Nearly a month ago, my neighbors’ only child, I’ll call her Felicity (one of my favorite names!), about whom I’ve written a previous blog post, relocated to attend a college about four hours away from home. I’ve not seen her mom, but her dad, as I’ve written about prior, is having a difficult time dealing with her departure.
All grief, as far as I am concerned, as I’ve also written about before, is valid. Whether you mourn the lose of a pet turtle or death of a child or grieve a child who has catapulted into the next stage of life, there is an infinite roll-out of feelings and emotions associated with a sense of loss. Grief is a natural response to a painful or traumatic experience that is part of the human condition over which we have no control over. This time, hearing my neighbor share a part of his heartbreak involving his daughter, I was able to step completely outside my personal emotional pain and maneuver my way onto the bridge that connects us humans better than Crazy Glue: empathy.
His tone had an absorbing melancholy when he discussed the slow fade of time. In other words, in retrospect, although you’re going all out, have both feet planted on the pedals, it’s a losing race.
“The house has a different energy about it without her,” he vocalized as his head tilted downward.
Energy. Yes, I thought, life is energy. In this same vein, his daughter’s departure could be a song: Felicity is packed. Ready to go. Boxes and bags, belongings and energy flow. All her belongings, only to leave us longing.
Thinking deeper about this, Felicity disappeared from her house, but not completely. You see, Biology 101 teaches us that the body’s cells and organs work together to keep the body going, to make it the energy field that it is. As a safeguard, the body is also equipped with many natural defenses to help it stay alive. For instance, in order to fight infections, we humans “lose 200,000,000 skin cells every hour. During a 24-hour period, a person loses almost five thousand million skin cells.” In one year, the total amount of dead skin loss per person is more than eight pounds, that’s about as big as a Labrador puppy.
The process is our human way of shedding. What falls off us collects as dust. All those fast-flying gossamer bunnies you find nesting in the corner of the radiator and on your tables and windowsills are amassed mostly of former bits of yourself, which, in turn, provide a gourmet haven for dust mites!
And, here’s the point I’m getting at. About 20 years ago, I heard a renowned historic preservation architect speak. If you don’t know already, a historic preservation architect helps preserve old buildings that have historical value. Anyway, he said that each time a building is demolished, not only do we witness an inanimate object disappear, but, along with it, is the annihilation of a trail in human history – thousands upon thousands of shredded cells from the lives that once laughed, loved and experienced the many highs and lows of life on the premises. The architect’s somber talk, which kept me on the edge of my seat and on the verge of tears, changed my life forever.
In my own house, built in 1980, after hearing the talk, I thought about the “remains” of the two families that lived here prior to us. Even though I am a germophobe, I know that they have left their marks in secret places that are spared from my cleaning habits. Sadly, the boy in the second family died in a horrific accident when he was 13. My children went to school with him and they always felt creeped out to know he lived in our home. His bedroom was where I once housed my office. His shreds of long-ago life filled me with faith and reminds me that he matters.
In essence, Felicity and her energy are gone, but her shredded skin still coats her house like angel dust. And this goes for my departed son, mom (my dad passed away before he ever could see our house), brother and my relocated daughter, our pets, and even ex-husband who lives in a state 600 miles away, not to mention all the many friends, extended family and acquaintances who have crossed my house’s threshold to visit over this 20-year span. Yes, they are all here somewhere in places invisible to the naked eye, but still close, like a whisper in my ear. Their remains peeled off during ebbs and flows in the tide of their lives. They are all part of my household history like my own skin that sheds at this very moment as I stroke my creative muse. We partner peacefully, drifting, weaving tapestries from everything repurposed, sustainable and with a thread of hope that they will last through the remainder of the century and, if possible, push farther into the next dusty trail that sometimes seems like a riverbend ahead.
Eleven years ago, my ex-husband suffered a mental breakdown and abandoned his family. Last Father’s Day, my then 25-year-old daughter, Alexandra, had weathered the holiday storm well, especially considering that she was in isolation as a result of the worldwide pandemic, and it was the first Father’s Day she was grieving the loss of her 21-month older, only sibling.
A few people over the years have offered unsolicited advice, saying that my role was to be a father as well as a mother. I told them that’s pure nonsense. I can only be a mother, because that’s my role. My role is not a father role. My role as a mother has changed, but during those times when a situation baffled me, my 12-Step foundation kicked in and the answer never failed: unconditional love.
