Wednesday, November 6, 2013

World Tour - Chapter 3 - Summer in Seattle

I have not written in pretty much 4 months. We have been understandably distracted and busy. As most friends and readers of this blog know, in July we changed plans to come back to Seattle after Kathleen's Dad was diagnosed with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer. When we first got back Kathleen's Dad, Joe, had been admitted to the hospital and was hooked up to IVs as they tried to dial in the amount of pain killers he would need. Within a couple of days though he was discharged and was able to be at home for the rest of his convalescence. So began a 3 month journey that was both one of the most difficult yet most meaningful and enriching experiences of both Kathleen's and my life.

Everyone soon assumed their roles. Uta, Kathleen's mom, was the primary caregiver. Kathleen was co-caregiver, hospice coordinator, and took over logistical support - sending out weekly status emails to family and friends, answering phone calls, grocery store and pharmacy runs, etc so that Uta could focus on Joe. And Uta did this without a break and wholeheartedly. They both did. Caroline, Kathleen's sister, brought over meals and visited as often as she could with her demanding work schedule, work events, and trying to raise 2 young boys. Rick, Kathleen's brother-in-law, helped with the legal and insurance aspects of what was happening and made frequent visits, too. I filled in the gaps where needed, cooked meals, and was able to do some veterinary relief work to help make some money.

In the first weeks Joe could come out on the porch for periods of time, hang out, eat a little bit of food, and have half a beer for a happy hour. Joe's brothers Aidan and Colm flew out from Ireland to visit for 3 weeks while he was still strong enough to be interactive and enjoy their company. Over the 3 months he became increasingly weak progressing from needing a cane to a wheel chair and then being bedridden for the last 6 weeks. Even then he enjoyed his daughters to come in, flop down on the bed around him, and tell him about their day.

I have seen a lot of acute death over the years between the veterinary world and Search & Rescue. This is the first time I have been intimately associated with someone who knew they only had months to live and to watch them and their family go through that process. Joe faced that process with grace, dignity, and bravery. Pancreatic cancer is a very painful and nauseating disease. Not once did he ever complain about his diagnosis or even about how he felt. His standard response was "Couldn't be better!" and even when he would be in the midst of a nausea spell he would tell us that "This is nothing." This is just the way his brain was wired. One time when he fainted as he regained consciousness and was still only barely awake the first things out of his mouth was "Couldn't be better! This is completely ridiculous!". It was inspiring to watch him face the end and there were multiple times that he told us that the last 3 months were the best of his life as he was surrounded by the ones he loved the most.

On 16 October Joe finally allowed his body to stop struggling and passed peacefully with his hand in Uta's and his daughters around. By weird coincidence he passed at the same hour and day as my Oma and one of his best friends John Seaman had 4 years previously. It was a relief for the family to see him not in pain anymore. He was buried with military honors at Tahoma National Cemetery. The bugle playing taps, guns firing in salute, and the folding of the flag were incredibly moving. A Celebration of Life memorial was held afterwards with family, old friends (even from Germany), and acquaintances with Irish music, harmonica, poems, and story telling.

Soon it will be time to go back on the road. The plan is to now fly to Thailand at the end of November where we are having our wedding on the island of Koh Samui on 29 November. We will spend the winter in Southeast Asia traveling through Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Laos, exploring the region, meeting people, and doing some volunteer work. At the beginning of April the plan is to head to Nepal to meet several friends and then attempt a 1000 mile traverse of the Himalayan Mountains crossing Nepal from east to west on what is called the Great Himalaya Trail. The plan is to start it at least and see how far we can get. Beyond that the plan has gotten fuzzy and we will likely make it up as we go along and see how we are doing physically and mentally after the hike.  India or Central Asia are being considered.

We wanted to thank everyone that has given us support over these last months. The emails, thoughts, and prayers have been very much appreciated and helped keep the family strong over this difficult period. At times like these often the smallest of gestures has a magnified result.