Sunday, March 26, 2017

Look With Your Heart

To my son Tommy,

I realize yesterday's letter was filled with a large amount of despair. In troubling times, we often find ourselves with these feelings. This letter today is inspired by today's Holy Mass and  influenced by all the outpouring of loving gestures, big and small, near and far, that have come in, and encouraged by some responsive moments with your Grandpa Leo this very morning.

Many will look at your Grandfather Leo and say, "How sad. He is just a shell of what he used to be." They will compare their memories of then to what they see now. These people are looking with their eyes, yet they can't see.

"I once was blind, but now I see". Through God's mercy and grace, I have been taught to see with my heart and I see something very different. When I look at my father, I still see Christ's strength, a strength that your grandfather personified each and every day of his life. I now also see Christ's struggle. I see Christ's suffering. And most importantly, I see, or perhaps foresee, Christ's triumph over death and His promise for us to do the same.

As I look with my heart at those who share their love and prayers and care for your grandfather, I see them differently. I see them as caretakers, even if they aren't here changing his linens, or administering his medications. It could be a kind word. It could be a call or post. It could be a prayer or hug from afar. In all these actions, I see God's mercy. I see God's compassion. I see God's love. My father has become an instrument in which we can all receive God's saving grace and bear witness to such, as long as we look from our hearts.

I still don't understand death, and won't fully understand it until the day after I pass. This world will definitely be a little less when your Grandpa Leo finally passes. But this world is already immensely better off for him having lived. So when you look with your eyes, and fill with despair, and lose faith, stop and look with your heart and there you will find hope. There you will find Jesus. Perhaps there you will find the only true peace and comfort that can soothe you during times like this.

Sincerely with love from your dad,
Leo

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Time To Prepare



To my son Tommy,

I have had time prepare. I mean your Grandpa Leo has been on hospice for nearly three weeks. That is three weeks to come to terms and get used to the idea that I will soon lose my father from this earth. I mean he has had this terminal diagnosis for twenty nine months. That is twenty nine months to come to terms with his impending demise. Hell, technically, I have had nearly forty three years to try to figure out death and come to terms with the fact that we all die and that life in and of itself is a terminal disease.

Then why, if I have had all this time to ready myself for the inevitable, does it become so much more difficult as that time draws nearer and nearer? In all these years, I feel like I am more bewildered and more lost when it comes to death than I ever have been. I have nothing to give you, no words of wisdom, no comfort, that will make this any easier and I realize that no one in this world will be able to give me what I crave to give you. The will try to give words of comfort but right now to me they are meaningless. You will look to me for comfort and how to handle and what pearls of wisdom can I give you?The only thing I can say is this really sucks. Not exactly Socrates or Dylan Thomas.

It probably won't be long now. Your Grandpa Leo is having difficulty swallowing which means he can't take his meds and he hasn't been eating much. A hospice nurse is on her way to most likely instruct us on the imminent death protocol. He is resting comfortably in this picture and hopefully will remain at peace.

Sincerely with love from your dad,
Leo

Friday, February 24, 2017

Being Direct



To my son Tommy,

I have to say things directly. Your grandfather's health has deteriorated the past few weeks. It had been going down all along but the past two weeks showed marked decrease. He has been moved to home hospice care. 

The last CT scan showed swelling in the brain which caused a midline shift where the right side of the brain is squeezing his left side of the brain. We had an MRI the other day and await those results to see if the increased meds will alleviate the symptoms a bit. This swelling caused by tumor growth or treatment or just the natural progression of the cancer, is what will eventually kill him. In the meantime, it has become difficult to care for him and we needed help, thus the hospice.

The hospice nurse today suggested to your mom (I had to work today) that things might happen quickly. From the  nurse's twenty some odd years of experience, she thinks he has about two weeks to live. Bah, what do any medical professionals know? Taking that estimate with a healthy dose of skepticism salted with a bit of denial. Your Grandpa Leo has been anything but typical when it comes to beating the odds and besting timelines, but it is still a sad and sobering thought. Even if he bests this guess by ten times the amount of days, facing the eventuality is becoming all too real.

Death comes for us all and leaves many behind to grieve. Your Grandpa always told me that he doesn't fear death and suggested we celebrate life instead. He said that is the Downey way. So, there will be plenty of time for grief later. For now, we will enjoy the moments we have with your Grandpa Leo. Every day is precious and if you live life with one eye constantly on the finish line, you might forget to enjoy running the race. Of all the "Downey ways" this one may be the toughest to understand and accept. But your Grandpa Leo is a shining example of how to approach the end on this earth. So right now we have to pull up our big boy pants, put on our suspenders, don our colanders atop our head, and enjoy the precious moments gifted to us by God, no matter how much we dread the difficult times ahead.

