In the Midst of All the Emotions, Chaos, and Commotion, Part 3

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A note from Heather: This is the final post of a series of three, sharing Megan’s family narrative In the Midst of all the Emotions, Chaos and Commotions. [You can read PART 1 here and PART 2 here] It’s a powerful piece, more than simply a story. Megan opens her memories up for our taking as she shares about her father’s diagnosis and death, and her own understanding, growth, and life because of it all. I hope take time to let this story move your heart and poke your soul awake.

In the Midst of All the Emotions, Chaos and Commotions, Part 3
by Megan Orcholski

“Sherrie Orcholski”
11/22/99 05:11PM

Appetite continues to be good.  He’s usually hungry when he wakes and never complains about what is fed to him.  He does make mention quite often about a particular friend’s sugar cookies, though!  He just can’t understand why he can’t have them all the time as we try to balance the diabetes between “real food” and the steroids given (which automatically elevate the blood sugars)!. . .. He brightened at each visit this weekend from everyone and LOVED having “his girls” here!  It was wonderful, even if he’s only awake about 6 hrs a day!  Both of them took charge of feeding him a particular meal…….It melts your heart to watch……

Feeding Dad was a coveted event.  We all vied for the honor to feed him.  And we all fed him the way we would want to eat.  I remember questioning Mom as she put very little milk on his cereal. “That’s the way he likes it” she replied.  “No way!  No one would like cereal with that little milk on it.”  I like mine floating.  I still have no idea which Dad preferred, but he ate it both ways.  He didn’t care, and that in itself is so telling.  



“Sherrie Orcholski”
11/22/99 05:11PM

He is becoming more aware of his capabilities (or in many cases, lack of).
It is discouraging in many respects to him, but encouraging when the PT sessions take place.  Today, with much effort and some help, Arch was able to sit on the side of the bed again.  Once up, he could sit there over 5 minutes without help.  In both sessions, he tried “stand”…….Although just a few seconds in the morning, with help in the afternoon he actually took 3 sliding steps!  It’s just going to be extremely lengthy……..Too early to assess, even……..


“Sherrie Orcholski”
11/26/99 10:15AM

When he’s awake, he’s learning more about what is a disability or what he can’t seem to do………

We got to spend Christmas together.  I don’t remember what our gifts were.  I don’t remember specific moments. I just see from August 1999 until the following June as a calendar and the days are shaded in two different colors, one for when mom and dad were at the hospital, and one for when they were at home.  And Christmas, at least for a few days, was the home color.   A month or two later, they were home for a few weeks.   Dad got incredibly sick, a reaction to his shunt.  Mom and I dove a half hour into Madison to the only open Walgreens to get medicine.  We didn’t know if he was going to be ok.  Mom was a wreck, but strong as always.  And I remember vividly thinking, “This is your life now.  You need to get used to this. You need to be ok with all of this.” 

After the surgery, Dad lost partial vision in both eyes and they didn’t track together.  This was devastating for someone who was used to better than 20/20 vision.  But we had him.  He was here. He couldn’t see his puzzles, he couldn’t write well, he was slow.  But he was here. He was going crazy just existing, feeling helpless.  While waiting for dinner one night, I brought up the magnadoodle and told him to draw me a picture-“It’ll be good for you.”  He looked at me like I had to be kidding.  He picked up the magnadoodle, and took the magnet that looks like an O, and marking the board repeatedly, sang, “O, O, it’s magic, you know. . . never believe it’s not soooo.”

Once, a couple of years later, I came home from college to visit.  The few things Dad could do, when he was feeling ok, were laundry, cleaning the house, and cooking.  Often Dad would just opt to sit and watch TV all day.  On this day, the house was a mess when I came home, and I yelled at him.  One simple thing, and he couldn’t even do that for Mom? 

Sometimes we take out our feelings on each other, and that has to be ok. That night when I came home, the house was clean, and he had baked me a white cake with white icing- my and his favorite. He had scrawled a note, apologizing for the house.  He apologized, because I was a careless yelling brat.  He ended the note by saying, “P.S I made you a white coke (spelled wrong.)”  I still have that note. 

