The primary reason we came back to the States was to spend time with my family in Duluth. To be clear, one wouldn’t normally choose to go from Thailand to Duluth in the winter (we arrived on March 16) just for a visit. In this case though the timing is critical: my 11-year-old great-nephew is in the late stages of terminal cancer. We’re here to spend time with him and the rest of the family and then staying in North America for a couple months until his funeral. And yes, it is very strange for me at least to be so direct about the end game in this, but my family has gotten used to it, or as inured as one can in the situation. Dexter knows he’s dying, has known it for nine months now, and it’s just something they all live with.
One of the things I learned on this trip is that there is nothing you can do about it. My first day back was pretty rough for me: Dex is obviously getting weaker and on top of that my mother’s Alzheimer’s isn’t getting any better either. She still knows who Mark & I are but she doesn’t know that we travel full-time, that Dex has cancer, or that Donald Trump is president for that matter. (OK, yeah, maybe that last one is something of a blessing….) So yeah, pretty tough stuff. And in the best traditions of how I’ve lived most of my 60-plus years when there’s a problem I want to do something, fix something.
Doesn’t work here. There’s nothing to do except to be there. So we were there. After that first painful day it was a beautiful visit. I would spend midday with my mother, go over to the assisted living facility where she lives, visit for a bit, then take her for a drive and out to lunch. I learned that earlier in the day she’s relatively more present, able to carry on a reasonable conversation and all that. Then in the evening Mark & I would go over to my brother’s house for dinner (corned beef & cabbage on St. Patrick’s Day!) and visit with the rest of the family. All in all not so bad.
As always there were a few highlights. Certainly at the top of the list was just cuddling with Dex. He’s a little low in energy but that makes holding him both easier and more special. I’m truly glad that we didn’t miss this last chance. And then there was the drive I did with my mother through Superior, across the bay in Wisconsin, where she grew up. I asked if she remembered where her parents’ house had been and she didn’t.
As we drove around, though – I knew the general area within a couple of blocks – she suddenly said “Ohio Avenue.” Ah, she remembered that much. Then we drove up and down the few blocks it would have had to have been on and didn’t find it. Maybe it had long since been torn down. Then suddenly again she said “1614. It was 1614 Ohio Ave.” Sure enough, we found this tiny little house at 1614 Ohio Ave. where she’d grown up with her parents, four siblings, and a grandfather some 80 years ago and where I’d visited my grandparents when I was a little kid. After that we drove out of town to the house where I’d grown up. She remembered that a little more clearly, particularly as it really hadn’t changed much in the 46 years since we moved out.
And that was our five-day Duluth visit. Mark & I had dinner one night with an old graduate school classmate who lives in Duluth (and is a friend of my sister Rebecca), so that was fun. That and genuine quality time with the rest of the family made for me, at least, something of a healing experience. Sadly, we’ll likely be back in the next several of weeks for a funeral. Cancer sucks. Childhood cancer really, really sucks.