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.

Pink Walls and The Partridge Family

Sweat drips off my face, my heart is pounding, and all I can think about is that 4th of July we spent together in New Mexico three years ago — wrapped together in the big red blanket from the trunk of my car watching the fireworks light up Albuquerque. Ha! I can never not start singing, “Point me . . . In the direction of Al-buh-ker-ke-e-e. . . I want to go ho-oh-ah-ome. I need to get ho-oh-ohm.” I love hearing your laugh melt into those beautiful tenor notes joining me by the “I need to get ho-oh-ohm” every single time.

Do you ever wonder about the Partridge Family? I mean really wonder about the impact that family and their bus had on popular culture? I only wonder about it sometimes because I like singing “Al-buh-ker-ke-e-e” and also because my sister had a crush on David Cassidy and a poster of him hung in our shared bedroom for at least a year. Last week I saw an image of a young Partridge Family era David Cassidy gracing a wall clock on a shelf in an antique shop. It made me smile.

Did I ever tell you about the time I took a bite out of my sister’s 45? Okay, this is definitely worth repeating. I was probably four or five years old and my sister had boy crushes on lots of teen dreams from the 70s, David Cassidy among them. Anyway, she had a collection of 45s and her own record player, which strikes me as odd only because she was so young. I mean, how old were you when you were noticeably experiencing crushes for the first time? I can’t remember even being aware of boys at the age of 9 but whatever. She definitely had her own records and posters hanging on the wall and I know because we shared a room — geez that bedroom was my everything. Did I tell you the walls were pink, like Pepto Bismal pink, but please whatever you do don’t ever give me Pepto Bismal because it makes me throw up, which I think is kind of the point of it, but honestly it’s so disgusting. Anyway, we had pink walls and pink gingham canopies with matching bedspreads and pillow shams and curtains on the windows. There wasn’t anything in that room that wasn’t touched by pink and I loved every bit of it.

So my sister had her records in a little record box with a push-button latch on the front and mostly I liked to push that button and spring open the latch and then click it shut and do it all over again because I didn’t care much for records. But once I was playing with the lock on the record box and opened the lid just to look at the 45s lined up shining black in a row, covered in their sleeves, black shiny side up for easy access. And it was shining up at me so I picked it up out of the box and turned it over and looked at the picture on the cover of the sleeve and the little record slid out of its envelope and into my little hands. And it was slick and smooth and the grooves of the record going round waaaanted to be touched and I was so excited just to hold it and hug it close to my chest because I was too little to play with records because I might scratch them.

I wasn’t wanting to scratch anything. But the biggest urge to TASTE overcame me and I lifted that 45 up like a sandwich to my mouth and closed my lips on either side of the record and took a bite. Into my mouth fell a little semi-circle the exact shape of my teeth’s circumference, and I promptly spit it into my hand and brushed it into the waste bin, smearing my own spit as I wiped my hands clean of any evidence of guilt. I placed the 45 back in its sleeve, and the sleeve back in the box, and pushed closed the box latch, and put the box back on her side of the room, and skipped out of our shared pink room, closing the door behind me, remembering only one thing: vinyl records do not taste as good as they look and if I could choose a poster for my pink wall it would have been of the Partridge Family Schoolbus. 

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.