My burned arm was definitely healing. It was no longer painful, but when it was hurting I chose to “retreat.” I wrote and practiced my music. The focus on my book was very productive.
Today, I finally emerged from my cave to play tennis again. However, I could feel I wasn’t in my best, physical shape.
I knew both of my parents needed to see me. Now that my father was ill and in a separate, nursing facility, I would have to make more visits. He wasn’t available to help my mother in the evenings and I wouldn’t see him while visiting her anymore.
I decided I could visit my mother early in the morning before my tennis game. I would visit my father after.
I joined my mother while she was finishing her breakfast.
It had been challenging for me not to mention anything to her about my burned arm. It wasn’t about wanting her sympathy; it was just that so often it inadvertently came out in conversation. When she asked me where I was going, I said, “Oh, I’m playing tennis for the first time in several weeks!” Then I caught myself before I told her why.
The difference for me was startling. When my father saw my burn, he openly sobbed to express his anguish over seeing my injury.
Twice, I had visited my mother with my bandaged arm clearly visible; it was hot and I couldn’t wear a jacket to cover it. I thought of a lame excuse for the bandage, however, she never mentioned anything to me.
Her dementia had definitely affected her level of awareness, As much as I was grateful not to add to her imagined worries, I thought about how my father’s reaction allowed me to feel like a child again. He was so worried about me!
Although my mom was happy to see me, she clearly was upset about something. Her mood became unpleasant when she talked about my father. It became very hard for me.
Earlier in the week, I had finally told her he was ill. I tried to shield her from his illness as long as I could. She hadn’t seen him for several weeks, and I figured she needed an explanation. My parents have been married sixty years. A little over a year ago, my mother was released from the hospital after being on a respirator for two months.
After that, they lived separately because my mother was in skilled nursing and my father was in a more independent, living situation at the same facility. However, he visited her daily.
She was very angry with him. Her belief was that it was his choice to be separated from her, that he was happier that way. I tried to convince her it wasn’t true. I explained to her by saying, “Mom, dad’s a sick man and he can’t help it. It wasn’t his choice!”
My mom’s eyes flashed as she glared at me and said, “How would you feel if your husband left you?” She continued talking, but most of what she said didn’t make sense. But I knew what she meant.
I decided it was true for her.
It didn’t help for me to argue. Instead, I listened and tried to be as sympathetic as possible.
Although my father was against my mother visiting him, my mother would be seeing him tomorrow. It was truly miraculous that she was now able to walk and transporting her was far easier than before. I remember when my father refused to visit my mother while she was in the hospital. I picked him up and forced him to go with me.
I left my mother’s facility to go play tennis. I listened to music and tried to change gears. I was glad to be outdoors. I could hear melodies playing in my head and I felt the wonderment of my life. I enjoyed sharing about my journey with the other women on the tennis court.
Initially, I played well, but weakness set in after an hour. I was ready for the time on the tennis court to end. My heart was not there and I felt faint.
I had planned to see my father when the game was over. I first called him from my car.
Throughout the past week, I spoke with my father at least once a day. I was careful not to call him when I was rushed. In the past, I always called him when I was driving somewhere, even if it was for a short time. However, since he had been ill recently, he became very adamant that “I give him the time he needed” on the phone with me.
He became tearful several times when I called him and didn’t have plenty of time to “chat about things.”
I came into my father’s room. I brought him a sandwich. I grew up with Passover being followed almost obsessively. However, my father told me he wanted me to bring him a sandwich, and I was glad to if it would make him happy.
As he ate his sandwich, he spoke with a lot of intensity. He said he had so many things he needed to tell me – he desperately had things to “get off his chest.”
I noticed his eyes were red rimmed. His scraggly beard was gone and that was a relief for me. It was hard seeing my father with a beard. He told me to find a pen. He wanted me to write notes so I would be clear about his different, checking accounts and bills that needed to be paid.
Then he wanted to go over his funeral arrangements.
