Sunday, August 10, 2008

Here's to Jon!

Our oldest son, Jon just turned 25 – an age when most people are focused on their own lives, their own future, and developing their own ways of meeting the challenges of life. Most of us did not have to deal with the reality of a dying parent as part of our early adult experience.

Jon graduated from Colorado State University in December of 2006 with a B.A. in History. His plan at the time, along with his long-time girlfriend Lisa, was to enter the Peace Corps and serve the world in a uniquely meaningful way for a couple of years. He and Lisa applied and were both accepted. The screening process was long, and even after their initial acceptance they each had to endure a multitude of psychological and health tests. Never-the-less, the process was leading them to Africa where they both wanted to go. They wouldn’t have been serving in the same place, but they’d have been on the same continent doing what they had long committed to do. But in the summer of 2007 after months of delay, Jon was finally informed of the Peace Corps’ reluctance to proceed while his mother was dealing with a terminal illness. At the time, we had no way of knowing where Susan’s disease process would take us, or when. But the Peace Corps has a great deal of experience in these matters and knew that the loneliness and isolation of an assignment in Africa would be arduous – and that any major family crisis, let alone her death, would threaten his experience and that of the community he would be serving.

While Lisa’s plan moved forward, Jon took the disappointment in stride and looked for alternative opportunities closer to home. He ended up joining an AmeriCorps program called the National Civilian Community Corps. He left in late January for what would have been a year-long assignment based in Maryland, just a week before Lisa left for the beginning of her Peace Corps assignment. She went for an orientation in Philadelphia first (where she and Jon were able to rendezvous), then went on to Uganda where she is currently serving. It was shortly after that when we found out about Susan’s brain metastasis and that we had entered a new chapter in the journey. After several months doing post-Katrina projects in Biloxi, Mississippi, Jon decide his calling was at home. He arrived back in time to join me in the emergency room on a day when Susan was dealing with the medical crisis that helped us decide to enter hospice two days later.

Jon put his life on hold and chose to be with Susan as a caregiver. He has training as both a certified nurse aide and as an emergency medical technician which has come in quite handy. Early in the hospice journey the going was relatively easy and his presence was simply appreciated. Now, looking back over the last three months I can’t imagine doing this without him.

Jon’s role is more complicated than it appears. If he were just being employed as a companion, he might be able to go off duty and retreat to his own living space. But he’s also a family member dealing with the end of his mother’s life. There’s no “time off” for that. Though he found being thousands of miles away very difficult, he’s now dealing with the challenges of being so close. At any given time, he’s taking Susan where she needs to go (he’s not very fond of the craft and fabric stores she frequents), doing chores around the house, helping her with her meds, or observing her symptoms and behavior. (Such observations are critical for the hospice team in order to monitor changes and make necessary adjustments for Susan’s comfort.) All of that has become much more complex and challenging in recent weeks. Susan, by her own admission and because of her brain tumor and meds, can sometimes be a pretty crabby patient. Jon usually bears the brunt of her physical and emotional symptoms because he’s with her so much. But Jon is also processing his own journey. He’s trying to figure out what to do and where to go after Susan is gone. He’s trying to keep up with Lisa and her separate experience in Uganda, both to lessen the anguish of her absence, and to be supportive of her. He’s experiencing losses and learnings that most young adults don’t experience until much later in life. And I know he has days when he wonders why he has to endure all of this.

We all have our ways of coping. Jon works out a lot. He plays with the dog, he has two part-time jobs that get him out of the house, and he is exploring future opportunities. At Jon’s Eagle Court of Honor in 2002, I said I had begun seeing him as my own role model, rather than the other way around. I don’t know how I would manage what Jon is handling if I were his age. But I admire the heck out of what he’s doing. I know that as difficult as this is on so many levels, that he’s been gifted with the unique ability to do this and do it well. I believe he’ll be an even better person for this experience, difficult though it may be.

When I told Jon I was writing about him, he asked “is it good?” He’s not looking for accolades. He’s not that kind of guy. But I think we all need support in dealing with this journey at the end of Susan’s life. Some of my support comes from him. He deserves our support too. So please raise your glasses and join me in a toast.

Here’s to Jon!


Nancy said...

Here's to my cousin, Jon!

Anonymous said...

Jon - you are an amazing person and a fantastic son. Thanks for all you are doing. Love, Barb

Anonymous said...

Jon - You are indeed a very special friend, caretaker, soulmate and son to your mom. I am sending special prayers to you, Susan, Rob and Patrick.

Nannie said...

the Netherlans, dec. 20th


Now Suzan is on her big passage, I want to thank you for sharing the moving story of this loving journey Suzan, you and the boys have travelled together these last few years.

May the holy spirit hold you and be with you in the days and weeks to come.