I was watching a TV show with my husband last night and a reference was made to one of the characters being 47 years old. I looked at her and thought, "Wow, I would have thought she was older." 47 years old is only 6 or 7 years older than me. And I certainly do not look as old as the well dressed woman on the show. I look in the mirror and I see an ageless me. And most of the time I don't feel as old as my birth certificate expects me to either.
I remember when my father was in the hospital, right before he died. I was 28 years old. Prior to that illness my father had been embroiled in a variety of diabetes induced wars, the battles of which I often felt as though I was fighting along side him. I would often get a clandestine telephone call very early in the morning as I was getting ready for work- "Don't tell your mom but I have fallen in the den." I would drive over to my parent's home and breeze past my mother in the living room, smiling and waving a CD. "I'm just going to pop in to give this to Dad before work.", I would say. I would then slowly open the den door, always fearful that this would be the time I would smack him in the head with the door as I entered. I would help him get back in his wheel chair and then help him do or get whatever it was he was trying to do or get when he slid out of the chair in the first place. Then I would sweep back through the living room and out the front door, calling good bye to my mother as the screen door closed behind me. Now that I look back at those moments I wonder if her memory loss wasn't already kicking in a little. How could she not have known what we were doing? I was my father's typist, driver, and confidant. I did my time in the trenches.
I remember sitting with my friends from college during the lunch following the funeral, in the upstairs of the church my father's side of the family has been attending since before I was born. My parents were married in that church, and now we were celebrating a life well lived there as well. Saying goodbye to that marriage that had begun there over 40 years before. I remember that it was hot in that upstairs room, and that two of my friends were discussing the yellow phlegm like dessert concoction sitting in a glob on the plate in front of us. I remember my friends making me smile, all the while thinking that I was only 28. I was too young to have been acting as a caregiver to my father these past few years, and I was certainly too young to be forced to say goodbye.
Now I am nearly 41 years old. I have gotten married and started a family. I have progressed in my career. I have cemented my faith and found a church family. I have traveled the world. I have come so far from that young woman who watched her friends poke at that dessert the day we buried my father. I have shared my father's love of music with my son, and he knows that his grandfather's favorite composer was Beethoven even though his favorite piece was "Largo" from Dvorak's New World Symphony. I often think of my father while playing with my son; he would have shared his love of all things car and race related. He would have enjoyed watching his grandson create a drum set from a 12 pack of toilet paper and magic markers, with CD cymbals. He would have learned his Chinese words right along with him and he would have created a different voice for every one of his stuffed animals. My son knows that his grandfather had a small plastic ant in his office at the middle school where he taught that he named Sam and so my little guy has a red plastic ant also named Sam. It's weird, but my son seems to know and understand this grandfather he has never met better than he knows my mother, who is alive and not so well at the moment, and who lives right around the corner from us. We see her at least 2 or 3 times a week, but I don't think he really knows her. And I would like to say that is because of the Alzheimer's, but I am not so sure. I am not sure I know her all that well either, and I knew her before the memory loss set in.
This is what I have been thinking about since Christmas Eve, when my mother was rushed to the hospital from her assisted living apartment. Later that day found us traveling upstairs to the ICU, where she has been ever since. Later that night saw her placed on a ventilator, a machine breathing for her while her lungs battle pneumonia. Every day save one I have sat by her bed, talking to her emotionless body about Christmas and the toys my son received from Santa. I have covered the weather, my work, her illness, and all the family gossip I could think of. I have had this one way conversation for days, all the while thinking about my father. I feel a little guilty, like I should be more focused on her at that moment, reliving memories of her and planning for the future when she is out of the hospital. Undoubtedly she will recover, spending time in a rehab center before moving back to her little apartment at the assisted living. She will go back to her Wii bowling tournaments and spending random Sunday's in our living room, watching her grandson play. But none of that is on my mind today.