I knew it was a sad holiday for her and on the wings of faith (and Mama Sandra) this past Sunday, I did what I really was scared to death to do, but did anyway, and that was to drive into New York City from our little green town about an hour and a half away for a visit with Alexandra. After 30 minutes, I regretted my decision since it seemed everyone on the road was vying to size up for the Indy 500. In comparison, I felt as if I were Grandma Moses hitting the highway, taking a folk art painting break for the day.
When I finally arrived, Alexandra and I went to a nearby movie theater to see In the Heights. My daughter, a former Washington Heights resident, had been raving about the movie since its premiere. I suppose most people attend movies in the same manner they brush their teeth – without overthinking it. For me now, I live in the screenshot of life, but, in actuality, I am also knee deep in a subplot that changes, but what doesn’t change is the reoccurring theme of pain.
This was the first movie I saw since the passing of my best bud, brilliant 26-year-old son, Marshall. As we walked inside, down the movie theater’s hallway, my PTSD from losing a child kicked off. Here’s a little snapshot of the subplot that played in my mind:
What was the last movie he ever saw? Oh, that’s right. It was about two years before he died alone in the bedroom closet of a house he rented in Kentucky, a death later sealed with a clean toxicology report, the site of two previous suicides. I have no clue what movie he saw, but it was shortly before the landlord wouldn’t allow him to break the lease of the house he despised. He went with a woman he had recently met online. I was overjoyed at the idea that he met her and did not have to be alone on the weekends. As it turned out, for about a month in Kentucky, she finagled every dime she could from my son to provide complimentary entertainment and dumped him after Marshall started realizing that she was taking advantage of his resources.
What was the last movie I saw with my son? I believe it was Avatar in 2009. When we were still a family unit, the four of us sat engrossed as we watched the movie. Silly me, I lavished in those moments, not because of the movie, but because I was sitting next to the three most important people in my life. During that time my gratitude could fill the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, and that was just to start with, because it overflowed. Silly me.
In essence, since the 2019 tragedy, I have trained myself to black out my mind’s screen. Inhale. Exhale. Real world.
I chanted my mantra: Keep the faith. You will make it through.
However, ten minutes into the movie’s preview section, I took a nosedive into the dark abyss. I felt like a flea that was swallowed up by a bad, bloody case of hemorrhoids as overblown as the theater. This time faith was futile. No mantra would work.
You see, two separate movie trailers involved two young men who died of suicide. Both of the clips hit deathly close to home. I braced, tried not to fall too far into the bloody swamp. I heard my daughter ask, “Do you need to go into the lobby?”
No lobby. Just a lobotomy I need. That was what I wanted to say but froze and somehow my sick humor helped to pull me up, and I returned into my skin as the hemorrhoidal monster shrunk.
Keep the faith. You will make it through.
By some miracle, I was able to focus on the movie. You do not have to be Hispanic or a first-generation American or immigrant to relate to the musical that is filled with a sense of hopefulness in the eye of the hopeless and voices in a climate of the voiceless.
“We are all one.”
That’s what I thought as I saw Alexandra’s tears flow. It was then that I realized living life in America is not always about achieving the so-called American Dream: Life, Liberty and Justice for All. It is also about lifting each other up as a community when we fall into the subplots of life that do not appear as if they were written for us in mind. Those times when we feel forced to wear costumes in which there is barely room to move, because they are not suited for us, yet we manage to stuff ourselves down to our “soles” and walk the line of courage with fake faith and hope.
Examining the movie closer, my daughter saw her grandmother, my mother, who died in 2015, in the character of Abuela Claudia, matriarch and surrogate grandmother of the barrio. She keeps her culture alive and never loses the true definition of value. Abuela is the perfect example of how we, as a society, should not measure people by their titles, but on the ground they stand on because, in the final analysis, it is how they make it sacred – turn it into a better place than it was before they stepped on it, even if that means undertaking a tiny action like making their bed in the morning.
Abuela’s ground is sacred because she views everything as sacred, even a bread crumb. Powerless to her meager circumstances, she finds willpower to forge on in life by stringing herself along on the small details that skip others by, details like hand embroidered towels. Likewise, even though the world beat my mom to the ground, she survived by seeking leverage from little things like robins and sparrows. No matter how insignificant to others, she reveled in the details, a perspective the movie brings to light.
