Three and a half years ago, I started this blog it with the sole intent of telling my children’s stories. I wanted to document, relish and mourn the passing of time with them. One of my first blogs was about Zach’s march toward freedom and his learner’s permit. I waxed poetic (or maybe not quite so poetic) about how it made me feel to think one of my children would soon be a little more grown up and ready to leave our nest.
Today, Lucas achieved the same milestone that was the catalyst for the this blog. He took the test so he could get his learner’s permit. And he passed.
I couldn’t be more proud of him.
But today was totally different then it was three years ago when I dreaded the day I had to take Zach to the DMV. I counted down those days, wishing each one back as the days flew by, faster and faster.
Today snuck up on me. I knew it was coming, but I didn’t know it was today. Lucas had to remind me this morning by asking if I was going to pick him up early so he could take his test. My focus has been everywhere but on my feelings of sadness about my sweet, little Lucas growing up and getting ready to stretch his wings a little.
I haven’t been here for a while, on this blog. I haven’t had time to blog. Or maybe, really, I simply haven’t had the emotional energy to blog, or work on my books. I’ll tell the story of why I don’t have the emotional energy. I think it all ties together on why I let Lucas’ learner’s permit test day sneak up on me…
Since the end of February my dad has had two heart attacks and two strokes.
The heart attacks put him in the hospital for a week each. His heart can’t be repaired. It’s too weak and the arteries are too calcified to risk stenting them. His cardiologist wouldn’t touch his arteries with a ten foot pole. The surgery could have easily killed him. Instead, medications were ordered to help keep the heart attacks at bay and his heart pumping as well as it could.
After the two heart attacks came the strokes…
The first stroke hit while Claire and I were cavorting through France with her French class. I got a phone call from one of my parents’ neighbors one night at dinner. She had no idea I was in France. She wanted to know what happened to my dad and couldn’t get a hold of my mother, so she called me. According to my friends, my face turned white when I saw who was calling me. I had a feeling something would happen while we were gone, but I never considered a stroke. I talked to Stan and he eased my fears, and my conscience, a little when he told me that my dad was doing pretty well for a man who had two heart attacks and a stroke. I breathed a little sigh of relief, kept the news from Claire and finished out our trip. My dad was released from the hospital the day Claire and I flew home. It was the day before Easter and plans were made for Easter Mass and a lovely dinner and family time. It was good to be home.
We stopped at my parents’ house on the way to ours. I needed to see my parents. I needed to see my dad. I needed to know he was OK. I needed to tell him our stories. I needed to be there.
On Sunday morning as we were getting ready for Mass, and dinner and family time, I got a text from my mom that went something like this…
“Dad’s left side of his face is sagging and his speech is slurred.”
And then my phone rang. It was my mom. It looked like he had another stroke. The ambulance was called and another trip to the emergency room began. I told my mom I’d meet her there. Claire and I rushed to get ready and out the door. All three of us arrived at the same time.
We converged on the ER waiting room and then it happened. The thing I didn’t think could happen. My mom broke down in tears. In all of the other three emergencies, she held it together. She was tough and strong. But on Easter morning, she broke down and I was the one who had to try to be strong for her. I had to take on the role of the protector, the strong one. It was up to me, in that instance, to be the strong one.
My dad was re-admitted to the hospital less than 18 hours after he was discharged. They believe he had a TIA (trans-ischemic attack), which is where blood flow to part of the brain is stopped briefly, causing stroke-like symptoms. His face mostly recovered and his speech came back within hours, but his vision was gone. They put him on the neurology floor to observe him for the night.
In the middle of that first night back, my dad got out of bed to use the bathroom and he fell. His hip fractured at the top. The ball joint just snapped. His hip broke in two. Early that next afternoon, Easter Monday, a decision was reached by the doctors that my dad’s hip needed to be replaced. Everything happened so fast. There was no time to think. No time to feel. We just had to act. Decisions flew by left and right. He was scheduled for surgery late Monday afternoon.
