it can be one thing, but also another

A friend takes my children for a few hours this afternoon while I go to my parents’ unencumbered by their rascally selves. This is a good thing because my mother is very underslept and there’s nothing for it, really. After some medication my father falls into a deep but brief sleep and I serve my mother some soup I made up; we sit in her kitchen and talk.

It is a good talk. We discuss friends, betrayals, a memorial service. She tells me she’s worried for me because there’s so much of me I get from him. Our flexibility and abilities in living our lives, our “intellectual…” she trails off (what did she mean?). She cites us both as intuitive about “people’s bullshit”. I have always thought this as true about my father to an extreme degree. I have often trusted his intuition. I haven’t thought much about mine. It is interesting hearing her compare us and I wish I’d have really marked down all she said. But I was thinking about helping her through this conversation. How sad she has to see her own children hurt, to worry for us even now.

For all the help and ease the hospice group is supposed to provide, my mother is still on the phone a lot coordinating things. I watch her try to concentrate (mispronouncing “albuterol” worse and worse with each repetition on the phone). I watch my dad breathe. He looks like he’s climbing a mountain! So does she! He is so thin his ribcage protrudes and rounds out his body, his flesh fallen away. His pantlegs are rolled up to expose his calves (I realize something I too do to my pajamas when sleeping) and the skin on his calves is smooth and pale and unflawed.

A few minutes after our lunch he stirs and awakens. He never gets more than a couple hours stretch at a time. He sees me and his eyes open wide, his arms pop up and out for a hug. I immediately hug him as naturally as if this was something we did all the time (we didn’t). “I love you daughter,” he says. I tell him I love him too. I hug him too. I feel some of my self-consciousness evaporate, because I’d been hugging him more, mostly unsure if it was appreciated.

We get a delivery for another machine that will help give him better air. He can’t talk for very long without pausing for breath. The technician is showing us tubes and switches and his voice hushes a bit in deference, probably thinking my mom and I are about to cry, or very sad. But I’m not thinking about the machine or the air or even feeling terrible. What is stuck in my mind, and what lends me to flush with tears, is how very, very much my father looked like an infant, in the way he held up his arms and asked me near.

I am so honored I get to see him this way, I get to see his “baby” self, his true self. He’s dying but he’s also crystallizing in my mind. Never have I been more sure of who he is in my life, and where he dwells. Never have I seen him so clearly; in some way he is not diminished but augmented. I see him even in this form as more beautiful, more pure, more himself. My time with him renders his physical changes as less shocking, and not horrible, but simply amazing. It is hard to watch him suffer, yes. Very hard. But it is also amazing to see a person stripped further, yet still so very much a person.

When he’s awake and feeling better I enjoy his humor, his conversation. He eats a plum, the first and only thing he’s eaten so far today. He eats the dripping fruit with relish but clumsily, beset by an inability to finish the job – yes, like a first plum tasted by an infant. He prefers fresh water and says it tastes “horrible” after an hour. I am so pleased to fill his water glass, to provide him compazine for his nausea. I hope, hope so much, that until the last I can give him something, some assistance.

Life is messy, and funny. Standing in the kitchen doorway the dog quickly turns about on the carpet and shits on the floor before I can intervene. I laugh and clean the mess; disgusting. My dad says, “It’s Thursday – just put it in the trash and it will be taken tomorrow.” His mind is still remarkably clear even with medicine and naps; he recites his physician’s phone number to assist in a pharmacy phone call. “You’re going to miss my memory banks,” he tells my mother, with an almost smug knowledge that yes, we’ve always known his memory so much better than the rest of ours; a gift really.

I leave to pick up my children, and a prescription. I will return to stay the night and give my mother a full night’s rest – or that is the hope anyway, for what our plans these days are worth.

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