It has been a particularly rough week. Not from work and all. Heck, work has been surprisingly light this week. It’s not really about me. No, it really isn’t. I know what it is, but I hesitate to mention it. I really don’t want to think about it. It’s even tough to blog about. But I know, deep in my heart and beyond all rationalization, that my father is dying. Damn, it’s tough to type that word! There – I said it. Tears. Damn.
He just turned 83. Shortly thereafter, he fell. Happy birthday. For the elderly, that four-letter word is the nastiest of all: F-A-L-L. Falls can happen for a myriad of reasons, none of them good when you’re his age. His internist wisely admitted him in an attempt to sort through the 19 medical problems on his problem list. And after a week in the hospital, his problem list grew to 20. But tears and counting can’t fix things, can they? After all, we’re all dying, really. Just he’s a bit closer in the journey of life, I guess. So I’d rather focus on the positive – the wonderful things that he gave to me, my mother, and siblings. What else can I do when God’s inexorable pull to return us to earth continues?
This weekend while his rump has solidly glued to the hospital bed, I joined him a bit before noon to watch football on the hospital TV. He was eating lunch when I came in. I brought some pictures my wife had assembled years ago in a photo album for me. We sat at first, watching the football game unfold. It was exciting at times, but he was struggling to lift the fork to his mouth. A large piece of rubber chicken sat in the middle of his plate, untouched. He had always loved chicken. But his arms were too weak to lift the knife and fork to cut the piece of rubber, so I helped him. I cut the hell out of that chicken to render it into tiny bite-sized chunks for easy consumption. He smiled, said “thank you,” and proceeded to devour the entire plate-full of food. Wonderful. “Food is medicine,” the doctor in me told him. “Sorry, Dad,” my heart whispered.
After a commercial break I reached for the photo album. “I brought in a few pictures.”
“Yeah, it’s like a ‘This is Your Life’ book Diane made for me.”
I opened to the first picture and there it was: a picture of my father holding me in his arms as a baby, with my brother and sister smiling next to him. It was grey, streaked, much like his body now.
“Oh, my God! Look at that!” And a smile came over his face. “Can you believe?” He looked at me. No, it’s hard to believe Dad. And quickly his eyes devoured the pictures just as his mouth had consumed the rubber chicken. Football was unimportant. Life mattered. His life. The TV was turned off. We turned the pages one by one, slowly, patiently, eagerly, revealing my life, certainly, but his life, too. Each picture with its own story – none of them sad. Vacations, birthday parties, Winter Dance as a teen, gymnastics victories, the birth of grandkids. Wonderful memories all. None of them painful. His knees and shoulders were forgotten, but for a moment. If only I could freeze time then. No pain, no worries, no sadness, no struggles. Just joy reflecting. It did us both good. We talked. He shared a few more of his concerns and remembrances. He spoke strong and proud. “It goes so fast, doesn’t it?”
And soon the dailies of hospital life encroached – the food service folks picked up his tray, another blood draw, recording the “I&O’s” (intake and output), and I had to hurry off to join my son to attend, what else, but a football game.
Yes, Dad, fast indeed.