I, in fact, remember my mom making the sign of the cross three times and kissing a piece of bread before reverently putting it in her hand to eat. I can also recall my mom flattening wrapping paper in her soft hands and putting it in a drawer that smelled like a lilac garden. The drawer was full of crumbled wrapping paper from gifts she or our family had received over the years. To her, it was not just her appreciation, but the value of the giver who put the effort behind presenting the gift. It was as if she took the love that was given and continued its acknowledgment into infinity.
Thankful for every little crumb of substance, like Abuela, my mom, as limited as she was, did not limit her generosity and was truly delighted to bestow gifts of her own. For years, when I was growing up, she knitted poodle dogs around whiskey bottles for many of the neighbors. Sometimes I was saddened because she wrapped things that were already in the house and gave them to me on my birthday or Christmas as presents. Today, I realize it wasn’t that we didn’t have the money or she was being vicious, it was that everything to her was a gift. Like Christians who spread the word of the gospel, she spread love through re-gifting, because nothing in her eyes lost its value even if it loitered around for years and years.
In fact, when my mom gave my daughter or son something of hers like a butterfly pin, it wasn’t just a piece of jewelry. It was a part of her and she gave it with her heart and soul. That was why Alexandra wept, because each and every little token her beloved baba presented, no strings attached, to both her grandchildren, is the spirit that weaves through her and brightens my daughter’s sad and cloudy life. Hopefully, one day the good memories shared with her brother and maybe, by some miracle, her father, will also lighten the load she carries.
My soul, too, is a tapestry of unconditional love, gifts I have received over the years. It patches me up when I am down lower than dirt so I can stand my ground and maybe be strong enough to give pieces of it away. This is the faith I walk. Giving others unconditional love is my duty to carry on the legacy.
Alexandra summed up the movie as we hit the hot air outside the theater: “It’s all about community!”
I remembered when she was younger and said DNA did not make a family. Love did. If this is the case, my daughter and I have a huge family bulging at the sides! It is our little barrio full of people like the children’s godmother and my partner and his family and my friends Michelle, Camille, Anna and Anne and the handful of people who walked March 2020 on Marshall’s behalf to raise awareness that we are all vulnerable, regardless of how we act, what we do or what we say; and so many others, who drive the extra mile to visit. It is the people who do not understand our pain, but will ask us about it because they are ready to listen without judgment. It is the people who are brave enough to mention my MARSHALL’s name and share a beautiful memory about him.
In the movie, the community of Washington Heights experiences a blackout, but at their lowest point they prevail because of the one lone voice that tickles the imagination to believe in Santa Claus proportions. Eventually, the electrical power comes back and lights up the Heights. In the end (spoiler alert) Abuela dies, but the director successfully presents the process of dying as walking into a bright light.
That’s our non-DNA family: a bright light that if we can’t find it, it will find us, and we have a steel-like faith that we will travel through those Indy 500 days even if it knocks the wind out of us because in the end, the only thing of lasting value is love.
My daughter “celebrated” this past Father’s Day in the same manner as she has done for the last 10 years: alone.
My son “celebrated” nine years in this same exact manner. I suppose the saving grace this year was he no longer had to experience the void, pain, anguish and feeling like everyone, but him, was blessed and he did something wrong to deserve the outcome.
Some fathers are just incapable of fulfilling their role as fathers in the same way some mothers are incapable of fulfilling their role as mothers.
I don’t want to minimize Father’s Day. Like Mother’s Day, it is a wonderful holiday to sell cards and gifts and it brings out the best in families, but I think those who also need to be acknowledged and recognized are the children and young adults who are robbed of a father * too early in life either through death or abandonment. They are the silent victims who have no seat on the sidelines, because the game is over.
It was a particularly difficult day for my twenty-something year-old daughter, who, as resilient as she is, this year she also had to deal with the lose of her only brother, her only sibling. It seems everyone was celebrating Father’s Day or had a crisis of his or her own to give her a shout out. Fortunately, this woman, who doesn’t deserve any of her fate, dealt with the holiday as she does every year, with maturity and acceptance.
