Revisiting Old News
A little bit of news the other night made things better. My mind always goes to the worst scenario with my parents. They are so far away and this distance makes their bumps and bruises and faulty valves all the more menacing to me.
When I hear that my father is failing, getting worse, losing his mind, I go to the space where every breath is the last one. Where my conversations with him take on the tone of farewell. It is extreme, I do understand this, but again the distance.
When things go bad and I have to pack up and get on the move, it is a far journey. A day at a minimum, and the disruption. Two kids at home that need their cook, their chauffeur.
Life does not stop for these things.
At least my father got the opportunity to live a full life. His older brother died youngish, taken out by lung cancer and general hard living. My grandmother, absolutely demolished by the murder of her youngest child. She never really recovered from it. Eventually the drinking and stress took her legs out from under her. She succumbed in her 60s.
My grandfather went out about 10 years later. Early 70s as my father is now. His was a life of heavy smoking. Very heavy. I used to joke with him that he kept lit More 120s going in each room, in ash trays like incense so he could walk around his house and pick up where he left off. I remember him telling me that if he knew how bad it would wreck him when he was young, he would have happily stopped, put them away forever. Instead, throat cancer hit him fast and removed him within months.
And then there is my father. For nearly twenty years he has been outliving stomach cancer expectations. Then heart issues. Either a defect, a childhood illness, or the effects of the radiation that burned through his abdomen, his heart has been failing him for years. Eventually the rest of the body starts to go as well.
I do hope that recovery is in his cards. It would not be out of the realm of possibilities for him to gradually climb out of this hole he has fallen into, to live a few more years with a new outlook. New stories to develop and tell.
I remember sitting in an uncomfortable chair in the critical care unit of the hospital in New Hampshire. My father had lifted himself off the bed he was growing tired of, had creaked his way down to his knees, carefully maneuvering the multiple wires that connected him to the incessant beep beep beep equipment.
I was trying to get him to talk about my uncle Bruce. This was something that in my 48 years I rarely heard him do. I had my phone resting on the arm of my chair, recording. He knelt on the ground because laying prone on the bed made him gasp for air. At this point his lungs were filling with fluid, pneumonia having taking hold.
He danced around the subject between stretches of quiet focus. I could see that he was in some pain, but my father was always stoic in these situations. He could be crippled with crisis, but would simply say that he was feeling fine. All was good. Much better than before. He would try to crack jokes when the creases on his face told me that everything was hurting.
We talked first about how my grandparents dealt with the blow of losing sight of their youngest son. He went missing, and for a period was known to be dead, but the whereabouts of his body’s location was unknown, kept secret by a man hoping to hold out for preferential treatment. He was negotiating. “A bargaining chip” said my father to avoid the chair.
From there, we finally made it to a little bit of detail on Bruce. This guy, related by blood. Very close to my dad. Present in so many pictures of my dad and his family in the far western reaches of New York back in the 50s and 60s. At this point, I questioned him, pried into some fact he raised about Bruce. He dropped his head and said, “I haven’t talked about this too much because it is still painful”. He could share then how much it hurt.
I feel like I am in a race against time. When the flame goes out, all that history gets lost. Maybe in some way, to my father’s family here and gone, forgetting was and is easier. I get that. What is weird is that I look at photos of this guy I never knew and get really sad. It has shaped my fears.
This is developing I am sure, but interesting and weird. For the sake of the families, I hope that they get to some answers quickly.