Sincerely with love from your dad,
Leo

Friday, January 6, 2017

Happy 8th



To my son Tommy,

Happy birthday, my son! Eight years old. When I look at you I can simultaneously see the child that came before and the man to come, wrapped in the body of an eight year old who is so excited to get older and just happy to be alive and with the ones he loves.

At age eight, your heart is your number one asset. Sure you have your intelligence, and an eagerness to keep learning, and you have your looks (must be from Mommy), and a good sense of humor, and you still have that youthful innocence and a tenacious loyalty to your friends, and you have some crazy dance moves to go with some vocal chops, basically you have the total package that will someday make you quite the catch...but your heart is by far the biggest and best thing that you have. You love deeply. You care sincerely. You cry hard. You laugh loud. You hug tightly. You snuggle softly. Your love, and the love we feel for you, is what helps your mom and I get through each and every day!

With a big heart, comes heartbreak. Even today, on a joyful occasion, you were in tears because you did not know that Sunday's birthday celebration was just planned for family. Your heart broke that all the friends you told could not come. Even though Mommy planned on Red Robin tonight for just us, and perhaps some time with a friend or two tomorrow if it works out, and the Sunday Frazier side small birthday, you were still hurt. It happens.

In the future, hopefully well into the future as you grow, things are going to happen to make your heart hurt even more. Family will pass on. Friends will move on. Promises will be broken. Lovers (well into the future) will leave. You will feel heart broken and curse this big heart of yours for the amount of pain it allows you to feel. You will feel like your biggest asset is your worst weakness. But don't stop loving. It is what makes you, you. Love is the only thing that can mend a heart that was broken with love. But that is in the future. Today, we celebrate and feel the love! So enjoy your cupcakes, however you like!

Sincerely with love from your dad,
Leo

P.S. The dream of having the Red Robin staff sing their birthday song to you, quickly erased any sadness and put an amazingly huge smile on your face!




Saturday, December 31, 2016

That Which Does Not Kill Me



To my son Tommy,

Nietzsche says, "That which does not kill us, makes us stronger." The year 2016 says, "That which did not kill you this year, may have exhausted you enough for the next year to take you out easily!" For it seemed this year did it's darndest to break us. Still as I read back throughout the years on my New Year's eve reflections, it seems many of the years tried their darndest. Still here we are. By the grace of God, here we are, with another year under our belt. And for yet another year, we try to focus less on the struggle but more on those small precious moments that make our heart feel alive. It is difficult to live in what seems a constant state of struggle and still be appreciative of the gifts given. But still we try. And with dubious hope for a smoother year, we find ourselves stepping into the year 2017 with more of a whimper than a declaration saying, "We made it." From the dust of 2016, we hear that one lone weak voice of a friend also saying, "We made it, too. And we are together!" and another and another, loved one and friend, with dry cracking voice from a most trying year, saying "We made it, We're with you." Till hundreds of voices join and amplify this phrase from a whisper to a trumpet blast that defies the struggles of the past. If we think we have to go it alone for the next year with the bruises and wounds of the past, we may not make it. But luckily, we never fight alone.

Sincerely with love from your dad,
Leo

Monday, December 26, 2016

Christmas Miracles

To my son Tommy,

Of course everyone knows the true Christmas miracle that we celebrate, the birth of Christ. Nothing is more personal and nothing can top that, but occasionally during the Christmas season, we receive gifts of precious little miracles that touch our hearts and warm our insides. We received a couple of these extras this year.

Grandpa Leo was not supposed to be home for Christmas. He was supposed to be in a nursing home rehabilitation center after his last seizure on the 15th. For some reason, perhaps through divine providence, he got to the point that he could get himself up and walk enough that we could bring him home and attempt to take care of him here. So we did, and on the 22nd we took him home. So far, so good, though honestly I pray on an hourly schedule for everything to go well with our decision. Strength, endurance, dedication, devotion, compassion, and sweet time... all gifts given to us to keep him here this Christmas season.

On Christmas Day, we received another amazing gift! Your mother woke with no pain in her hip! We have no idea why, we had no idea how long it would last (though this morning her pain has come back), we simply just were so excited for the short lived break. An amazing respite to hopefully energize our faith and hope that this extreme pain that she feels daily, this too shall pass.