Amazingly, this year on Father’s Day she received a very special gift and faith renewal from her brother. She was cleaning out some paperwork and an envelope dropped out. Inside was a $20 gift card from her brother that he gave her six years ago.
It was as if he were telling her, “Go ahead. Go celebrate Father’s Day. I have faith you can do it for both of us.”
Sometimes when you declutter your life and remove the stuff, you make room for abundance.
That’s what my friend Tippy IM’d me a few weeks ago.
She is right. She refers to what the 12-step community calls “morbid reflection.”
So one year ago, this past Memorial Day Weekend, the Saturday my 26-year-old son arrived home for what would be the last time I would ever see him, the sky was clear as a lens, the air floated gently, spiked with excitement. My friend Pat, his Godmother, but closer than a grandmother, and I went to pick him from a shuttle stop nearby. In a typical “Marshall story,” an hour and a half shuttle ride from the airport turned out to be three hours. Incredibly, the driver avoided highways and traveled only via major route. We later surmised that the man had an irrational fear of highways. It made no sense, but again, it was a typical “Marshall story.”
In typical Marshall fashion, my son didn’t complain. He was unnerved from the three-hour shuttle ride. Calmly, he shook off the entire nightmare of a trip the minute he stepped out of the van as he towered over me, healthy and vibrant with a big, big white smile and goofy giggle so much like my own and my brother Paul’s.
That weekend, we enjoyed lovely weather and spent some of the best quality time day tripping to Stonington, CT, the place that he loved the most. The three of us, Pat, my son and I spent the holiday with a ribbon of velvety fabric moments, a cocoon of unconditional love wrapped around us. At one point, I watched my son stroll out to the tip of the beach’s jetty and peace resonated around him as did the sun and sky and the world held an oyster of pearls and promise in its palm.
How I want to reach backwards and snatch what has been stripped from our shells of happiness.
Little did we know the future would not be long and how, the Memorial Day weekend a year later, I would dread the clear azure sky and the memories it brought with it. The sorrow of seeing him for the last time.
Living in the past gives you sorrow.
I began this past weekend feeling like I was going to jump out of my skin and as if I necessitated a padded room for my brain on fire. I hit the off switch and isolated and insulated to protect myself. No Facebook. No glances at my son’s text messages from a year ago. No peaking at last year’s beautiful big, blue sky photos in which we all smiled without being prompted, “Cheese!”
So, as it turned out, my sister friend Anne in New Mexico, started to text me photos (she’s #1 photographer on this blog) during the weekend and asked me and my daughter to visit her in the future. I explained that I am, among other things, riddled with survivor’s guilt. Marsh wanted nothing more than to visit the desert, not me.
Living in the past gives you sorrow
“Survivor’s guilt holds you down, so please float it to the heavens and know how much he loved you. At least you can visit the desert and leave a memento of his.”
So out of the ill-luck hand I was dealt, loser cards of sorrow, faith comes in Anne’s text. Instead of sorrow, I am forcing myself to not look back but look forward and think about what memento or two I can bring when we are ready to visit New Mexico, so we can leave a little piece of him in the desert. Some people believe that faith isn’t a tangible thing that you can just pull out of your pocket. I disagree. Under the heat of the desert sun, sometimes the restorative qualities of a bottle of water pulled out of your pocket will saturate you with all the faith you will ever need.
Today marks six months since my 26-year-old passed away. I am learning to break down each 24-hour interval into manageable milliseconds. There is no turnoff switch for me to prevent explosive emotions from erupting. However, when I feel I will fizzle into smithereens, I have discovered that people’s kind words and gestures become like a pressure relief safety valve.
Most recently, my safety valve was a friend and mentor. Betsy choked up as she spoke about her 28-year-old son, who took his own life 11 years ago. She shared about how more than usual she felt his presence that day. Listening to her, I not only felt great empathy, but my degree of sorrow for her matched my sorrow, if, perhaps, was greater than my own sorrow. And for that turn-of-the-pressure-relief-safety-valve moment, I exhaled, gifted with pain relief.
