|My mother and father in 2008|
But today, for the first time in two weeks, he recognized me! He woke from a nap and I heard him stirring, I went into his room and sat beside him, cupping his head in my hand. He turned toward me and his eyes connected with mine and I saw the spark, there again, if just for an instant. He lit up, he smiled. “Hi, sweetie”: the first clear words I’d heard from him in ages.
It was only for a moment, I lost him again a few clock ticks later but it was enough for today, maybe forever.
When so much is lost, tiny things become huge, a singular moment containing in it a lifetime of love that is still there, inside of me, inside of him. He may never find it again. For me it will remain always.
When his worn out and straining heart finally, fatally stops, the rhythm of our lives, our love, his fatherness to me, my daughterness to him, will go on in mine. I suppose this is why we have children, to pass on the love that is too big for one old heart to contain.
People have asked how I can so calmly and sanguinely go about this strange business of helping my father out the final door. How I can talk about it and even make jokes, how I seem able to be ready to let go.
It’s because I no longer need my parents to be my parents. There is nothing more I need from them, other than just to be, until they can no longer do that. I don’t even really think of them as parents, more like these sweet old people that I seem to find myself lovingly taking care of; my strange, large, extra children.
Years of therapy, becoming a parent myself and time, just plain old time, has wrung all the angst out of my relationships with them. I have un-made my hot buttons, they can no longer be pushed.
We have no unfinished business, my parents and I. What ever my parents may have done or not done, all the unforgivable moments of my childhood have long been forgiven (except for them giving up a rent controlled classic 8 room apartment on Riverside Drive, and I’m almost over even that). I am not waiting and longing for withheld love to come un-dammed, or explanations that have not yet and will never come.
They are who they are, they did the best they could, they loved me with all their hearts, and now we are this: a daughter taking care of her childlike parents, who need her now as much as she needed them then, as a mewling babe.
I don’t think I could have done this, in this way, if I had not myself become a mother some years ago. Holding my infant sons, holding my frail failing father, is all of a piece somehow.
It is such a cliché to talk about the circle, the cycle of life, until you are deep inside it, and then it is clear.
The circle is a sphere, it rings like a bell, it beats in rhythm, the rhythm of a heart, many hearts; some new and giddy young and strong, some old, enlarged, faint and fading: the hearts, the hearts, the hearts of my family.
Soon we will be one less.
Soon we will go on.