Dad wore a too-big wool coat to fit around his multiple layers. He looked out the van window at his home on 311 East Main Street. “Good bye . . . old house.” He choked on the words as his eyes filled with tears. “You . . . served us well.”
I wished we had time to sit and reminisce, understand, celebrate, forgive—countless Christmas’ and summers, long tables with family conversation and food, grandkids, celebrations, plus-one visits, minus-one endings, coming outs, prayers, politics, illnesses, Tim (my brother) died in this house, . . . mom and dad grew old. But we were already late for the nursing home admission so I began to pull away from the curb.
“Back up” my sister demanded from the back seat.
She sat next to mom who in addition to her winter coat was swaddled in a red and blue hand-knitted afghan. My sister held up the camera on her phone as mom started to sing ”This Ole House” but the only words she remembered were “Ain’t a-gonna need this house no longer. I’m a-gettin’ ready to meet the saints.”
Here’s the first verse and chorus (think white people gospel music and Lawrence Welk):
And if you want the 80’s YouTube version:
Underneath my smile at my mom’ s sense of timing and humor (that ironically seems to get sharper with age), was my own wall of tears waiting for their turn. Laughter and tears are married in times such as these. Not now, I told myself as I put the van in drive, leaving their home in the rearview mirror.
* * * * *
Even though my sister and I had just been in Wisconsin three weeks earlier, we both decided that we were supposed to return. As much as I tried to talk myself out of it, I knew I had to go. It felt like a calling. My dad used to talk about getting “the call” from God whenever he decided it was time for our family to move. I was always skeptical because I never heard the phone ring. Maybe a calling is when you know something even though you never received a phone call.
When we arrived, things had changed significantly from our last visit. When we left in December, mom seemed to be making a slow but steady recovery from her hospitalization for heart failure. But now mom was even more fragile, barely eating or drinking, unable to take herself to the bathroom, recently had fallen, frequently expressed her belief that she was dying and refused to see a doctor. She required help with everything. At night like an infant she needed us almost every 2 hours but instead of crying, she used a school bell—which she rang like life depended on it—I think it did.
Dad was doing his very best but was clearly overwhelmed by mom’s needs and her seeming letting go of life. It was heart breaking. He was obsessed with making things better—changing doors and moving beds to make the house more conducive to their needs. Yet we also witnessed the cracks forming around his hope. It was almost too painful to watch—the man who views self-sufficiency as one of the Ten Commandments brought to his knees. Loss and grief were palpable.
Maybe the process of showing up is not something you learn. Perhaps it always feels like the first time because it’s supposed to . . . because it is. Showing up means I step onto a blank canvas in spite of my fear and say yes to the thing that is yet to be. It’s a birth—it’s always hard and always a miracle.
Daily Bites and Blessings
Welcome to "Daily Bites and Blessings." Pull up a chair. I’ve set a place for you at the table. These edibles are sometimes bitter, sometimes sweet and often they are both. This is a come as you are party. I invite you to bring your compassion, courage, and curiosity as we dine together on life's bounty. May our time together give us more light and more love.