Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Green Grow the Grasses-oh!

If I am ever inclined to feel sorry for myself (which is often these days), visits with my father and an old college buddy over Thanksgiving can help to temper that perspective.

A few years out of school, married and with a baby on the way, my friend was crushed by a small wave off Long Island. Having heard a "snap" in his neck, for minutes, he lay on his back under water, unable to move, watchng the sky, expecting to drown, but miraculously was found and pulled to shore, paralyzed, but alive.

Twenty-five years later, his wife helps him with every bite he takes, and still their love seems as vital as any who have fallen into each other's arms. His corporate employer stood by during his year long absence and welcomed him back, even changed his assistant's job description to include meeting his wheelchair at the station and rolling him the rest of the way to work.

After so many late nights of college dreams, he has successfully written much more than I (who dreamed more vocally) and seen his screenplays evolve into movies. A very melodic guitar player before his accident, he has switched to harmonica and plays out with two different bands.

We can allude to his handicap comfortably and to some of the pleasures he misses, but he has made life good for himself (with fortuitous and loving help), grown comfortable in his chair. Always a realist, he has adjusted and made it as good as it can get with no audible complaint.

So lonely, lost and bewildered in those first weeks after my scaffold collapse, I lay on my couch, desperate for visitors and was satisfied only an hour a day, even counting the visiting nurse. Rationalizations that the Universe had given me this time to be alone and in deep contemplation was no solace to the little boy who wanted comfort and a hand to hold.

At 85, with his wife embraced by Alzheimer's, my father is both nearly blind and deaf. His knees arthritic, crossing the room is a slow effort. Living in a community of aged souls, he spends most of his time alone, frustrated not seeing the details of faces, or discerning the rumble of pleasant conversations. His hands are numb, his teeth cracking. He uses a catheter at night. He misses my mother hourly and has trouble telling his grandchildren apart.

"My worst fear," he confides honestly, "Is living another ten years." He has stopped taking aspirin to prevent a heart-attack and feeling a pain in his chest last month, he admitted thinking, "Oh Goody!"

Raised a Quaker, but always an athiest since his war experience, he expects there to be nothing beyond, sees no adventure ahead (as Charles Lindbergh revealed with his last words). There is no talking to him about Spirit, reunion or future lives. He accepts with equanamity the inevitablity of a long, long sleep and the rest of the world going merrily along without him.

Together for the weekend, we muddled about his apartment in slow, cautious steps, napped on schedule, and sat on stools in the kitchen, staring at dropped packaging on the floor and choosing to let them lay. A mirror image lowering ourselves into either side of the Redster, my sisters laughed heartily to witness our moans and groans. We shared our catheter stories as only those who have them can understand.

While I do slowly get better, however, sadly for him, this decrepitude has been an irritant for far longer and is destined only to get worse.

Even so, while he has given up on the detail of his paintings and sculpture, unable to see or feel the realities of form, he has switched to alabaster and abstraction, using a Dremmel and hand to smooth vague shapes that twist and roll with the beauty still clear in his mind. Stone dust covers his wheeled walker.

Using a 32" HDTV for a monitor, with his glasses off and face inches from the screen, he religiously checks the stock market, email and weather online, and good naturedly tries to figure out what all the fuss is about around Facebook. He takes the bus to market and patiently observes that re-stocking shelves in different patterns might sell more items, but frustrates a blind man who cannot find where his Wheaties have gone. Disappointment has not scared him that the Phillies lost the World Series; they gave him three seasons of fun.

Admittedly removed emotionally from his children as they grew up, with my mother no longer available to translate, he has been forced to ask us questions about our lives and reveal his own thoughts, fears and frustrations, becoming a more communicative person, discovering lately, as have I, that being open invites hugs in return. Relating together for a lifetime in silence, we are only now learning to speak to each other more clearly.

A lesson so very precious, to enjoy the miracle further, I pray he sticks around just a little while longer.

Please share with your friends


Marc said...

Oh, Kip. That reminded me so much of my dad and the personal things he chose to share during his last few months. He's been gone 5 years now and I still miss him dearly. Thanks for touching my heart.

Marc said...

(actually, the post is from Deni, Marc's wife)

Hayden Tompkins said...

Ok, WOW. I'm speechless. Sometimes you manage to get me right in the soul with your words.

This is sad and beautiful and exquisite, all at the same time.

Anonymous said...

You touched me deeply with this one. I miss my Dad every day and he too had Alzheimer's. Sounds like a remarkable man. Enjoy him.


Rebecca said...

I am so proud of what you are doing with your family ,dad, sis, and yourself. The singing is such an important part of expressing yourself. The chanting sounds like a great thing!!
I am off the subject of your blog, but...
My dad also had alzheimer's, and died a few years ago. My mom with her mind fully intact died last winter. Hardly seems almost a year away. What a year!!
Hope the urology things are resolving. Let me know if you need anything. You are right the more open you are the more people can be open with you.
Lots of loving warm thoughts to you. RB