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Pastor said my papaw once described himself as a frail man. I suppose, on his death bead, he was. He was frail in the sense that he could no longer move his limbs in the way he once did. There was frailty in the way he held a styrofoam cup, half-full of water to his dry, cracked lips, his hands shaking with effort. There was frailty in the way he struggled to keep his head up and eyes open. There was certainly frailty lurking in those brittle bones, exposed beneath the paper-thin skin where muscle and fat ceased to linger long ago.
I used to think there was a cure for any symptom. Sure, medicine hasn't worked out how to fix cancer or AIDS exactly, but it tries. It strives for comfort, shoots for longevity. Medicine is not supposed to give up.
I spent a lot of time in that nursing home room in my papaw's last week. I saw the doctor once. He came into the room looking not just somber, not just bearing the expression of an experienced physician with appropriate bed-side manner. He looked sad. Here he faced a room over-flowing with my grandfather's family, so consistently full that the nurses had brought us extra chairs days ago. Yet still there was nowhere to sit.
The liver fails. The kidneys start to slough away. The lungs cease to release air. The body can't process the medicine, and mentally he'll be with us less and less. Sometime soon, the heart will stop beating and he will be gone.