Two More Hours

Approaching the valet parking attendant’s station Mom stopped the car just shy of the podium, clearly communicating she didn’t require their services while allowing me as close a drop-off to the door as she could navigate. “Find out where I’m supposed to park? I’ll wait here until you do,” she reminded me as I gingerly stepped out of the warm car into the too-early January morning. 

Limping my way through the doorway that read HEART AND VASCULAR CENTER I heard the eerily-loud swoosh of the large double doors’ opening and closing behind and before me in response to the arrhythmic motion of my own body lingering for that moment in their in-between. Left to occupy and to traverse the whole of the corridor between the double double doors behind me and the too-tall circular Welcome Desk — that felt well, less than welcome — here in this January morning, my mind willed my body forward quicker than my still-healing Achilles’ tendon wanted on its own. 

Diane, whose name tag was more visible than the visibility she clearly lacked buried there in the middle of her donut-shaped Desk, openly studied her open bible while expertly handing me my temporary admission tag. She was waiting and ready for me. Would her Jesus help me help my mom, I mused, and out loud asked, “Is it okay for my mom to come inside, to be here with me?” While not saying out loud: She has been sat in her car for all of the (too many) times she drove and dropped him, her husband (my father), at different double double doors that swoosh, through which his was the only admission permissible. 

“Oh sure, Honey. Just tell her to park in the garage below; the entry code is 5576. Then she just needs to ride the elevator to 2 and it’ll put her out right over yonder.” 

“5576” I repeat to Diane and to myself, preparing to repeat it to my mother, as I pivot on “thank you,” and limp back down the still-empty corridor, this time emotionally prepared for the momentary hold of the in-between and blast of the swoosh back into January. Her 2005 burgundy Crown Vic idles patiently; she ever-patient inside. I hurry toward her now-open window via my Achilles’ current (temporary) interpretation of mobility and spill the Good News two steps too soon, too caught up in the miracle of Diane’s Jesus to notice that January snatches sounds it mistakes for warmth, rushing them sideways into its own holding and release patterns not meant for man. My feet catch up with my mouth-to-window ratio and I repeat, “5576! You can park and come in and be with me! Diane from the donut, or maybe her Jesus, said YES! Take the elevator to 2 and I’ll see you inside!” and I pivot again, to traverse my now well-worn path through the double double doors.

We sit together, side-by-side. On the wall opposite is mounted a television whose channel is set to a children’s baking competition, but whose soundtrack is being supplied by the television situated directly above our heads; audibly we know the program is a home renovation and reveal show; we smile at the disparity playing out in front of us in surround sound. Mom shows me the green plastic wristband strapped around her forearm and I tap the sticker on my chest, indicating my admission tag is different because today I am different; I am the one going through the next set of doors alone and without her. The last time we two entered through double double doors together we received matching green plastic wristbands; mine still lives in the bathroom drawer where I slipped it off for the final time June 29, no longer needing to pass through any doors because his admission was a one-way pass. 

My visit is short, long enough for her to read one chapter, maybe two, and we walk out together leaving behind us the two televisions to face off to each other with their combined conflicting comedies. Hospital corridors and doors close behind us with a click, a swoosh and a seal, completing the transaction of our visit with a visceral finality I feel across the entirety of my back, like January’s sideways snatches not meant for man or for me. 

The valet parking attendant, whose services Mom ended up using, brings the car around to just shy of the podium, as close to the double double doors as he can navigate, and trades spaces with my mother still wearing her green plastic wristband. I limp and hop into my seat beside her, lean out into January, pull closed the heavy door, and turn and reach above my right shoulder to drag down the seatbelt strap, and click it into place, securing myself for our side-by-side ride back home.

Adding to the slowly-warming hiss of the car’s heater Mom softly says, her voice gradually rising in pitch, indignation, and notes of despair, “The morning we dropped him off for his surgery they made him come at 6:00 and then made him sit in that lobby — completely alone — for TWO hours! Why couldn’t they let me sit with him?! I could have been with him and held his hand for two more hours. None of this makes any sense to me.” 

“I know, Mom. I know. I am so sorry you couldn’t have those two hours together, side-by-side, on the other side of the other double double doors.” I don’t think even Diane’s Jesus could have helped us back in June the way January blew you through today. Sometimes global pandemics shut doors we would otherwise have walked right through and their gradual and inconsistent reopening makes no sense. 

But since we two are here right now, side-by-side, how would you like to use your two hours?

Everlasting Monuments

The phone rang while she was driving and I intercepted Mom’s determinedly-fumbling fingers to reach her cell and make the safe answer to the call. On speaker he says, “Linda? Linda, it’s Mark with Everlasting Monument Company. I didn’t expect to be calling you so soon but it’s here! Would you like to come by and see it, be sure everything is spelled correctly?”

I only hold the phone, on speaker, next to her face while she keeps driving; she speaks on the side to me, “Would you like to go?” Yes, of course I am a yes. To Mark, “Can we come this morning? At 11?” It’s all agreed and arranged. Mom lets my oldest brother know that today on his birthday, the 54th anniversary of her becoming a mother, at 11:00 we are meeting with Mark to look at the piece of bronze etched with our parents’ names, images, and known dates of birth, marriage and death (Mom’s TBD). 