Time is such a fascinating thing.  These moments I’ve related are so vivid, and they are only a small part of what I remember.  I could go on and on about moments, both good and bad.  And yet, there are so many things I have forgotten, so many moments that were spent waiting, crying, sleeping, so many moments lost.  I can try and tell you this story by these signposts.  I can try and explain how it moved, how I felt.  But I reread my mother’s emails, and I hear people recount stories from this time and the next five years and I often don’t remember all of the moments. 

We point to that diagnosis. That was the Monday everything changed.  It starts there, and the story continues until he passed away in our basement on a Saturday morning.  But I can’t show you all the hugs.  I can’t illustrate the moments we knew were stolen, we knew we were lucky to get.  I can’t paint the night he seized, where I saw true ugliness, I saw uncontrolled evil take over his body, the fluid leaking onto his brain.  I can’t describe what I felt the night, years later, that he wasn’t strong enough to get from the floor to the chair and we weren’t strong enough to lift him. We had to call his old firefighter friends and they lifted my half naked father into a bed he would never leave again, the bed he would pass in only a few weeks later.  The memories, the moments from diagnosis to death are innumerable.

In telling my story, I often mention that I lost my father twice.  Once was obviously when he died, five years after diagnosis.  We knew if the cancer ever came back, we had exhausted all options.  And one day, it did. But so many parts of him were taken away while he was still alive, which created its own kind of mourning.  This process implies loss, creates absence.  Void.  Yet, I don’t think it stops there.  I never felt empty; I never felt a lasting hole of absence.  Just how air takes the shape and fills up any container, our emotions fill up and take the shape of our lives, no matter what is altered or cut out.  There was a learning, a filling, a movement to this time that cannot be described as a lack. 

My sister and I, in a car, on the phone, or lying in bed, have discussed how these things, these experiences I can’t physically give to you, have made us who we are.  What terrible people we would be without these lessons.  We would be moving without knowing, looking without seeing, allowing the people and moments to pass by us.  We know.  Because of Dad, because of those five years.  Even now, we know. 

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4 thoughts on “In the Midst of All the Emotions, Chaos, and Commotion, Part 3

  1. Liza

    Wow. Again I sit here in tears from your beautiful words. My family and I have all become much closer as a result of my dad being sick. I was always very close with my mom and dad, but my brothers were kind of their own unit. They were best friends who did everything together (even going to the same college, law school and eventually working at the same law firm). But, now, we are all close. We rally around my dad, trying to solve his problems or just be there for him when he needs us. For the first six or so years his disease wasn’t really that bothersome. He still worked (as an oncologist actually), took photographs, played golf. Things started to change a couple years ago though (he was eventually diagnosed with dementia).
    One thing that I will carry with me always is a trip we took to the Galapagos Islands. He went on a lot of nature photography trips all over the world and for my graduation from college we went on one together. Seventeen days alone with my dad. Growing up I had never had more than a few hours at a time alone with him. He was so incredibly busy and my mom was a stay at home mom so time with my dad was precious. That trip changed our relationship so much. I will forever be grateful for those 17 days.
    I hope one day I can look back on the last year and not be this sad about everything. Sometimes I think when you are in the moment it hurts more, and then I change me mind. In ten years will I be looking back on this day and think I was wrong? That it hurts more now? That I still had him then and I should have done more. I should have been there more? I should have called more? I hope I can find the peace that you, Megan, seem to have found.

  2. Pam B

    Oh, Meg…this is so beautiful. We had such wonderful treasured memories throughout those last years of your Dad’s life. I remember a talk he and I had before his “big” surgery. He was saying he didn’t want to end up disabled or God forbid a vegetable from the surgery. He said something like, “What good would I be to anyone?” I said, “Arch, we don’t love you for what you can do but for who you are!” I’ll never forget so many “moments’ of those 5 years from diagnosis to death, from the day he called me and “matter-of-factly” said, “I have a brain tumor,” to you and your sister dancing with him in his wheelchair at Janine’s wedding. So, so thankful we all were able to have those moments of those last years with him. Thanks for sharing your heart, Sweetie! Love you!

  3. Megan Orcholski

    This is from my mom. She posted it on a friends thread on facebook and I wanted to share it with you all.

    “Meg had asked me/warned me about the blogs before printing w/pictures……..As heartfelt & touching as those words are from a time then, it has helped shape ALL of us as to who we are today. We all live with the attitude of ‘Life’s too short’…….Which teaches us love, forgiveness & compassion all the time……”

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