Friday, July 21, 2006

O, How the Mighty Have Fallen

I went to see my dad today. Re-read yesterday's post first, since it somewhat constitutes the "before" in this "before/after" scenario.

Ok, done? One of the nursing home ladies showed me to his room, which consists mainly of a hospital curtain, a knee-high bed, and a mat on the floor next to it (presumably to roll him out of bed). I walked around the curtain and looked at him. If I'd not known that this was in fact my father of the last 29 years, I'd have thought it was a leftover prop from a John Carpenter movie. My sister had been telling me for a while now that he'd been "declining," but that's a serious understatement. It's like saying Hiroshima was a little smoke and a couple of fires.

I hadn't seen him in person since Thanksgiving, and in the last 8 months, to see him now, you'd think 20 years have passed. Walking into the room and looking at him hit me like a truck. It was chilling to see him in his present condition....he doesn't talk, can't move, has lost a lot of weight, and his jaw has drooped down on his face to the point that it just hangs open. His eyes were sort of open but completely vacant while I was there, and he was completely unresponsive the whole time. His eyes moved a couple of times, but it seemed more random than focused. I'm not even sure he had any idea I was standing there.

It's a sight I may never forget. I wouldn't wish his current condition on anyone. Just laying there, immobile, unable to even speak, only vaguely aware that he's alive. I wasn't sure what that would feel like, how I would react. I went in there to see the man who annoyed and frustrated me to no end for years, and in the blink of an eye, seeing this gaunt ghost of what's barely a human being anymore, all of that resentment vanished. I couldn't be angry or upset at this person anymore. He's a mind trapped inside a body that's lost the will to live. I can't imagine anything worse than that.

So I knelt down beside him, took his stiff, unresponsive hand in mine, looked into those vacant eyes and said, "I wish things could have been better between us, but I know you did the best you could."

I said I was going to go for a while, but that I'd be back later. It was all I could do to get outside the building before that choking feeling grabbed me like a vice and the tears started coming. It's almost 7 hours later and they haven't fully stopped yet.

1 comment:

jim miller said...

i read both posts. see, i usually read your posts every 3 months when i post...lol. well, gladly, i am not in your shoes yet. but in spring/summers 2000 and 2006, i've lost both grandfathers where i had some of the same feelings you had with your father. i had not seen my mother's father for close to 20 years when he was failing and finally died this summer. seeing my grandmother weak then dead were not happy times for me, so since then, i haven't been rushing out to see people before they die. at the funeral "party" for my grandfather i saw family members like cousins and uncles that i hadn't seen in 20+ years. currently, i have a brother who is headed in that direction...doesn't want to be bothered with his side of the family, but with the wife's family, anything goes.
since my mother was my nemesis as a child, i've had similar thoughts as you about wanting an apology, about wanting things to be different...but too bad, life is harsh, dude. hopefully, we don't forget our current feelings when we are fortunate enough to raise children ourselves. hopefully, we apologize and make things right on a daily or weekly basis, rather than wait until we're a shriveled up corpse. i guess the thing to realize is that your dad's dad was probably a harsh father-figure to your dad...and parents have a lot of pressures and responsibilities that you and i have never faced. so, now i know the reason i haven't heard from you yet...so, take your time, man. hang in there.