Posted on January 22, 2012
I’ve been spending the first month of the year watching my father die. He’s slipping away, slowly, bit by bit, the life dripping out of him.
Mostly I sit and watch TV with him–Wheel of Fortune, televangelists, rodeos. He’s too weak and tired to talk much now, but even before we didn’t say much. And what is there to say to each other at this late date?
We have not, he and I, acknowledged the rampaging elephant in the room; not to each other at least. I haven’t asked him how it feels to be dying. For all I know, he doesn’t think he is. He hasn’t asked how it feels to be losing my father, perhaps because he’s already walked down that road himself.
My mother asks how I feel, how I’m handling it all. I tell her it seems so surreal that I think I must not be feeling it yet. There must be some part of it that hasn’t hit me yet.
My mother and sister and I sit at the breakfast table, now shoved aside to make room for the rented hospital bed. We eat and talk about inconsequential things and play cards. Our minds wander and we repeatedly nudge each other back with a soft “Your turn.”
It eats at me that what is unresolved between us will remain that way forever. He will die with me knowing that, while he may not be exactly disappointed in me, he isn’t proud of me. I can’t change that. I just have to accept it. And go on. But it hurts more to know (or think) that he is proud of my brother–newly remarried, ostensibly off drugs, teaching a weekly bible study at the jail. And then the other night, my new sister-in-law hugged my dad goodbye and said brightly “I love you!” and he replied “I love you too.” Hot, angry jealousy hits me hard.
Sitting with him, waiting, I don’t pat his hand and murmur reassurances because that’s not who I am with him. He doesn’t reminisce or offer any last thoughts because that’s not who he is with me.
On Fridays I rush home. I close my world around me–my husband, my home, my dogs–and try to block out the days of sitting, of waiting. But I snap or tear up at the least provocation. The phone rings and I jump. I go shopping to feel the life of the world around me, but wear my iPod to keep it at bay. I go to the gym, not to meet a friend, but for a spin class, as dark and anonymous as a movie theatre.
And after the weekend’s respite, I go back. And wait.