I can’t think of any two people more disparate than Senator Ted Kennedy and my dad, pictured right. Dad was a rock-ribbed red-meat Republican. But he was more of a Goldwater Republican, not a religious man by any means. He would have been appalled by the way the “Religious Right” has come to dominate the party over the past few years. Dad had a loathing for the IRS, loved his guns, and thought the government should pretty much stay out of peoples’ business. Like all men, he had his faults. He had no love for gays and little for minorities. One could hardly call him a moderate.
So, I can’t think of two people who are more different than my dad and Ted Kennedy … but today, something tied them together.
Senator Kennedy was diagnosed today with a malignant brain tumor. The same thing that killed dad at 70 9 years ago. It was a diagnosis that devastated all of us, except dad. He went through the radiation, but not the chemo, as I recall. His best friend took him to Bloomington for the treatments most of the time. I think it gave them time to say goodbye. I took him once. He was in fairly good spirits, even knowing, I think, he was fighting a losing battle. It wasn’t more than 7 or 8 months from the diagnosis to the funeral home.
Like Senator Kennedy, dad began to act erratically. He couldn’t find things he never owned, and got angry about it. Mom knew something was wrong, and finally convinced him to go to the doctor. As I heard on All Things Considered this afternoon, Kennedy’s doctors said the tumor is difficult to remove surgically, and it’s extremely rare that they’ll get it all. Dad’s oncologist told us he could operate, but he’d damage the part of his brain that made him who he is. He’d be unable to speak, to talk, no memories, and we might buy a few months. Dad had always said he didn’t want to live like that. He opted not to have the surgery. What time we had left, we wanted to have our dad, not a body lying on a hospital bed.
Dad had always loved crossword puzzles. It’s one of the reasons I love to attempt to solve them to this day, sometimes with more success than others. On one visit home while dad was sick, he asked me to go get him an Indianapolis Star and a Louisville Courier Journal … two of the three papers he used to have delivered to the house. He said he thought he’d like to work a puzzle. The Courier Journal was always his favorite. I was thrilled. I walked down to the mini-mart a couple of blocks down the way and gladly got the papers. I don’t know why I had some glimmer of hope that he was getting better. Wishful thinking, I guess. He folded up the paper as he always did, took up his pen, and stared at the page. He couldn’t fill out one square. I think I knew at that point that we were just playing a waiting game.
When the end came, hospice was with mom, as was my sister, an RN. He’d been given a morphine drip for the pain. He passed quietly in his sleep, way too young.
Now, my dad never had the kind of impact on the nation as Senator Kennedy has. He was a good man, if a bit unambitious. Senator Kennedy was very ambitious, and his family for him. And even though I disagree with Senator Kennedy on most every issue, you can’t but admire him for his convictions.
But now, my dad, and Senator Kennedy have a diagnosis in common. The Kennedy family likely has little interest in my thoughts, I’m sure. But I do wish them well. I hope the nation is not treated to the spectacle of Senator Kennedy’s descent into that long goodnight. I suppose it’s possible that he’ll recover and survive. But the similarities are eerie, and when you’ve lived through it, you know the likely outcome. Good luck, Senator Kennedy.