If I don’t write about my father having a heart attack a few weeks back, it doesn’t mean I am indifferent to it’s happening.
It may mean I want to pretend it didn’t happen. It may mean I don’t see any need to ask for comfort. Which writing about it would seem to entail.
He had 95% blockage, or 99% - the story changed as my parents told it. They said, Main aorta. Left ventricle.
They said, Widowmaker, laughing at the melodrama of it all.
My dad said afterwards, Wake up call. He said, Full healing and stent and successful surgery. He said, it’s probably not my heart that’s going to take me.
I don’t want to be the one to whom people say, Oh, I am so sorry.
Because he is fine. My mom called me in the night, that night, after midnight. She had flown all day to be with my sister whose new baby was being blessed, criss-crossing the nation on one of those cheap flights that make you wish for a parachute as you pass, once again, over the state you’re aiming for. Dad had called her at each layover, My chest feels kind of strange. No, I think I’ll just go lie down. I think it’s getting worse maybe I’ll drive up to the hospital. By the time Mom made it in to Midway – Chicago, my dad was in an ambulance to the bigger hospital two hours north.
I’m sorry, I’m sorry, my mom kept saying, calling me after arranging another flight back first thing in the morning, I’m so sorry. I didn’t want to wake your sister. This isn’t like me.
It wasn’t like her.
But I felt completely calm. I knew my dad would be all right. He would, I knew it. And he was. That night I made her laugh, somehow, I don’t remember now. Irreverence of some kind, flippancy. It wouldn’t have seemed funny to you, even if I could remember. My mom laughed with relief.
I called my dad again two days later. He was being discharged that afternoon. His voice stronger again already. Calling on my cell-phone, sitting on the stairs of my friend’s house early in the morning while she made pancakes for her daughter and my daughters and some of their friends. We’d had a Mother-Daughter sleepover while our boys were camping out at Fathers & Sons.
Two days later this friend’s father died of heart attack.
The next week the friend whom everyone thinks is my sister lost her mother. She called me, my friend did, more than once through those long last days, I’m going to miss her so much.
I am wading through the mortality of parents and frankly I don’t like it.
Remember, please, why I am even writing here. Remember that I am more than halfway through this year I gave myself to write my way out of whatever it is that seizes me, as it seemed to want to seize me after my last grandpa died this past September. And I have been just fine. I’m fine. And my dad is fine.
Last Friday, when my mom called to let me know she’d got the itinerary of my flight, because I’m flying out in a week or so to stay with them and help get things ready before the descending of the hordes over the 4th and to just be there for the few days while my mom goes to Girls’ Camp, not because my dad needs someone there really, but just – and besides I want to be there just with him and my son to be there with his grandpa, the three of us – why not?
Talking to my mom I heard my dad say something in the background. My mom laughed, Dad asks if I told you about his little incident?
And as she told me how they had had to go back to the hospital this week – nothing serious, tightness again, it will happen for awhile, he has to take his nitroglycerin – I felt my face stretch into this horrible rictus of grief and silent tears roll down my face, then I’d breathe silently in, out, so I could say, “Oh?” or “Good,” and then the stretching out of my face again. It would have made someone laugh to see it.
Until I realized how ridiculous this is. I told my mom, “This is upsetting me more than – I don’t know maybe you can hear in my voice ”
I know, she said. It’s like I’m carrying around in my heart, these days, some little animal.
“So . . . ”
We laugh together, a little damply.
“So, I’m assuming this is a . . . stable . . . form of nitroglycerin Dad’s carrying around?”
Mom shouts with laughter (I told you, some things just are not that funny outside our familiar dialect) and she told me how he plans to show the rowdy boys he teaches in Sunday School the little yellow canister and warn them against over-jostling him.
So if I keep talking largely of, say . . . loss. And magisterially, as from a distance, or sort of rhetorically about sorrows, in a general and unspecified sense, it may be that I’m scaring away shadows.
I’m not afraid of death, not my death. It’s just that I hate to see them go. The ones I love.
It’s because I’m going to miss them when we are apart.