Thursday, April 9, 2009

Cancer and the Washing Machine

My dad is a musician. He is dying from colon cancer with diabetic complications. He is spending his last weeks at a wonderful Hospice Care Center. I visit him every day. He is bedridden and can't do much of anything for himself anymore. His gradual physical (and now mental) deterioration has been difficult to witness.
Hardest of all for him has been the loss of fine motor control in his hands due to diabetic neuropathy. He can no longer play the piano. More than walking, more so than even going to the bathroom by himself I believe, he regrets this loss. And what a wonderful player he was.
Though classically trained in piano and French Horn he has a great love for jazz and a fabulous ear. Interesting chords, harmonies, progressions and improvisation interest him tremendously. From the time he was barely out of his teens he played jazz piano for extra money while in the Navy and later on in college. After he landed his steady job in the horn section of the Seattle Symphony in 1964 he still played clubs and traveled up and down the West Coast with a jazz combo during the breaks in the symphony season.
Over the past few months while he's been in and out of nursing homes, various physical therapists have looked at his chart, noted his career as a musician and wheeled him up to the nearest piano. The idea was that the exercise of something so familiar and ingrained in his "muscle memory" would help him recover some movement in his hands. When he tried and his hands couldn't act upon his brain's commands it only broke his heart. He refused to continue with the therapy.
Today I slipped away from my dad's bedside for an hour to run some errands and pop into the local thrift shop. One of the first things I found was a beautiful, traditional Aran cardigan; hand knit in 100% natural cream wool . The label said "Hand Knit By Jane Manheimer". And what a sweater! It was so well done I found myself congratulating this unknown woman out loud as I examined her handiwork.
"Jane, look at your gorgeous cables and bobbles and diamonds! Oh my gosh, you knit back and forth on straight needles and sewed it up, didn't you? You didn't knit in the round? No? Knitting back and forth in these patterns is so difficult! And look how well you finished it! Wow! You really know what you're doing. I see no mistakes at all. I wonder who you knit this for?"
Anyone looking at me certainly thought I was nuts. I fit right in with the homeless guy two rows over in the men's section, babbling drunkenly to himself. But I was so truly so excited I wanted to grab the nearest shopper by the arm (even the drunk guy) and make them appreciate Jane's talent and skill as evidenced by this perfectly knitted sweater.
Then I tried it on.
Yes, it was too small for me but it wasn't too small because it was knit for a child or because I was too big. It was too small because some idiot had thrown this beautiful product of Jane Manheimer's skill, time and talent in the washing machine and ruined it. The washing machine had not only shrunken the sweater, it had misshapen it in such a way that no one of any size could ever properly wear it.
Being a great lover of recycled sweater projects I tried to think of a use for Jane's poor, shrunken sweater. A part of a doll? A throw pillow? ????? Thinking that the use would come to me if I carried it around long enough, I hugged the sweater as I browsed. I reluctantly hung it back up before I left. I don't think I have the heart to cut into Jane's sweater, even in the hope of resurrecting it.
Then it occurred to me that Jane Manheimer and my dad have a lot in common. My dad's diabetes and cancer are the idiot and the washing machine, ruining the results of skill, time, talent and love.
I got back in the car and drove the few blocks back to my dad. Later as I drove home I regretted that I had to leave both my dad and Jane's sweater behind.
I only hope Jane never knew what became of her lovely sweater.


country mouse said...


Connections. Sometimes they're excruciating.

Julie Leung said...

wow. Beautiful essay.

Storybook Woods said...

Oh Angie, how hard to leave that sweater, to let go, to move on. It is sooo unfair your father's cancer but your love and care is such a blessign to him. Love Clarice

Linda said...

Hi Angie, When I lost my mom we felt it was too soon. If just shows you should enjoy your life while you can and from what I've heard about your dad he has. Having musical ability is a gift that I'm sure gave him lots of pleasure while he could use it and many other people too. That is special.I'm praying for you guys. Love, Linda (clarice's mom)

Tink said...

Angie I hope we get to dance to your father's playing in heaven *as tears fall upon this key board I am typing on*.

Angie said...

Thanks for all your lovely comments and words of encouragement.

Geez, I didn't mean to make you guys cry! Sorry 'bout that...

I hope to lighten up soon.

Love, Angie

Susan said...

Angie, this is so beautiful. You are a gem. Thank you for painting this picture. I feel for you regarding your dad. I think you know that I suddenly lost my own dad several months ago. So, I am thinking of you and praying for you.

Love, Susan

Gumbo Lily said...

Thoughts and prayers for you and your dad.


Mary said...

Angie, this was beautiful, evocative, haunting . . . I could go on and on.

As you know, you and your father are always in my thoughts.


Kim Scott-Olson said...

beautiful Angie, I love the way you notice and appreciate things. Your dad was so lucky to have had you with him in his last year. What a gift you are.