Sunday, March 16, 2008


Recognizing the number on my cell, I was immediately prepared for the worst news about my mother or father. My sister said it was pneumonia and would probably be fine with an antibiotic, but we were right to be prepared. The rest of the conversation was about living wills, hospice care and my Dad’s attitude that he was tired at 82 and ready to go.

So many of us are dealing with the loss of our parents. As a child, the idea is incomprehensible, and even once we understand that death can happen, just a remote, very impossible possibility. As adults, we begin to prepare for the loss of our parents, yet even now it comes almost as a surprise.

My father is far more ready than I am. So preoccupied as he was in his own life all those years ago, the imminent loss of him now is more devastating as we are finally getting to really know each other for the first time as human beings as well as father and son.

But to an only son in a family of sisters, the loss of a mother, even this grown-up age of mine, still feels like being thrust out on a girder high above the city, dizzyingly high.

This is the woman whose arms held me through every crisis as a little boy, and sat with me calmly as a young man forlorn with a broken heart. Across the soccer field on a wintry day, she would be the lone fan. 3000 miles apart as an adult, I found great comfort in her reassuring voice over the phone line. Perhaps it has been her descent into a mindless sea that has stirred my own mind to examine so many of the paths chosen, abandoned, or passed over in my own life.

It has been the memory of her unwavering faith in my skill as a writer that has inspired me to take up pen again. At Christmas, though she showed no understanding of what I said, it felt important to tell her that I was writing, remembering how she relished the moment I handed her a fresh story or played her a new song.

She could wax our dining room floor on her knees one afternoon, then attend a gala international ceremony the next evening. When given the chance to shake the hand of an important statesman whose policies she did not like, she was strong and brave enough to refuse, and loved to tell the story forever afterwards. Now she seldom recognizes anyone, and sleeps much of the day.

Still, my father faithfully goes to visit, sits with her silently, sweetly, holding her hand. He misses her, sitting beside her, wishes an easy death for her as he does for himself. Interviewed recently by a student, he took offense when asked what he looks forward to.
“Death!” he cried, “What else can there be?”

Still, nearly blind and barely able to hear, he has a new sculpture cast in bronze. He serves on a committee researching computer software for the aged and infirmed. He has started an exercise routine. He is interested in the lives of his children and grand-children. He converts the family photo albums to digital, and has written a family history.

And still, every evening, he sits with mother, holding hands, gazing out across the meadows where they used to walk.

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Debra Broughton said...

This post brought tears to my eyes.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Debra, let's look forward to the ones that bring laughter...

verveteach said...

What a powerful piece. You bring alive your father's love for your mother, your mother's love for you, and your love for the two of them, even as they near death.