Monday, December 29, 2008

Mountains Crossed

The shock of visiting my parents was more a glacial freeze, I think, than a tumultuous emotional blow. Upon my return, my movements are thick and slow, ponderous with a sludge of uncertainty, and my thoughts heavy with fog.

My son and I made another quick road trip to Pennsylvania for Christmas, a grounding with family to enliven us with a little of the holiday spirit, a touch upon our heritage amidst all the transformations of this past year.

On the surface and deep into the heart, there was such pleasure and satisfaction to spend time with my father in his little apartment. He gave us open views into his daily habits, the struggles that an 85 year old nearly deaf and blind encounters in every direction. I could appreciate the strength it takes to maintain independence against the growing urge to simply pass on and be done with it all.

Although he speaks clearly and regularly of his readiness to die, in fact, there were several paintings, fresh in frames, I had not seen, and yet another on the easel. Nearly as often as I in my home, he would lumber into the other room to check his email, a large screen TV magnifying words 10” tall to keep him connected to friends and family in the world. Unable to follow the movement in most sports, he has switched to baseball and celebrates it being the year his home team wins the World Series.

Breakfast out to a small place nearby is an adventure enough to him who has eaten in exotic cafes on all continents. We accomplished several simple errands for clothing and items that had caused him worry. I could provide some relief to my sisters who tend to him lovingly, but constantly, in the midst of their own busy lives.

The fact that he has been somewhat of a stranger to us most of our years—interpreted through my mother—evaporates when hearing him manage his catheter two or three times in the night. It is so humbling to help the man who has been so strong in my life from car to curb to cart ever so slowly, carefully, and patiently. He complains with a shrug and apologizes as he accepts my shoulder to lean upon.

Deep into a world unknown, my mother spends her day in a wheelchair, teeth gnashing with a painful sound that causes her no visible discomfort, surrounded by others—mostly women—mouths open and eyes closed in their own strange worlds. The staff banters amongst themselves, good-spirited but worn weary by the daunting task of keeping their charges safe and fed.

Warned to have no expectations, I am pleased and amazed to see her pulse quicken each time she turns her head towards me. She utters some guttural piece of thought I cannot recognize, still we nod, eyes locked, as if understanding. Her hand explores mine as if surprised and wondering, something she knew once, but just cannot explain.

I cherished this time with my Dad and was unabashedly teary-eyed sitting with my Mom. My energy poured toward them unreservedly as if I could somehow replenish all that they have given me.

Alas, they are at this place in their journeys and our best efforts are to keep them company and ease the details where we can. Two sisters living nearby are much more practiced than I—both more burdened and blessed. To an outsider, it is a lonely and dwindling road they wander, but the dignity and peace with which they carry themselves is a heart-wrenching inspiration.

My son stayed behind with his mother, allowing me the long drive home alone to contemplate past and futures, interrupted by miles of scenery I have traveled many times with numerous companions enroute or awaiting. This time, I had the sense of leaving my parents behind, their hugs still available, but our relationship forever changed, what once was now petrified in that glacier of shock under which flows a stream that is my own life moving onwards.

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5 comments:

jouette said...

beautiful. this one touched my heart. deeply.

Laurie said...

For me it has been hard to see my dad grow old. He is now 79 and really doing very well. He continues to play golf several times a week, is active in his church, and goes out of town with his "lady friend" to gamble. But he is slowing down. He is no longer that knight I knew as a young girl.

My heart pains because even though it is difficult to watch him grow old, I can't do that with my mom. She died at 67 with a torturous case of cancer. I would love to be mourning her aging. I really miss her.

Our parents, we never thought the clock would win in that competition but it does. What is even more disturbing is that our children will have the same realizations about us! Time will beat us too. Hummmm

Hayden Tompkins said...

"Nearly as often as I in my home, he would lumber into the other room to check his email"

I shouldn't laugh, but this just tickles me! I can just see it in my mind's eye. So cute!

Cricket said...

OH this brings back some memories to me. I was very close to my grandmother and grandfather. They are really the "guardians" that did most of my upbringing. I watched my grandfather pass away rather quickly compared to my suffering grandmother. I felt so hopeless. There was not much I could do to ease the suffering.

You are blessed to have sisters that live close by. I know this does give you some peace that they are checked upon. Be thankful of the visit you just had and the realization of what was before you.

I know Christmas has been hard on most of us. I had a happy Christmas but I have to say I was truly ready for this one to pass.

Hey, we are right around the corner from 2009. Turn the corner and let's get living again.

Take care!

Carol said...

What a beautiful post Kip. I could actually feel my emotions swelling while reading the words about your Father and Mother.