I know you are watching the events as they unfold down here on Earth. Dad is remarkable in the ability of his body to heal so quickly — and just days shy of his 92nd birthday. Ok, the mind is another thing. That is a bit of a mixed bag.
Dad’s week has been packed with life and all of its emotions, from heart-breaking to uplifting, from triumph to quiet desperation, from funny to painful indignity. And we, the kids, whether in person or on the telephone, have been on the ride along with him.
We went from feelings of sheer terror in taking Dad for a walk around the block (would he fall?) to POB’s dancing with Dad in the house to the sublime — a soft shoe routine in the supermarket, he with his cane (and his home aide ready to catch him) and I with a new mop that we desperately needed. But later he couldn’t get up from the table without help and was dizzy, so he needed a long recuperative nap. So, we will do soft shoe when we can, but we aren’t ready to go on the road. We do what he can do and no more.
We spent days going through pictures, reminding him of the family. He is getting really good at this. He remembers you, without any sort of coaxing. One of his home aides told me that Dad talks about you and how he is still married to you and still in love with you, no matter that you died 10 years ago. He told her the secret — that you appear somewhere in all his paintings. He knows your spirit lives in the house. And, of course, your portrait remains as evidence that this is your home.
In a weird way, I think that the home aides are a blessing. Dad can talk to them all day. Now I realize what life has been like for Dad these last few years. If Dad can’t go to the studio to sculpt (he hasn’t been able to for a few months) and he isn’t with us on the weekends, the days between are deafening silent and slow. I wanted to cry for his loneliness. But now he sings for his home aides, offers them a cocktail (which they refuse) and the house has noise.
But there are hard moments. Moments filled with the indignity of aging and a child having to care for a parent as if he were a baby. And, when he is discombobulated, the air seems to fill with a toxin that hurts my lungs. There are also less profound crises, like the day there were no bananas for breakfast and Dad was not strong enough to go to the store or be left alone. Imagine, a reasonably successful New York lawyer unable to answer client emails because she has to bring bananas for breakfast. Still, he asked, “how much a pound did you pay?” “Before or after I add in the cost of the cab to hand deliver these to you, Dad?”
At least today, there was levity amidst the crazy talk. Aunt Glue and Cousins J and K came to visit. Aunt Glue and Dad were both a little off, but they enjoyed their conversation. The rest of us didn’t quite understand the conversation, but I tried to let go of reality and roll with it. Cousin J tried to correct Aunt Glue’s somewhat vague statement, and I asked her, “at this table, what does it matter?”
Aunt Glue and Dad, the remnants of our greatest generation, stronger in body than in mind, gained fortitude and joy from each other’s presence. Aunt Glue is the only one alive who knows to call Dad by his original, Yiddish, name, Nachum. “So, Nachy”, she said, “tell me all.” I wanted to live in that moment because she has said that in the same way for as long as I have been alive (and longer), when they were strong and infallible and blazing the frontier. When Dad was Dad and you were alive.
At least Dad has you, always. As do we, your children. But, in these moments, I wonder why I had to grow up. I love you, Mom. And I love Dad, come what may.