Although it is now February, the New Year has haunted me every day for over a month.
2014 began with an early morning — 7:30– missed call from my mom. Perplexed by her timing, I surmised to myself that she had just not looked at the clock before dialing to wish me a Happy New Year.
As if on cue, the phone rang while it was still in my hands…
It was the furthest thing from a Happy New Year call. I listened, in shock as I tried to process what she was telling me: there had been some kind of accident, Dad had been out walking, and fell, striking his head, and had a massive inner cranial bleed. He was presently in ICU, but the neurologist had given the prognosis as terminal, with his time remaining as minutes…hours…or possibly a couple of days. My initial response was to do what I could to comfort mom over the phone, and the next was to get on the first plane to be with her, and him, them.
Being that I live in Seattle, and they in Palm Springs, being on a plane in the middle of winter guaranteed a flight with some very senior citizens. Moving quickly was not on the agenda for them. I was fortunate enough to be riding along with a few very compassionate folks. The flight attendant who quietly arranged for my immediate deplaning upon arrival, the passenger who traded seats so I could be closest to the exit, and the kind stranger who directed me to the car rental desk. Every act of “paying it forward” came back to me on the day I needed it most. The kindness of strangers spirited me to Dad’s bedside less than 7 hours after my phone first rang.
Mom & Dad had eight kids between them (I am the youngest). Most of them still live in California, with a few of us in other parts of the country. By 9 p.m. on New Year’s Day, we had all converged at the ICU with some of our spouses, as well as a couple of adult nieces, et all. When you combine: Big Family + Big Emergency you get Big Response.
We hugged, comforted, and consoled Mom and one another. Because Dad had been wise enough to make his wishes known with an advance directive, there was no burden placed upon any of us to make decisions about his finite time remaining. We were free to love, hold his hand, sing a song, and say a prayer…all of which we did.
On Jan 2, Dad passed away, in absolutely no pain from his condition, and blessed to have his wife and kids able to make their final expressions of love to him. Although the weather was sunny and warm, it was of little comfort to my heart as I pushed reality to the back of my mind. Sitting on the back porch it was easy to observe that the world would go on regardless of my pain. So, what now?
For me, the remaining time of my trip was spent accompanying Mom, assisting her with a few household things, and doing my best to just “be there” if she should need me. Because Dad was a touch (read: massive and undiagnosed) OCD, I found myself preoccupied with keeping the house ‘tidy’ during my stay. Dad would not like things to end up in disarray, and the least I could do was to try and keep it the way he preferred.
After a few days, I flew back to Seattle, and on that return trip, it was evident that I still had some kindness left in the karmic bank. I found myself seated next to a lovely woman just a few years younger than my mom, who had also become unexpectedly widowed just a few years before. She graciously shared with me all the thoughts and emotions she experienced that first year of her loss, and comforted me as I returned home to grieve. She was warm and encouraging as she assured me that this is survivable, and we raised a glass of wine to toast the husbands gone too soon, and the awesome ladies they left behind.
There is no timeline for processing the sea of emotion that washes over a person as they process the loss of a loved one. It is as individual as is each person. Just when I thought I had a firm grip on it, I would hear a Dean Martin song (his favorite), see a bottle of Scotch (Glenlivet), or think about Stuffed Bell Peppers (he hated them), and become useless. This is grief. This is real…and it isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. So in the meantime, I’m going to continue cleaning…just like Dad did. (God help my family)
Currently, there are more good days than bad…and the good is lasting longer each time, too. As winter begins to fade, and the days grow longer, I find myself preoccupied with the promise of Spring…and more excuses to clean.