“It’s mounted on granite,” says Mark in response to my brother’s question, “and we do use cement.” His arm sweeps a wide gesture above the cardboard box and heavy plastic that have been cut open to reveal the undeniably impressive-looking grave marker on the floor at our feet. “What do you think? It looks great, doesn’t it? Is everything spelled correctly? Do you see why we couldn’t put a vase here? It clearly wouldn’t fit.” 

Mom speaks first, “Everything looks beautiful. It’s all spelled correctly. What do you kids think? And Mark, when I go all you’ll have to do is get my date and unscrew that plate and reattach it? That’s all?”

“Fifty years from now, I’ll do it myself, Linda,” Mark lies to her with his professionally-practiced soft smile, and we all smile in deferred reality.

I am ready to no longer be staring at the bronze plate etched with my parents’ names. Soon enough it will be cemented on top of the earth where I take myself to talk out loud with my dad.

From your mouth to God’s ears, Mark; let it be another 50 years before I need to have those out loud conversations with Linda.

The Gardener

The potatoes need to be dug up. The long-dead green bean vines need to be pulled out and composted. The cucumbers haven’t been harvested in at least two weeks; their ability to materialize and then immediately engorge themselves on the vine is nothing short of magical. Sadly, the cukes we have eaten, no matter how small I pick them, are bitter and no amount of salt has been their salvation. And the tomatoes — we planted 14 of them, maybe six varieties, but 14 different plants. They’re prolific, to say the least. The squirrels and birds are getting well-fed on the abundant crop. I can’t eat them all. We talked about salsa, tomato soup or even spaghetti sauce, but haven’t picked more than three tomatoes since that wishful conversation three weeks ago. 

The ground is every bit as red as the heavy-laden plants, littered after the crowd dispersed and left their fruit behind to decay without attention because the gardener is gone. He’s not coming back to clean up the messiness of what he so meticulously planned and we then planted. His spreadsheets, order forms, lists, and labeled popsicle sticks now lie in piles I can’t find or make order out of the weeds in their wake.

The zinnias clambering all summer long for the front seat screaming, “SHOTGUN!” are now elbowing each other in the face and tumbling toward the ground, unable to stop the stampede they started and my attempts to fence them in again look paltry in comparison to the original vision of ordered tall down the middle, medium next, then shortest on the outside, cascading heights along both lengths of the flowerbed. Is this overgrowth and death and abundance just because it’s late August or is it because the master planner, the gardener, is gone? I know he’s not coming back. 

I love being in the garden, although double-edged for me. I feel closest to him there, weeding, transplanting, harvesting. And saddest for the same reasons.

I dug up all the potatoes. I started with the pitchfork but couldn’t dig without stabbing one spud on every plunge. The potatoes were too close to the surface; they were planted just before I got here. Helpers from elsewhere came to assist; to be directed and taught by the gardener: how to turn your soil, how to lay the yardstick to measure your stakes’ distance from each other, how to slip the string over the end of the opposite stake making the line taut, how to hoe down the row as you go and exactly what amount of space to leave between each hill, and how to bury them so completely to ensure their growth into brand new potatoes. 

Their greens were beautiful; the prettiest the gardener had ever seen. When he went away I kept watch, kept watering, kept talking to the buried spuds. There were potatoes popping above-ground! It was too soon. They were green like their tops — I had to bury them again, had to coax them back down, give them more time, do the work that the gardener trusted others to do but they weren’t deep enough. I could see evidence. Bucket after bucket after bucket of mulch I shoveled, hauled, dumped and spread. I laid a fresh and false blanket on top of the bed, urging the potatoes in whispered tones: Keep growing; it’s not time yet.

I laid aside the pitchfork and dropped down to my knees. I dug with my hands, cradling each potato to wipe it of the earth dirt clinging to its sides before tossing them into the now mulch-free buckets that buried them back down two months ago.

They aren’t all strong and mighty like a Russet is “supposed” to be, but the gardener worked through me to grow something in the end, something that we did together. And after the harvest buckets were hauled inside, I cried my own buckets of tears, weeping for the gardener whose harvest survives him but lies buried on the surface of the ground, visible beauty decaying, seeding, burying itself until it flowers again in its season.

The Best We Can

My dad died. But that didn’t happen in a day. There was all the stuff leading up to my dad dying: the Christmas diagnosis, the chemo treatments, the scheduled surgery, the excessively long recovery in the hospital, the restrictions in place because of Covid preventing us from even entering the hospital to be with him during said recuperation. And then the three phone calls: 

1. Your dad’s leak hasn’t repaired itself yet but I’m sending him home in three days’ time because he will heal better at home than here alone. It’s going to be a long slow process. I’ll talk with you soon; I’m off to the OR for the rest of the day.

2. Your dad is being moved back to ICU and probably being intubated. Oh and his heart stopped for eight minutes talk to you later, maybe? bye.

