A story from Simple Truths of Life.
I've learned that sorrow and happiness
have a fine line between either,
but with tears, as well as laughter,
it is best to hold back neither.
As the caregivers for my father during the weeks preceding his imminent demise, my brother Bill and I, having a reputation within the family as carefree, silly and bordering on nonsensical when paired together, were faced with the harsh reality of reality.
Day after day we watched as the cancer did what it does best: taking a life and breaking the hearts of those who held that life dear. We offered him anything, everything we could imagine, be it useful or inane. We would have done anything for him during that painful time...yet we were reduced to fulfilling his requests for half glasses of water, pillows, the remote control and the telephone. He couldn't eat food in any form, solid or pur้ed. He couldn't drink anything of substance, only small sips of water. Our hearts ached to help him in some way...large or small. I remember at one point, looking at my father and saying in anguish, "I wish there was something I could DO to help." He replied, "You're doing it, sweetheart, you're doing it." I assumed at the time he meant my presence there (as functionally useless as it may have been) was somehow making a difference and that reassured me.
Breaking the monotones of an almost silent room, a Star Trek episode played on TV as my father pretended to watch it intently in an effort to curtail our repeated suggestions as to his possible wants or needs. The irony struck me as my subconscious slowly absorbed Captain Picard's words in the background...Our options are limited...there must be a way...
I faintly remember the inflections in the voice of a hopeful man, not yet defeated, but well on his way. In hindsight, it's as though my life was running parallel to that of this fictitious character, as we were struggling simultaneously with an issue whose positive resolution seemed unattainable. And as he quickly arose from his Captain's chair on the bridge with renewed determination, my father turned his focus away from the TV, and in his weakened voice said, "Maybe popsicles. I might be able to eat a popsicle." A request! Although small and somewhat insignificant in hindsight, it was still a request!
My brother and I looked at each other. Our eyes widened with excitement! Popsicles! Pop wants popsicles! Looking back, we were unusually overjoyed at the concept, and in our haste to get out the door I think we bumped into each other two or three times. The recollection of the event brings to mind an episode of The Keystone Cops. I grabbed the keys, forgot my purse and accidentally put on my brother's shoes. We were going to the store to buy popsicles! Something-albeit so trivial in the grand scheme of the situation-here at last was something we could do to ease his pain, maybe subtract from his discomfort, if only for just a little while. No, this wasn't going to cure his cancer. No, this wasn't going to take away his pain. But, as helpless as we were beginning to feel, it was indeed something we could do.
With that, we raced to the car, solemn and completely focused on our mission. As soon as we arrived at the grocery store, we grabbed a cart and our quest began. Our subconscious intent was to purchase every popsicle brand and flavor known to man as we proceeded to search for the popsicle section. Racing through the store as if these magic popsicles were somehow going to save the day, and placing our own imaginary urgency upon this task, our eyes scoured the aisles...ice cream...frozen pies...fudge pops...WHERE DOES THIS DARN STORE KEEP THE POPSICLES? We frantically searched the rows, as if we were participants in a scavenger hunt competing for the main prize of a new Cadillac. Suddenly we looked up at the sign: "Frozen Desserts" and I remember feeling as though I'd seen an American Flag gracefully blowing in the breeze after trying to flee from a third-world country. We immediately positioned our imaginary borders and examined the sections under our command, he on one end of the frozen dessert aisle, and I on the other. Then, I heard his voice proclaim, "I FOUND THEM!" I rushed over to the section of the aisle that he'd been previously assigned.
There they were. A bright light seemed to shine around them and I could swear to this day that I heard angelic music playing in the background as I glanced at the treasure he'd discovered! Popsicles! Colors...flavors...fruit ...sugar...sugar free...popsicles with riddle sticks, popsicles with stripes, it was a popsicle wonderland! The Disney World of frozen confection! We began selecting boxes and proclaiming statements like, "I think he'll like these!" "Oh, look at this!" and the ever popular, "I didn't know they made these!" And we didn't stop at popsicles, oh no! As the obsession grew, we moved on to bigger things: Italian ice cups, push-up bars, Creamsicles!
As we filled the cart with every conceivable combination of frozen ice and tropical fruit flavors, it was then I think we finally glanced at each other and realized we may have stepped over the line. We paused, glanced down at the cart and began a slow and almost inaudible giggle. The giggle soon mushroomed into a belly laugh so deep we had to bend forward and hold our stomachs. A release. In the midst of the most tragic, most morbid days of our lives, we laughed. We laughed until we cried. We cried until we laughed again.
As I look back and recall the Popsicle Caper of 2004, I realize, though pop did enjoy every popsicle we brought him that day, they did so much more for my brother and I than they did for him.