There Is No Paycheck for Your Life’s Work
A pandemic reminds us that work-life balance was always out of reach
On January 27, 2014, my dad was told his leukemia had returned and would kill him. After a year of apparently successful treatment, lopsided leukemia cells slipped from his marrow into his nervous system. Once cancer colonizes the places beyond the blood-brain barrier, doctors greet you with hugs instead of handshakes. January 27 was a Monday. On Tuesday, his doctors told him they could treat him again but the treatment would be grueling and it would buy weeks of life instead of years. They understood if he didn’t think the time gained was worth the pain he’d go through to get it. My dad, a man who barely slept because he couldn’t bear to let his eyes close on the world, chose treatment. It would begin that Friday.
Two days before checking into the hospital, he boarded a plane to meet a client who was about to pull their account from his business. My dad was self-employed and he knew that after he died, the book of business he left behind was the only thing standing between my mom and little brother and their descent into destitution. In his last days, that book of business felt as vital to him as the book of scripture he kept at his bedside.
My husband flew with my dad to that last appointment. It seemed wrong to send a dying man alone to seek a contract renewal. I guess many people spend their dying days begging for renewal, but they’re usually begging God instead of some executive in a corner office. My two men got to the airport early and stopped for lunch. They sat next to each other at a counter, a paper plate and a slice of drooping pizza each. I am sure my dad had a large Diet Coke. He tried to talk, to make everything seem normal. Good dads always try to make everything seem normal. But at one point his voice caught, his eyes filled, and he set the pizza down. Could this really be the beginning of the end? Is this what it looks like? Sitting in a harshly lit airport, wiping grease off your hands while people walk past you on their way to Vegas?
I was in the living room when they came home. My dad’s legs had stopped working during the 14 hours he was gone. Within a span of days, the cells and fibers that had moved…