Not long after they took him down for surgery, the phone in the waiting room rang for my mom. It was the surgeon. My dad’s blood pressure couldn’t be stabilized, it was bottoming out. His heart wasn’t strong enough for surgery. They were calling to ask permission to stop resuscitative measures on my dad. We were told he wasn’t going to make it. We were told to come and say good-bye.
The tears began to flow. My mom said, “I’m not ready to let him go.” It was the hardest sentence I’ve ever heard my mom say.
My brother, mother and I went to say our good-byes. And wouldn’t you know…as soon as he heard my mom’s voice he opened his eyes and a little color came back to his cheeks. The color of death began to fade away.
He’s still here, but he’s not the same. It’s been a rough three weeks, or three months if you throw in his heart attacks. His vision is gone. His hearing is gone. He’s lost so much weight that his dentures don’t stay in. He’s a shell of himself. He doesn’t know who I am. At least I don’t think he does. Sometimes he thinks I’m his sister, sometimes he just really doesn’t know who I am, but he tries hard not to admit it. Sometimes he thinks it’s 1957. Sometimes he thinks its 1640. I think he knows who my mom is, which is the only small, bright spot in all of this.
We put him in a nursing home and planned his funeral. The nursing home will probably be where he lives out the remainder of his days there, however long that will be.
I said above that I’ve been too busy to blog, and then I said I didn’t have the emotional energy to blog. But the truth of the matter is that I haven’t wanted to blog. I haven’t wanted to see this story down in black and white. I haven’t wanted to tell this story because telling it makes it real and I don’t want it to be real. I don’t want to feel the emotions of this story.
I remember when I was in the thick of having babies and raising little ones. People would ask me how old my kids were and I would respond with, “They’re five, two and half and six months,” or, “they’re 10, seven and five” or, “they’re 15, 12 and 10.” And invariably people would say, “Oh, you’re one busy mom. I don’t know how you do it.”
Well, when you’re in the thick of things you just do it. You bull through it and do it. When the kids were babies, there wasn’t time to feel. There was just time to do. That’s kind of how it is now. There’s not a whole lot of time to feel. It’s only time to do. It’s the only way to survive.
I don’t know who I’m really kidding here.
The fact is, I don’t want to feel. If I let the feelings take over too much it will result in a bone-crushing, soul-wrenching pain. And I don’t have time for that.
You see, in writing this down ~ in seeing it there in black and white ~ the story takes on a whole new meaning…
Lucas is my dad. If you didn’t know any better, you’d swear they were biologically related. They’re shaped the same. They can eat anything they want and never gain an ounce, but if you take one bite of food away from them, they lose weight faster than you can imagine. Neither of them ever complain about discomfort or pain. They both delight in the quirky and unusual. They have twisted senses of humor. They both share a love of history. But most importantly, for this story anyway, they have a wonderful, sweet, shared memory.
This evening after I dropped Claire at swim practice, I stopped by to see my dad. I wanted to tell him Lucas’ happy news. I wanted him to hear it from me that Lucas got his learner’s permit. And it was as I was saying, “Dad, guess what Lucas did today?” that I remembered. I saw my dad’s eyes light up at the sound of Lucas’ name and I remembered. My dad was the first one to take Lucas driving. Lucas was 13 years old when my dad took him out in his 1997 Lincoln Town Car. It’s a giant behemoth of a car and he let Lucas drive it. He let Lucas cruise through the streets of their retirement community. And he never once batted an eye when Lucas rolled through stop signs or drifted to the center of the road. He just let Lucas drive. So today as I said, “Dad, guess what Lucas did?” and I watched his face light up at the sound of my voice and the mention of Lucas’ name. I let Lucas’ happy news roll off my tongue and saw my dad’s excitement for him was genuine and from the heart. The gentleman sitting next to my dad clapped wildly for Lucas. And my heart broke a little more.
I may be too tired to feel, but the feelings are there anyway. And it’s a whole pot of emotions all stirred together in one giant bubbling mass, threatening to spill at any time. So if you see me and I look tired to you, know I already realize how tired I look, but please know I’m really not too tired to feel. I just really don’t want to.
Oh, for the love of my children….