Thursday, February 6, 2014

a year

a year ago i sat at my desk doing i can't say what now. the phone rang: my sister. she had spent the past couple of weeks with my parents, and she was leaving town that morning to join her daughter and the new baby girl who had joined their family just two weeks before.

i picked up the phone, thinking that this would be the debrief: that conversation we all have with our siblings after one of us has spent more than a few days with the folks who gave life to us. as i punched the button on my phone i thought: wonder how it's gone? how will i pick up her slack?

then she said: well, here's the thing.

i would learn over the next few months that this was code. all was not right with our world. pay attention.

that day, the thing was this: my 84-year-old-father had woken with a fever, chills, and while we talked he was on his way to the tiny hospital where he had practiced medicine his whole career. and my sister was scared.

after our phone call, i left work, packed a bag and headed home. that afternoon, my sister, mother and i sat with Daddy, watching the nurses go in and out as he slept and started, in his yellow sweater and brown corduroy pants. he did take his shoes off, as i recall.

but his stay was to be temporary. we sent my sister on to her new granddaughter, confident that we would take Daddy home in a few hours, or at least the next day.

i remember i had a big interview for work the next day, and by late afternoon, i arranged to do that from my parents' kitchen table. Daddy didn't come home that night, and i woke early, driving through Hardees to bring coffee and biscuits to him. 

i would end up throwing all that away.

the next day, which was long, ended with my father waving to me and my mother from the back of a giant medical transport that would take him to the medical center where he needed to be. i will not forget that moment, Daddy being wheeled into the lighted transport and lifted up, him waving to me as he had done a thousand times from the back porch of our house. a wave that said he would be back soon.

only he wasn't. 


we are in the healing stages now. the days when we don't think daily so much about my father's absence, as his presence in our lives. i think about that sweater and those pants, his hush puppies and the conversation i had with him that day, and though i am sad, i am not devastated. i think of the story in that day — the old crank bed, the fact that it fell with him in it, the nurse who said when i arrived that he would need a higher level of care —  these are elements in a story — no longer bringing outrage to me, though they certainly did that day. there would be other moments in his months in the hospital, but now that he is no longer there, i think of other families, and what they face each day they drive into the parking lot of a hospital. i wonder if they get long-term parking permits, like we did.

healing: what a gift that is, to the grieving. that at some point we turn the page from how can this be? to what is. and we keep moving on.

so here is the thing: in this year, my mother has moved to a new house. my sister's grandbaby is a year old. the grandbaby born on my father's birthday (and named for him) is 14 months old. one nephew got married and another will in April. Two nephews have changed jobs. my son bought a house. my daughter moved up in her job. my brother and sister and i stayed the course. the dogs all hung in there.

and in small pieces, Daddy has been right there.

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