But wait, there’s more. As Betsy, generally a proud and really, really humorous fortress of a woman, continued to share, she spoke about how her son’s death only magnifies the beauty around her and gives her faith. That’s a tough order for me right now. Every beautiful pink-blushed apple blossom, magnolia flower and springtime landscape framed in natural beauty reminds me of my son, and I long in anguish for him even more. I cannot fathom the beauty through Betsy’s personal window. That is until I realize deep grief stems from deep love, and what is more beautiful than love? Now, I’m in the process of flexing my faith muscle so I can open up my window just a tad wider and let the sun spread it healing rays.
When I lost my 26-year-old son, I wondered how I could ever don my leopard shoes again and live in full-color. My father in his older years, about the age I am now, used to say to me,
“My life is ending. Yours is just beginning.”
As I grow older, I appreciate the saying. It meant he (and now it pertains to me) was at the point in his life to carry a dwindling bucket list. Young people, like my son, typically amass pretty impressive bucket lists. A few examples on my son’s list include visiting the desert and touring the country on Amtrak (he loved trains!). For me: been there, done that.
Never in a million years did I dream I would be left holding his to-do list. Dumbfounded, shocked and weighed down with PTSD that coincides with survivor’s guilt; luckily, most people spare me their assurances of things like he won a first-class ticket to heaven where leopard pales next to angel sparkle. For me, being an earthling is all I can handle right now. Overthinking, and analyzing leads to stress.
From the beginning, my daughter and I kept it low key. In those early days, during the holidays, we anesthetized our senses with caramel popcorn washed down with swigs of diet coke and a marathon run of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. After I stored the Christmas wreath, our sole holiday decoration, and my daughter went back to her city living, in the days Corona was only associated with a brand name on the beer market, I tumbled aplenty, but managed to find some footing on swamp-of-the-soul terrain.
Once Covid-19 days slammed the brakes on the world, moment-to-moment breaking headlines fuel my days. Sickness. Death. Upheaval. I am grateful for the diversion. I take solace in the fact that if I pull my mask high up, no one can see the mark of age that tears leave behind.
In essence, honestly, sadness of the shockingly horrific state of affairs is coupled with relief. I am not the only one whose house has experienced an abdominal invasion that has overthrown a simple, relevant life plan. In addition, as much heartbreak as I have over burying my own child, I am able to stop my sorrow and introspection and think of others: people who don’t have the opportunity for proper good-byes, burials, funerals and closure.
After each sheltering in place day passes, I grow more grateful. I don’t have to suit up, paste on a happy face and greet the world. I exchange my boots for house slippers. I ride grief’s ride. I cry. I ache. I eat caramel popcorn mindlessly. Some days, like living through my first Mother’s Day without hearing his voice, the shark jaws of memory and regret are sword sharp. My distress is private and mercifully unnoticed inside this very unnoticeable, but safe cocoon home.
Was I blessed with this pandemic? It feels like it when I am able to snap on my big girl underwear and lick my wounds and heal best I can and fully somehow wrap my mind around what chronic pain feels like and understand chronic pain doesn’t disappear like a season, and it doesn’t shed like a winter coat.
It’s been a pull-my-skin-off-slowly time. Good grief, does it hurt. On the other hand, as bad as it feels, it’s been good grief, because it’s real. I haven’t fully made a decision to live life quite yet. I have fully made a decision to get through this hour, because right now I can only manage faith in small doses. I can slice a sliver of hope. And if I can’t cut it, I reach out to my tribe. I find strength. They send me photos, cartoons and chicken soup. I lean in and know they have faith in me, and that’s a lot of obligation on my part.
Ironically, I pass my leopard shoes every day and feel great relief to watch them gather dust. In the old days, I’d say, “What a blessing.”
Now, I shelter in place and feel a lot of room to move around in my comfortable house slippers. A few lines from Albert Huffstickler’s The Cure are apropos.
When the pain of my grief becomes unmanageable, I read the The Cure by Albert Huffstickler. I especially refer to it when the clueless around me spew quick-fix mouth service like “Let it go!” “It will get better.” “He’s in a better place,” and all the sentences that begin with proper nouns like Jesus, God and Buddha.
This poem gives me faith that someday I will have “the faith that it will fit in.” One day I hope to frame the poem and display it prominently on the wall. I also think a framed copy would make a great gift for grief-stricken individuals. In the interim, I frame my painful heart with these words, and the poem holds the fragments together like a vase.
THE CURE We think we get over things.