3. You need to come to the hospital right away; your dad’s heart stopped for another four minutes, hurry, don’t stop, come NOW.

Hurried phone calls, quick text messages, even faster than a heart beat prayers ascending, so many questions, too many thoughts, overcrowding emotions, hurrying up to slow down a goodbye.

He 

She 

We 

Are all really doing the best we can.

He — my dad — is doing the best he can to breathe, to heal, to beat in time with his desire to stay.

She — my mother — is doing the best she can to breathe, to hurt, to heal in time with her desire for him to be here with her.

We — my Self and siblings — are doing the best we can to breathe, to hold, to choose our parting words before the parting is gone, leaving a trail of should haves in its wake.

He — my dad — couldn’t sustain his own living will. 

She — my mother — couldn’t hold on to a heart whose beating isn’t her own.

We — my Self and siblings — couldn’t have imagined the single-file opening of parting through which we have now walked, exit option non-existent.

The best we can is shattering, heartfelt and unavoidable. 

“Any feeling fully felt leads to love,” says Gay Hendricks. 

“Just lead with love and there’s no need to feel your way back to it,” says I, my Self, my heart bursting open wide from its freshly-tender new room with a view, no door back to where it lived before, there is only an opening to a deeper place, it’s ahead of me and not behind. And 

He

She

We

Are all really doing the best we can right there.

The Best We Can

My dad died. But that didn’t happen in a day. There was all the stuff leading up to my dad dying: the scheduled surgery, the excessively long recovery in the hospital, the restrictions in place because of Covid preventing us from even entering the hospital to be with him during said recuperation. And then the three phone calls: 

1. Your dad’s leak hasn’t repaired itself yet but I’m sending him home in three days’ time because he will heal better at home than here alone. It’s going to be a long slow process. I’ll talk with you soon; I’m off to the OR for the rest of the day.

2. Your dad is being moved back to ICU and probably being intubated. Oh and his heart stopped for eight minutes talk to you later, maybe? bye.

3. You need to come to the hospital right away; your dad’s heart stopped for another four minutes, hurry, don’t stop, come NOW.

Hurried phone calls, quick text messages, even faster than a heart beat prayers ascending, so many questions, too many thoughts, overcrowding emotions, hurrying up to slow down a goodbye.

He 

She 

We 

Are all really doing the best we can.

He — my dad — is doing the best he can to breathe, to heal, to beat in time with his desire to stay.

She — my mother — is doing the best she can to breathe, to hurt, to heal in time with her desire for him to be here with her.

We — my Self and siblings — are doing the best we can to breathe, to hold, to choose our parting words before the parting is gone, leaving a trail of should haves in its wake.

He — my dad — couldn’t sustain his own living will. 

She — my mother — couldn’t hold on to a heart whose beating isn’t her own.

We — my Self and siblings — couldn’t have imagined the single-file opening of parting through which we have now walked, exit option non-existent.

The best we can is shattering, heartfelt and unavoidable. 

“Any feeling fully felt leads to love,” says Gay Hendricks. 

“Just lead with love and there’s no need to feel your way back to it,” says I, my Self, my heart bursting open wide from its freshly-tender new room with a view, no door back to where it lived before, there is only an opening to a deeper place, it’s ahead of me and not behind. And 

He

She

We

Are all really doing the best we can right there.

Growing Pains

My dad died in the middle of the night Monday morning. 

As a little girl I often woke in the middle of the night my legs hurting so much I would cry out in pain and into my room would come my daddy, with his soothing voice to calm me and take me in his arms to assure me everything was alright, that my legs were simply growing and that sometimes growing hurts. I can still feel the two extremities of those middle of the night moments: the exhaustion of my small body lying rigid and racked with pain, hot wet tears forcing their way through my closed lids, dropping off the short cliff at the corners of my eyes, cascading into cold pools inside my ear cavities coupled with my father calmly and gently massaging the calves of my little legs with rubbing alcohol, all the while reminding me that everything was alright, that sometimes growing bigger can hurt, but the hurt wouldn’t last, and that my legs would be stronger in the morning. 

At the time my daughter started experiencing growing pains of her own, she and I were living with my parents. When she cried out in the night it was my father who would go into her room, rubbing alcohol in-hand, with his familiar and soothing assurances of how okay everything was. Even after she and I moved into our own home, whenever those middle of the night pains showed up, my very little growing girl would phone her grandfather, waking him from his sleep, and he would get dressed, drive to our house with rubbing alcohol in-hand and calmly put her back to sleep with his soothing reminders of how much stronger she would be in the morning.

I will always remember sitting next to and holding my dad’s hand throughout the entirety of the middle of the night Saturday, hot wet tears silently leaking their way down my face, acutely feeling and aware of the two extremities of daddy’s moment: the physical exhaustion of his strong and courageous body racked with pain, tender tears of love in his eyes looking at me with lingering thoughts of what might be left to do, to say, to feel, to see, coupled with calm and gentle assurances from my heart to his that everything was alright, that letting go was okay, that his hurting won’t last, and that our love will be here in the morning, stronger than ever.