I had a visit today from a social worker/therapist who has a grant to spend three sessions with caregivers of elderly family members. Lucky me. She’s a nice woman, and I’m sure I’ll gain some good information from her over the next two sessions, for which her grant pays her to spend time with me. But, really, I don’t need a therapist to tell me this is hard work, to validate my experience and let me know that, really, it’s understandable if sometimes, late at night, I sit on the toilet in my upstairs bathroom and just sob. Maybe an anti-depressant is in order, she says, and maybe she’s right. But, if it’s understandable that one would sob in such a situation, then, maybe the sobbing’s o.k., too.
Here’s the dilemma, in my mind – life is beautiful, but sometimes the appreciation of that beauty is tempered/put into relief by its pain. I am watching a beautiful man (seriously, if you saw pictures of this guy from the early 50s, you might not be gasping, but you’d at least be thinking B-movie supporting-actor potential; and if you’d heard him sing back then, you’d think you’d heard a serious Sinatra wannabe) decompress into just another one of those old men hanging out in the Dunkin’ Donuts. He talks back to TV commercials and is winded walking up the driveway from his car to the front door. I fear my 70-lb. golden retriever is just going to tip him over someday.
And when he’s gone to bed, and all I hear is the quiet I once heard all the time, before he came to live with me, I think – this is what it will be like, again.
And, really, I appreciate quiet. I’m a quiet person, unlike my father. I really am at peace hearing nothing but the ticking of my great-grandmother’s mantle clock and the periodic snorting of my sleeping dogs. But that quiet will mean that his presence is gone. That this man who spent his life worshiping St. Louis baseball and Benny Goodman and Scottish golf courses has passed. That’s when I cry. I don’t think I need a pill to make that go away. I just need to know there’s another side, after this is over.
My mother died when I was eight. I know what it is to lose a parent. But from that experience, I also know the time it takes to get past, go on, regain life. It’s like I see two tasks in front of me: the getting through and the getting over, maybe like soldiers in a trench see the reflection of artillery fire in the clouds, knowing their captain soon will be calling them forward, knowing their survival – emotional or physical – soon will be on the line. Even if they make it through, their comrades won’t, and they’ll have to live with that knowledge, wondering why. Keeping that anticipation at bay requires a willpower every bit as strong as the sense of duty that carries those soldiers into battle, in the face of enemy artillery and their own fears of death.
So, I get up every morning, make coffee and change wound dressings and breathe deeply, thinking of the quiet I’ll someday, again, enjoy. But not the reason why.