We don’t get over things. Or say, we get over the measles, But not a broken heart.
We need to make that distinction.
The things that become part of our experience
Never become less a part of our experience.
How can I say it?
The way to “get over” a life is to die.
Short of that, you move with it,
let the pain be pain,
not in the hope that it will vanish
But in the faith that it will fit in,
find its place in the shape of things
and be then not any less pain but true to form.
Because anything natural has an inherent shape and will flow towards it.
And a life is as natural as a leaf.
That’s what we’re looking for: not the end of a thing but the shape of it.
Wisdom is seeing the shape of your life without obliterating (getting over) a single instant of it.
Five months, two days ago, I COULDN’T WAIT to rip into the day, regardless of life’s circumstances. I leaped out of bed like a child who had no patience to discover what was inside the gift box under the Christmas tree. It sounds corny, but everyday was Christmas. Twenty-four hour segments flew by, and I darted behind each day as if I was trying to catch up to an Olympian runner.
Now, five months, two days later, I feel like I’ve been dumped into one of life’s empty waiting rooms without a clock on the wall. So, I wait. What do I wait for? The day I reunite with my son?
My mom used to say, “Day after day after day, ‘til the last day.”
Has that aphorism become my epic battle song that I sing now during the darkest chapter of my life until I arrive at the end of the book? Then what? I close the book, and a trumpet thunders and signals my long aWAITed reunion with my son.
“You’ve arrived!” In my imagination, I hear Alexa’s voice as an angel proclaiming the news.
Or, do I just wait for my son’s toothy white grin to be on the other side of the front door’s window? I expect to catch a glimpse of his eager face ready to enter what was once his home. I grow more impatient than ever since that youthful, solid and towering presence once crowned my world like the North Star and kept me from getting lost.
When my mom lost her oldest son she told me she always thought he was outside sitting on his favorite chair on the front porch. Numerous times, she found herself calling out to him. Of course, the front porch remained quiet and empty.
Admittedly, when no one is home I beckon in a familiar tone, “Marshall! Marshall!”
I wait and wait. In the deafening silence, I catch the familiarity of the maple tree’s drooping branches outside the exterior door’s window. Like the maple, everything has changed, but I remain standing.
As others await the end of this pandemic so they can return to their ordinary lives and do things like reset goals and “arrive” at new careers and new milestones in life, I have arrived in the waiting room of life before and during the pandemic. Going forward, I believe, this is my last stop. Fortunately, the space is not noisy and crowded. It’s not stressful. I am not afraid. I crave nothing.
Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh’s profound words frame the room, “This is it.”
So, that’s it. Waiting. The question is, does faith live here?
Maybe the answer lies deeper in the same grieving mom’s additional comments on my post:
I am not going to say anything, about how beautiful your son is, and his mother. Love to both of you.
Speechless, there is no response to those words because they are the words of hope, and their beauty cannot be contained under gift wrap. Subsequently, without faith, there can be no hope. Sometimes in the crux of waiting is the crux of our search. This is it.
Living in a new normal, I am still alive on this journey by flying on the wings of a small, select tribe. They hold me up when my legs turn to rubber. They stand firmly beside me despite the days when my words are thunderous and moods storm. When I am surrounded by dark, they are my light switch.
They infuse me with oxygen and hope. Faith has been called “the substance of hope,” and that is what my tribe extends to me the most.
In those first futile days, days after my world turned pitch black, my friend sister Anne, an amazing photographer, sent me the most glorious photographs that looked so polar opposite to the despair I was experiencing. As it turned out, they were part of my faith-fabric that sewed my unraveling world together.
Photo Credit: Anne Yoken
Photo Credit: Anne Yoken
“The sun always rises no matter how dark the night.” This is what my friend sister wrote along with her photos.
So far, the sun has risen. Ironically, the brightest, reddish, orangey sunrise (and the only one I was up early enough to witness) was the morning we buried my son. I still picture its splendor and wonder if underneath its robust spirited color, one could unearth a stairway to heaven.
As one whom his mother comforteth, so will I comfort you. — Isaiah 66:13
The following essay, Dad’s Messenger, turned blog post, I wrote shortly after my dad’s death. I chose this particular piece because it illustrates life in what I, and many of my cohorts, refer to as “the fourth dimension.”
