It's been a long, long week. I last posted on Monday, after going to Alyssa's funeral and visiting my Uncle Gary while he was horrible sick with chemo. Life has gotten even more difficult since then.
Gary's chemotherapy worked. It killed off all his white blood cells, just like it was supposed to do. But when his blood counts were at 0 and his immune system nonexistant, he had nothing to fight off an infection that invaded his body. He ended up back in the hospital. In intensive care. Wednesday, he had to be put on a ventilator. He's been there ever since, breathing with a machine, on dialysis, puffed up with fluid, fighting for his life. His condition is very critical and several times the doctors have thought death was imminent, but Gary has always been stubborn and hard-headed and he keeps fighting back somehow.
We knew when Gary was diagnosed with leukemia 3 weeks ago that there was a good chance that we would lose him to the disease. But no one thought it would happen so fast. Last week I sat in his hospital room chatting about books and school and my girls. This week I have sat at the foot of his bed, my face covered with a mask, and counted the multitude of IV bags dripping into the many tubes connected to his body. The change has been startling. And hard. And the stress of thinking every hour might be his last has left all of us in a weird sort of limbo.
My family has been wonderful, though. My parents and sister, other aunt and uncle, cousins, and I have spent hours and hours at the hospital. We have cried some, but mostly we have told stories and shared memories and laughed a lot. Gary has been a huge presence in our lives and the thought of him dying has left a gaping hole. Grief is just hard. Rachel summed it all up yesterday when she told me, "But I'm not ready for Gary to die." Me either. But all of us have begun the long, odd process of imagining a future without someone we love. Loss is hard, too.
Gary and Sonja never had children and I think both of them have wondered over the years about who would care for them when they were older. Years ago I promised Gary that I would. My sister and cousins promised the same. So now we are trying to carry out those promises. It has been hard, but I think all of us are grateful that we can be there. Yesterday, my cousin Sandy and I were in Gary's room. We had chatted about all sorts of things - how much in awe we were of the ICU nurses, how much we wished we could touch Gary (a no-no because of the chemo - we would end up sharing all our germs), and our oldest children's penchants for unusual Halloween costumes. The hospital chaplain stopped by and thanked us for sitting with Gary. After he left, Sandy and I discussed what an honor it has been to be with our beloved uncle, to keep vigil over him. And it is an honor. Being present with Gary in what are probably his last days on earth is a blessing. Incredibly difficult, but such an honor. As is sitting with my Aunt Sonja, whose loss is greater than all of ours. She has been so strong. I am so glad that I have been able to be there for her, too.
My cousins and I have had a good time remembering things that Gary did with us when we were growing up. He was always such a good uncle, fun to be with. And he has always been so genuinely interested in us and our lives. Gary has also adored my girls and I love him for that. When we flew home from China with Katherine, Gary and Sonja were at the aiport to greet us. The Christmas Katherine was almost 3, Gary sat on the floor and played trains with her for hours. And Rachel has been crazy about Gary from the moment she first met him. (I'm pretty sure it was mutual.) Part of my grief this week has been over the thought of him no longer being in my daughters' lives.
Today, I looked through all of my family pictures, just remembering. This one made me laugh.
This was taken the same day.
I'm not ready to let Gary go. I probably never will be. So for now, Gary and my family and I need prayers. Prayers for healing and acceptance and a way to manage the sorrow.