Had a great Memorial Day weekend—got out of the Salt River Valley and up to the White Mountains. Cool pines, aspen trees, wildflowers still blooming. Deer grazing practically up to the cabin, instinctively knowing that hunting season is months away, so it’s safe to taunt the monkeys.
Then I returned home to the Shoe of Damocles.
No, you read that right, the SHOE of Damocles. The sword will fall and kill you where you sit, the shoe, on the other hand, will leave a lump that will be weeks in going down. You will survive the experience, but the feasting and orgies lose their luster for a bit. My grandfather, you see, is dying.
He’s the last of that generation within our family, and would have been ninety-nine this July. (Will be ninety-nine? What is the tense to use when one speaks of one who is currently among the quick, but will soon not be?) He’s been talking to ghosts for the last four-five years, thus, this ending comes as no surprise. He’s going to join his companions now and take his place at their dumb supper.
Fortunately in this day and age, he’s been able to avoid that last trip to the hospital and is in the home and bed he’s lain in for the past fifteen-twenty years, ever since he and his wife broke up housekeeping and moved in close to family. (They’d been in that house since the 1940’s, stacks and stacks of Life magazine piled in closets dating back to the week they moved in.) I wonder sometimes at what we have lost sight of with modern medicine and the ability to preserve life (After a fashion.) (For a limited time.)
The family could have insisted that Pop be taken to the hospital, and loaded into the Intensive Care ward, where strangers would put IV lines in his arms and hands to keep him from dehydrating and in case further measures were required. Ah, but the boundaries between his Then and his Now are thin, thin, so they would have had to tie his hands to the rails to keep him from pulling out the IV’s. And visitors are restricted to visiting hours, and the dietician knows what nutriment would best become him, and he’s all but stone blind and post deaf and surrounded by strangers who don’t know who Walt is (the son who died as a teenager) and can’t tell him that of course the horse was tied up and Daddy will come and take him home soon.
We have nurses in the branch of the family out there, who are more than qualified to comfort him with ice chips and aspirin, to keep the bed clean, and to ease the pressure on his skin to avoid bedsores. And really, what else could be offered save comfort? We’re in the waiting period now.
And how I loathe waiting. Waiting especially for an outcome that you know each and every detail of—there’s no surprises here. It’s like reading a novel where you know each and every twist of the plot—not because you love it so that you’ve memorized it, but because it’s sooooo predictable, right down to the “surprise” wedding you’ve seen coming since the conflict was introduced. And yet, you can’t just put it down and walk away; you have some obligation to wade through this, each and every page, each and every paragraph.
I was very selfishly wishing that the funeral had been held some weeks ago so I could have the awful waiting part behind me, and get on with the healing. Like debridement or lancing a sore—the anticipation hurts more than simply getting it done and healing.
And yeah, at the moment it’s all about me—it IS Margaret I mourn for. “Read a POEM!” as Handy would say. (Handy? Who’s Handy???)
Sometimes I get flashes of empathy with a lemming who’s far enough back in the crush to see the cliff coming and realize what it means, but to have no choice to continue along in the mad rush. Perhaps there are strawberries along the way and perhaps they are amazing sweet as in the Zen parable, but the bottom line is that the moment will end. You’ve lost another talisman between you and the void.
And so one hears the whir of the Black Combine creeping closer and closer through the field.