In the fourth dimension, among other things, we live on pure faith. Moreover, I am sharing Dad’s Messenger with WTF readers as a dose of comfort, especially for those who have lost loved ones.
Note: Living in the fourth dimension, however, does have its challenges, and I will expound on that idea later in the week.
Meanwhile, I hope you enjoy Dad’s Messenger. I hope it brings you the faith you need for living through challenging times.
During the last days of his life, I wearily entered the hospital’s crowded elevator on my way to visit my 86-year-old father in the intensive care unit. A dark-haired man dressed in a white-striped and blue cotton shirt, black pants and loafers met my eyes and smiled. I wedged myself next to him in the only empty corner of the elevator. My eyes focused on the numbers over the door as they alternately glowed red: L-1-2-3. Abuzz with noontime traffic swarming in and out, we traveled to the speed of molasses. Exhausted from the effect of my father’s deteriorating health, which had escalated over the prior month, the last thing I wanted was to engage in small talk.
“I’m visiting my mother. She’s in the ICU,” the man who had met my eyes stated.
“My dad is in ICU,” I blurted, irritated at his intrusiveness.
“My mother is in the final stages of cancer,” he whispered with puppy-dog eyes.
Suddenly, my empathy overrode my desire for privacy. “Yeah, it’s not easy,” I said letting down my guard. “I’ve been in and out of the hospital since my dad was diagnosed with emphysema four years ago. They say, it won’t be long…he won’t go home.”
“My mom was diagnosed with cancer eleven months ago,” the man elaborated as we exited the elevator. For a moment, we stood there. “She was doing great, up until a week ago. That’s when she took a turn.”
“I’m sorry,” I said and meant it.
We parted, going to opposite ends of the ICU facility. After walking past the sound of the familiar beeping of IVs, I sat quietly in front of my dad’s bed. Although in a coma, his body still resembled a NFL linebacker’s physique. The rhythmic movement of his chest put me in a trance.
His booming voice, thick with accent, rang in my mind. ‘Get out of here! There is nothing for you to do. Go on with your life.’ Since my youth, I regarded him as a Ukrainian-born stallion; strong, sometimes ornery, but always keeping a watchful eye on his herd. My father never dwindled from his priorities and approached life with an overdose of common sense. He was not one for saccharine behavior. Instead of a sentimental “I love you,” he opted to say things like “Stay out of trouble,” spoken in true John Wayne vernacular. Both our characters defined the elements of conflict in fiction: The dreamer living under the rule of the pragmatic father.
As the afternoon wore on, I finally arose from the over-sized vinyl chair. “I love you, pops,” I said the three words to him that were so foreign to his own repertoire.
I had accepted his stoicism many years ago, because I realized that if we were in a lifeboat and one of us were to die, instinctively he would have given his life for me—as he would have for my two brothers. Despite a decade of turbulence, in the end, forgiveness had sealed our relationship. In the process, I had learned to love him unconditionally.
Roaming back outside the unit, to my surprise, I ran into the dark-haired man at the same spot where we had last seen one other. We exchanged smiles.
“No change,” he said as we rode down an empty elevator. I nodded my head in return. As we silently exited the elevator, he walked a couple of steps behind me. In the parking lot, we met up again.
“You know, this is where the maternity ward was when I was born,” the man said.
“Yeah, right where we are standing. I was born here 40 years ago,” he explained.
Upon hearing this statement, I froze. “You were born here, 40 years ago? So was I! That’s so weird…don’t tell me…August…”
“Wow! What are the odds of that? We were roommates, and now here we are,” I interjected.
“That’s right, oh, by the way, your dad…”
“Loves you very much! He’s proud of you, too.”
Suddenly, unexpectedly, my throat burned and tears fell. Regaining composure, I looked up to ask him how he knew this. However, without a trace, the man had vanished. Wiping the last few tears, I pictured our bassinets so many years ago in this identical spot. Then I studied the hospital’s facade and knew it had all come full circle, everything had been mended without a rift left to darn.
“Thanks, dad, for the message, which I already knew since you ingrained the truth,
not with words but with actions, on my heart so long ago.”
As I walked towards my car, the tar beneath my feet gleamed with a glint of sparkly quartz that could have been angel dust.
Stay tuned!…until next time…walk by faith not by sight!