for naught but ecstasy and sweet communion

Some of you will be aware that my father-in-law was diagnosed with late-stage pancreatic cancer immediately before Christmas. He is a determined man, and he is determined that allopathic medicine will provide his only treatment. Allopathic medicine gives him unimaginably long odds of seeing another Christmas.

My husband and I managed to convince him that allopathic and naturopathic treatments are not mutually exclusive. We've suggested that there's nothing to gain from putting all his eggs in one basket. We've pointed out that his oncologist's job is to find the threshold of poison that his patient's body can withstand but the cancer cannot; that the man cannot also be expected to advise his patients on how to keep weight on, how to keep energy and spirits up, how to keep lunch down. These things must come from someone else. But we do not know how to "let the voice within [our] voice speak to the ear of his ear" (Gibran).

He had one appointment with a naturopath, a man whose clients come from across the country to consult him, and came out unwilling to change his chosen course.

What to do? As his family, each of us wants him to survive, to have the best chance possible to see his grandchildren grow up, to spend not just one but many more holiday dinners in his usual place at the table. And as his family we are obligated to support him in his decisions, even if we think they are ill-advised.

I will not push him to take up one or another form of treatment because it is not my place to do so - only the patient can choose the treatment that is right for them. That said, I'm concerned that we're not dealing with informed consent in this case, but rather conformed consent. That I feel angry with him for this indicates to me that his actions are touching the 'helpless' nerve in me. Why won't he fight? Why not try everything, all at once? I would fight, I think. But I don't have this disease. Perhaps pushing the issue touches his 'helpless' nerve and makes him retrench his position, simply for lack of an alternative that seems viable to him.

Time slips from us with the snow. Already he spends his days watching the birds at the feeder and dozing in his chair, when 3, 4, or 6 months ago he was a vigorous, active man. Agreeing to sit by him and watch feels like condemning him to death, and I can't (yet?) bring myself to do that. The energy needed to change a lifelong faith in whitecoats is melting away with his body beneath his clothes. Talking to him about the disease process and mitigating it takes away from his rest now, but perhaps staves off that longer rest, at least for a while. But perhaps not.

Meanwhile my placid, cheery husband rages in denial, being generally unsufferable. My mother-in-law phones to check in - which she has never been prone to doing - just to hear mundane news of our child, and a friendly voice. Our travel budget is slowly being transferred to car rental agents as we chalk up yet another 850km round trip to see them on weekends. Our two-year-old daughter can't understand why we go to see Opa but she may not jump up on him. We're all tired.

We as a family are a sheaf of wheat, each brittle stalk nestling tight to its brothers for support. The family that has alway supported me is not here now; this is the family I've married into, a foreigner, nice enough but superfluous to their longstanding dynamic. The shameful truth is that it seems the prospect of losing a central stem may tie me, finally, into the fold. I cannot lose the opportunity, I will step up and be counted, but building a role in the midst of a seige and amongst those for whom I must remain on best behaviour is draining.

Perhaps my father-in-law feels the same way.


THEN a priestess said, “Speak to us of Prayer.”
And he answered, saying:
You pray in your distress and in your need; would that you might pray also in the fullness of your joy and in your days of abundance. For what is prayer but the expansion of your self into the living ether?
And if it is for your comfort to pour your darkness into space, it is also for your delight to pour forth the dawning of your heart.
And if you cannot but weep when your soul summons you to prayer, she should spur you again and yet again, though weeping, until you shall come laughing.
When you pray you rise to meet in the air those who are praying at that very hour, and whom save in prayer you may not meet.
Therefore let your visit to that temple invisible be for naught but ecstasy and sweet communion.
For if you should enter the temple for no other purpose than asking you shall not receive:
And if you should enter into it to humble yourself you shall not be lifted:
Or even if you should enter into it to beg for the good of others you shall not be heard.
It is enough that you enter the temple invisible.

-Gibran, The Prophet

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