Archive for the ‘Change and Continuity’ Category

The First Red Leaf

October 7, 2005 13 comments

For me, as soon as the first leaf turns crimson and falls from a tree, we’re heading inexorably toward Thanksgiving. Not just the Thanksgiving of turkey dinners sharpened by tart red berries and anxiety-freighted or wonderful (or more often both) family gatherings.

No, for me, Thanksgiving is also the last day I saw my father alive. We had always promised that he would never have to go to a nursing home. It’s the kind of vow many families make, utterly believing it, but naively unaware of how complex and expensive illness can become. Complex enough that it cannot be managed at home. Expensive enough to be prohibitive. My father had a feeding tube and a problem with aspiration that required constant monitoring by a well-trained staff.

But this is not about the indignity or the occasional necessity of nursing home care. This is about that fall when an amazing and incredible thing happened to my father: He got sick and confused, and I took him to the hospital where he got more sick and confused. Then he was transferred briefly to the nursing home where he died.

It is, of course, the most common story in the world. But I–middle aged, and fancying myself fairly intelligent–never really understood it. Oh, I knew about death of course. I regularly read the obituary pages, mourned for the victims of the mass tragedies that regularly seize our collective consciousness. I had not reached the age of forty without losing some friends and distant family members. But until I saw my father’s uninhabited body, I never really knew.

When I visited him two days before his death, Dad was in a state of great excitement. “Great excitement” was a phrase that could also describe the way he lived much of his life, so the family was pleased to see him acting like himself. Though his mind was still confused, he was planning something big. He called all his grandchildren on the phone, and told them about it. “Everyone is coming,” he said, and there was going to be some kind of a parade. When it was over they would all go to my mother’s house.

“It’s our house, ” my mother interrupted, tugging on a sleeve. “Not mine.”

“No,” he insisted with great firmness. “It’s your house.” Those words would haunt her.

He struggled to remove his wedding band, and the medal he had worn since he was nineteen when he’d joined the Coast Guard.

“Take these,” he said, and turned away. When I tried to give them back, to remind him how important they were to him, his voice grew stronger. “Take them!”

Before we left, he asked us to wheel him to the doorway, but when we started for the front door, he shook his head in frustration. “Not this one. The back door.”

We laughed, still not understanding what he was telling us, but enjoying the return of his old enthusiasm, the strong will that had sometimes tyrannized us. “This is the door they’ll take me out,” he said matter of factly when we showed him the back exit.

In a September issue of the New York Times Magazine, Joan Didion writes movingly about the loss of her husband, John Gregory Dunne. In it, she refers to Philip Ares when she says that death: “gives advance notice of its arrival. Gawain is asked ‘Ah, good my lord, think you then so soon to die?’ Gawain answers ‘I tell you I will not live two days.’ Ares notes: ‘Only the dying man knows how much time he has left.'”

It’s your house,” my father said.

Yes, fall comes again, and that first leaf turns red. Soon it will be Thanksgiving and once again, I will think of my father as he was on his last day. They had dressed him up in someone else’s clothes. A pair of brown corduroy slacks, an attractive plaid shirt. Someone had brought in a TV set and he was watching “Rosie O’Donnell.”

I wanted to talk, of course, but he was pretty much done with that. He sat in a wheelchair in another man’s clothes, his hands clasped beside his head in a familiar pose, and waited with great peace for what would come next.

Written by Patry Francis, of The Marvelous Garden.

Meta-morphosis X (Primo)

October 6, 2005 12 comments

Two Finger Poems

October 5, 2005 9 comments

Each finger-bone pulled from the next
Splitting, hissing, in the loosening flame
Slowly unmaking the hands that have served so long,
Clutched so hard.

Each brittle word wrenched from the text
Crumbling, blurring, undoing each name
Slowly unwriting the poems that have masked the song,
Closed my heart.

Written by Dale Favier, of Mole.

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