Thank You

I still sign “thank you.”  The tips of my right hand briefly touch my chin and politely curtsy to my side once again as I mumble “thank you” to the waitress.  By now it is involuntary.  For nearly three years sign language has been part of our lives.  And now, even without Elena, the gestures remain.

As she lost her voice for the second time after radiation and we knew it would never return, both Brooke and I scrambled to find another way to communicate.  For days, Elena would talk with her eyes, motioning us to adjust a pillow, put the cap on fish food and to get something from the refrigerator.  Most often it was about the refrigerator as food became a way of life under the influence of steroids.  Sometimes we would guess correctly.  Most times we’d be wrong.

One night after fighting for hours to understand her breakfast request for the next morning, we decided to turn to sign language.  And so packing up the car we went to the local bookstore and bought everything on the shelf that we thought might help.  Brooke read by the dome light of the car as we drove home, teaching Elena the signs for “bathroom”, “ice cream”, “I love you”, and “proud”.  “Thank you” was to come later, as the steroids affected her mood and we desperately wanted her to return to the considerate loving daughter we’d always known. 

That week the lessons continued.  And before long, we exhausted the simplified pages of the “Children’s Sign Language” book.  But there was more to say.  We didn’t have signs for “pain”, a sign for “goldfish” or a sign for “tired.”  And again the eye motions returned.  We tried to make up our own with two hands, but as her right hand grew week and the paralysis set in, we were once again left without words.  All that would remain would be the tickles and the sweet smile I remember still today.

I still remember the sign for “proud”.  Almost instinctually I follow it with the sign for “dad” as I would motion to Elena from her bedside during her bi-weekly chemotherapy treatments.  Sadly this, along with “thank you” are the only ones I have left.  I can’t spell the alphabet, sign for “ice cream” or even remember the sign for “drink” and I guess that’s for a reason.  With every “thank you” I remember Elena and the lessons she left behind as I once again I touch my chin.

Thank you, Elena.  I am a proud Dad.

One Response to “Thank You”

  1. Mary Morrow says:

    My 10 year old son Alex had a brain tumor and in his last days we also used his eyes to understand his needs. To look deep into his soul and see not only the pain but also the laughter will be something I will always treasure. I wish my husband was able to write his feelings after Alex died November 4, 2004 like you have. After Alex died we hoped people would pull their families closer and never take a minute for granted. Thank you for sharing your lives so others can learn.