spin on your situation.
Seven years ago, I was hit by a car while riding my motorcycle. Numerous broken bones and subderal brain bleeds. But I got to tell aint the same. A new thought process, amnesia of common family things, the list goes on in various ways.
But at least, I'm alive!!!

Shannon said...

I often wonder those things about my Ethan. After three years of chemotherapy, he has become a frail sickly little boy, but he also has traits and wonders about him that I doubt would have ever appeared.

Sometimes I still wonder what he would have been, but most of the time I am so excited we still have the chance to become something. The fears of the cancer returning and what it would do to us are closer to the front of my mind these days.

Thank you for sharing your story, your words are eloquent and heartfelt...

Dr. K said...

Wow- I am weepy at this post.

You express your deepest thoughts so eloquently.

Thank you for sharing