Saturday, June 30, 2007

Equanimity & Grace

As my friend Annie at Ambivalog notes, Pogo, one of the frequent commenters at Althouse, makes an eloquent contribution to a discussion about those dealing with terminal illness:
I prefer the way folks in the 17 and 1800s talked about it. Rather than "courage", they spoke of 'bearing suffering with equanimity and grace', a Christian concept. Such people were honored and their way of handling suffering without complaint was meant to serve as an example for others.

"Courage" is along the same lines. It captures the spirit of stoicism in the face of a struggle you cannot win, and may have already lost before even striking the first retaliatory blow. Under such circumstances, it is hard to keep going, to get up every day and fight again a losing battle and remain a good person, or get even better. It is a definition of courage because its selflessness is expressed in the shielding of others from your pain.

Perhaps I found Pogo's comment so moving because I have had such a difficult time saying anything about the final days of my father's life. Not that I haven't tried, mind you, as a couple dozen saved but unfinished attempts can demonstrate. Not once in all the years of my dad's increasingly debilitating illness did he complain. That often made it difficult for us to understand the true nature of his condition at any given time.

Until he tripped over his oxygen cord and fell flat on his face, in the month prior to my mother's release from the hospital, my dad was a bundle of energy unseen in years, pushing himself to "get better" so he could "help when mom gets home." The fall made it impossible to continue with the facade that he was doing ok. Within a week he was in the hospital. And within days after that, he was dead, but not until after returning home before my mom returned home. He was waiting for her as promised.

It is difficult to think about just how hard my dad worked at being more independent in those final weeks, how much he was looking forward to showing my mom his improvement when next they met. As her hospital was over 2 hours away, he could manage that trip only about once a week. They'd been unable to meet for a couple of weeks because of a flu outbreak at the hospital. Her physicians thought he should not risk visiting. My heart broke for him then. It still does now.

Equanimity & Grace. Those are the exact words I've been searching for. Thank you, Pogo.

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