Monday, April 16, 6:13 am, New Orleans (business trip with the hubs, I got to tag along. Had great plans for some really good food tonight, but first coffee and Beignets at Cafe du Monde after a run this morning)
Instead my cell phone rings. Soundly sleeping and jolted awake my first thought is why is my phone ringing at this time of the day? followed almost simultaneously by where IS the phone? I fumble out of bed…realize I’m in a hotel…where’s the light…light on…where’s the phone…purse…dang, missed it, phone quit ringing…ringing phone this early in the morning…wrong number? – or, no – not good – it’s mom.
Even after all that’s happened the past year-plus (It’s as it is) I’m still surprised by her call. I somehow thought Dad had a few more weeks, a month? Maybe two? And I wanted to be there. I wanted to be there for me, and I wanted to be there for her. I didn’t want her to be all alone. That’s what I keep saying to the hubs and to the kids as I call them all. I wanted to be there. I didn’t want her to be alone. Funny how you focus on something rather inane at times like this.
Hubs hurriedly booked a trip for me from New Orleans to Arizona. My flight got in about 9:15pm but I had to wait until 10:30 for the next shuttle, which didn’t actually leave the airport until 11pm because guess what? If your flight is delayed, you’re delayed – and that sucks…but the pilot is delayed, too…and if he needs the shuttle, you’re still delayed and you weren’t even on his flight. Thus it was I finally got to mom’s house at 1:15am, at which point I’d been up 21 hours. I wanted to be comforting and supportive and say all those things you should say to be comforting and supportive at a time like this but instead I mostly felt like cotton balls were stuck to both my eyeballs and my tongue didn’t seem to work right. I’m pretty sure mom felt the same way; we vaguely patted each other on the shoulders and mumbled something like “nuhnuh see you inthemorning”.
You know how it goes. We spent the week doing the things you do at times like this: funeral home, church, calling family, making arrangements, getting phone calls, having family arrive, looking for extra bed sheets, occasionally finding ourselves standing in the middle of the room staring with confusion at whatever we were holding in our hands, wondering why we had a spatula in the bathroom or the mail on top of the car.
Of the entire time this is what stands out in my mind most: how easy it was.
Which probably seems an odd and perhaps cold thing to say.
First, it was easy to feel relief my dad was no longer trapped in that body which didn’t work; unable to eat or swallow, unable to turn over or even change position in bed, unable to sit up, unable to figure out how to work his beloved TV remote; the relief that mom no longer had to watch dad fail, no longer had to wake in the night once he was home on Hospice, the relief that she no longer had to spend most of her days before Hospice going to the care home to be with him. Plus the joy that she had been able to do all those things. Mom is a nurse, it’s her gift. It’s what motivates her, to care for others, and this entire past year her greatest gift was to care for dad. Which was also my greatest gift, seeing that and knowing that she was happy to do so and that he was so well cared for.
Second, my dad had a good life. It’s a blessing to know that someone has had a good life. We can look around at this world and it’s easy to see that many people do not. He grew up in a happy stable family, the 8th of 12 children, all but one of whom made it to adulthood and beyond. He grew up with brothers and sisters that to this day can laugh at all the pranks those 11 kids pulled, climbing on the top of the barn, running through the yard naked just as the preacher drove up, unable to go to school for days (one-room schoolhouse in rural South Dakota) because when he and his brother checked the traps they got the unexpected surprise of faces full of skunk spray and NO ONE wanted them anywhere near, throwing dozens of Grandma’s eggs (her egg money!) against the cellar wall just to see them splat.
Third, it was in no way, shape or form as hard as when my brother Bret was killed in a car accident when he was 17. Last week at one point I said to mom how sorry and sad I was, but this was absolutely nothing like dealing with that. And she agreed. When Bret died with all of life before him, so suddenly – this young man who had so many cars in the funeral procession that the funeral home director said he’d never seen one so long – and why? because he loved everyone. He loved life, he loved everything, and everyone that knew him was touched by him. And when he was gone the hole that was left was like a canon shot through my chest, a giant gaping hole of pain that made me feel that no air could get into my body. We talked about it, mom and I, last week, and we felt three times blessed. Blessed that we had had Bret, blessed we had had Dad, and blessed we knew they were now together.
I’m not saying it was easy like getting a massage or spending a day at the park. It was easy like how running a marathon is easy – if you’ve trained for it. And then it just hurts like hell instead of hurting more. But it only hurts most at the end, instead of all the way.
Today, April 25th, is my dad’s 80th birthday. He’d had a long time to get ready for this final journey and he prepared himself well. He and my mother are both deeply faithful people and he was prepared for the next stage of the journey. They had time before and after his last surgery to talk about the important things, to say whatever needed to be said. I was able to be there for two weeks recently, and since January of 2011 I’d been there with them for 9-1/2 weeks total. That’s pretty awesome, to live almost 1,500 miles away and yet be able to have that much time with them. In those weeks I had time to say the things I needed to say. I’d also had lots of time and lots of nights at home at 2am and 3am and 4am when I would wake, thinking of them, worrying, doing those things your brain does when it’s dark and you’re tired and no one else is awake and you get the chance to realize with half of your brain that what you’re doing is completely non-productive but you somehow need to do it anyway. I had the chance to get all the sad, mad, hurt and scared parts over with.
This Saturday, April 28th, is the 37th anniversary of Bret’s death. I think most of you have gone through something like this and you know how it is. You wonder how it can possibly have been that long and yet it seems in some ways like yesterday. You remember with so much joy – more joy now, than pain – and yet at some point the pain hits for just a second, a stab that makes you choke a bit and you remember again that canon ball sized hole in your chest and for a minute you can’t breathe.
But this time you see the entire circle. You see the son, the husband, the father, the grandfather and great-grandfather and you know that it all comes together. You know that you ran the race and they ran the race. You spend those months training – waking, worrying, planning, scheming, questioning – the months of good days and bad days, good runs and bad runs, runs with friends and runs alone and you know that it’s only a microcosm of life itself. You can plan and train and make the journey or you can wait for the journey to happen – but either way it will happen.