I listened intently. Everything that he told me, we had discussed before. I knew that it made sense to go over these things; my father was eighty-six-years-old.
I asked him if he thought his death was imminent.
I was amazed how open my father was about his own death. Unlike my mother who was willing to fight for her life my father said, “If the kidney stones are unable to be removed with the next procedure – I’m done. No more surgery for me. I’d rather die!”
I wondered if I believed him.
I asked him what he wanted me to say for his eulogy. I said it very calmly without any emotion. He said, “I’ll give you any information you want, but we’ll do it on a day when you have more time.”
I thought about when that time would be. I was always in a hurry to retreat to my therapy of writing and music. There were always so many chores that swallowed up my time.
Suddenly, my father’s face became contorted with sadness. He began to cry. All my calmness evaporated at that moment.
He said, “I have been waiting and waiting to talk with you for days! Where have you been? You don’t know how relieved I am to have you here. I’ve been so lonely!”
Ripples of sadness went through me as I kissed him goodbye.
I realized I needed to write. The aching feeling in my heart spread like tentacles throughout my body. I wasn’t sure what I would write.
Then I heard music playing and realized that the words I was searching for I had already written.
I decided that my recent song “You Were There,” applied to my father as well.
I had focused so much on losing my mother incrementally to her dementia. Now, I had my father to think about. I wasn’t grieving the “future loss” of my parents. I knew I would certainly face that in the future.
I was dealing with the present. There was a lot of sadness for me to see my parents in their old age, fraught with isolation, pain, and so little control of their own destiny.
I was thankful for the therapy and expression of sadness that my writing offered. I wrote a poem for my father.
After that, I played my song with a different perspective and I cried.
Link to story and audio for “You Were There.”
Below, I talk about my passion for music with my vocal coach, Peaches Chrenko:
HE WAS THERE
I stood up to give a speech. The room was crowded. I was the winner of the region’s Secretarial Award and it was a great honor.
I remembered how in the summers I would drive with my father every day to work as a secretary at the Board of Education where he worked in downtown Los Angeles.
My father had painstakingly helped with the application process. Everyone was clapping after I spoke, but it was my father’s face that I remembered the most.
HE WAS THERE.
The beach parking lot was full. There was one space left on the side of the highway. As I exited with my friends, I asked someone if it was okay to park there.
It was a long day. My friends and I trudged across the sand to my car. I carried my guitar and felt sunburned and hungry. My car was gone. It had been towed. I walked a mile to find a payphone to call my father to come get me. I was at least fifty miles from home.
An hour later, his car drove up. He was very upset, but I remember how grateful I was for his presence.
HE WAS THERE.
HE WAS THERE.
It was time to say goodbye to my dead child. His body was being readied so that we could see him without all the tubes. It was just my parents, my husband and I. We waited in silence, we were exhausted from all the earlier screaming.
A nurse summoned us. My mother said she’d wait for us; she emphatically said couldn’t do it. My father said he would come in. I asked him again if he were sure.
The minutes ticked by. The horror of those moments would never leave me. I wanted them to end, but at the same time I knew I’d never see my child again. It was the only time I’d ever have to say goodbye.
Finally it was enough. I exited the room. My husband followed. We waited and we waited.
I had to go back into the room to get my father and tell him it was time to go.
HE WAS THERE.
It was just another evening during a period of time in my life filled with grief. I had survived another day.
There was a lot of relief to survive another day. Perhaps it was another day that would be closer to diminished anguish.
I thought I had heard my father’s car pull up in the driveway half an hour earlier. I looked out and sure enough, his car was there.
I wondered why he hadn’t come in yet. But I knew. He would sob in his car before coming into my home.
I opened the front door and tiptoed barefoot into the twilight. He didn’t see me. I was right – he had his head bent over the steering wheel. His sobs echoed into the night air.
I knocked on the window to let him know I was there and it was time to come in.
© Judy Unger and http://www.myjourneysinsight.com 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Judy Unger with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.