Monday, March 1, 2010

Nearly Finished Business

My mother and father in 2008
Today is March 1st, my parents’ 51st anniversary.  Not a happy one this year.  My father is 92 years and 341 days old.  Sometimes I think he is holding out for March 25th, his 93rd birthday, to die, like Shakespeare: appearing and disappearing on the selfsame day.  Although I doubt he actually knows what day it is anymore.

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.


  1. Written beautifully from the heart!

  2. I finally sat down and read your blog from the first entry to the last. To me it felt like being a child again and being read to by a teacher--from a book you know and love. I hear your voice, I feel everything you are feeling, and I only hope that I handle it with half as much grace when it happens to me.

  3. Quite lovely. Thanks for sharing this.


  4. Oh my heavens. Your writing is like a gift. This was absolutely superb. I am so sorry for your pain.

  5. This is my first time on your blog (over from the Fibro) and I am just blown away by the beauty in your writing. I will have to read forward now. x

  6. So sad, and yet so wonderful that there was no unfinished business between you and your father. The circle of life indeed.

    Thanks for Rewinding at the Fibro this week.

  7. Love this piece, so beautifully written. I feel this way about my mum - sometimes I think I won't have any more children just so I will have room for her to be my extra-child when the time comes.
    Your dad was lucky to have a daughter as loving and strong as you. x

  8. This made me a bit teary, but I loved when you said: "When so much is lost, tiny things become huge." It's so true. I am glad you have no unfinished business. I'm going to prowl around your blog a bit now. It's lovely.

  9. Varda, calling on from Allisons Pink Fibro. I have goosebumps. And envy at your familial peace.

  10. Wow - this really got to me. Hit me in the heart. So beautifully written. I'm one of the sandwich generation too - parents both in their mid 80s, my father has advanced dementia.

    It's so wonderful that you can see the whole. The ebb and the flow of life. I'm not quite there yet but this help. Thank you.

  11. There is so much truth in what you say so eloquently. My dad is now eighty and has had two heart episodes recently and I have had to think about what life would be without him. I am at peace because the last time I visited him in New Zealand I got to tell him that he was the best father I could ever have had and that seemed to settle all that fatherly business! Now I can just love him. My mum seems to have an eternal fount of youth or a supply of mexican jumping beans...she is so energetic still.


I am so sorry to have to turn word verification back on, but the spam-bots have found me - yikes!