And finally, the Friday before Christmas was the last day we saw your eyeglasses. I spent the past few days searching and searching for these lost glasses. I dug down, deep, and I mean really deep, into my soul and summoned the self control and patience and forgiveness needed to keep calm. I remembered back to the first time I lost my glasses for any significant period of time. The fear of God was put into me along with all those unhealthy emotions of despair, and anger, and hopelessness, and sorrow and disappointment for letting my parents down. Of course the first time I lost my glasses was not around Christmas, and with your mother's help and guidance, I did not lose my temper and ruin Christmas for all. But I did keep looking, in nearly every moment of spare time in the house, almost obsessively.  Finally, this morning, it paid off and there, on the blankets on the chest at the foot of your Nana Jeanne's bed, I found your glasses. Surprisingly, as you put them back on your head, you tolerated the staples I used to make sure they would never be lost again. There wasn't as much blood as I thought there would be. I kid. I kid.

So these are a couple of the Christmas miracles we experienced. To many, these are just everyday goings on. They don't see the miraculous. They are those who demand to be awed and treat God as a magician whose job it is to convince them of his power and existence by doing what is not humanly possible. They want to be wowed and expect their rewards to be grandiose beyond their dreams, as if from Aladdin's lamp. Yet I see the awesome every day; I see these miracles every day! They exists in the smallest of actions, the smallest of gifts, the smallest of reprieves, the smallest little touch, and in the smallest gesture of love. I do not need a d jinn to grant me my wildest wish, I need to humble myself and reawaken to all the gifts already given. I realize that I, and my actions, guided by God's hand, might even be an integral part of any miracle for myself or for others.

Appreciate the miraculous every day of your life, my son, and you will realize how blessed of a life you are already living, even when you have lost your glasses and cannot see.

Sincerely with love from your dad,
Leo

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

RollerCoaster of Life



To my son Tommy,

Life, once again, is filled to the brim with comings and goings and joyous events and tragedies. It sure keeps me on my toes. Let's start with some of the bad news.

Thursday the 15th, nearly a week ago, at dinner around 6:30, your Grandpa Leo had a pretty bad seizure. After our initial attempts to break the seizure did not work, we called 911. The EMTs were unsuccessful in breaking the seizure and the hospital finally got him out of it around 9pm. He is still at NorthWest hospital (room 350) though he hasn't had anymore seizures or episodes. Right now, the left side of his body (remember his brain cancer is in the right side of the brain which controls the left side) is still too weak to come home. The CT scan confirmed it wasn't a stroke, but the seizure and the brain tumor progression basically had a similar effect. Right now, we are looking to get him either transferred down to a room in Johns Hopkins (where his insurance covers everything and all his doctors practice) or, if that can't happen, to a rehab center for a week or two to work on regaining strength. Just need him to be able to get up on his own and get to the potty and back in bed. Also, he was supposed to start his home chemo on the 16th but now we are late on that which kind of becomes a catch 22. He needs to get to rehab to get stronger and come home so he can do his chemo, but without the chemo the tumor is actively making him weaker. Hopefully we can work it out.

Now for the joyous occasions. You received the Sacrament of Reconciliation. You were so excited. You were selected (actually volunteered by your mom but that is just semantics) to give the welcome at the podium and nailed it. Such a rock star! You did forget to shut the door to the confessional room before starting your confession, but as proven many times, we Downeys aren't as private as we should be. I also asked if you told the priest that you had missed Mass, to which you replied, "Whoops." I chuckled and reminded you that if you honestly forget to confess a sin or two, they are forgiven as well. You did proudly proclaim, "Now I can go with you to confession every Saturday, dad!" Um, yeah, okay, every Saturday, or every other Saturday, or once a month, or whatever. No, we will try for every Saturday and we won't let your father's lax Catholic ways become an issue for you!

There are so many many more issues and incidents, both good and bad, that are filling our lives. Sometimes it seems we have more of the bad on our plate, but that just means we have to savor the good even more so. That is what life is like right now, anything but boring with an extra side of difficulty balanced by faith. To be honest, I could use some boring and mundane and stable and predictable and non-urgent in our lives right now, but life often finds a way of shaking it up whenever it gets too comfortable. Or perhaps we do it to ourselves. Who knows? But as we approach yet another holiday season, that include the traditional events (Christmas Eve dinner, Christmas day parties) and some not so traditional events like extra visits to a hospital or medical facility, we embrace the bittersweet as we ride the ups and downs on this rollercoaster of an existence. Just remember to love, and see through any pain and tears to the beauty of this gift we call life.

Sincerely with love from your dad,
Leo