Wednesday, August 28, 2013

When My Mother Was Terminally Ill, She Said My Dad Would Only Last Six Months Without Her

She shared this with me as she pointed out where they kept their wills.  She was wrong (to her eternal consternation, I'm sure). He lasted nearly three years without her.

My Dad died on August 18, 2013.  At home, in his sleep, without fanfare.  It is, I think, how he would have wanted it.  Really, goddamn, isn't that how we all want it?  The ultimate Irish Goodbye.

I'm so sad. I loved him so very much, and haven't absorbed the myriad ways in which his gone-ness will impact me.  But, some truth:  since my mother passed away, my father has repeatedly said he was 'despondant.' He would also tell me that he thought he was very clever, marrying a woman thirteen years his junior, cementing (in his mind) the notion that she would outlive him, and take care of him in his dotage.

When that didn't happen, when she got sick, it threw him for a loop.  I remember hugging him as he sobbed -- for only a half a second -- in the waiting room when the doctors said that the sample they'd extracted from her innards confirmed small cell lung cancer.  It claimed her five months later, just as the stats said it would.

He never really recovered.  He put on a brave face, and was there for my mother in every way.  But they were so entwined, so thoroughly enmeshed in each other, that when she died, he didn't know how to be.

I don't fault him for this.  That's love.  Pure, unadulterated adoration.  She was gone, he was done (in spirit).  The week before he died, his heart rate was elevated.  We weren't sure why.  We took him to see his doctors (geriatric specialists at Hopkins) twice that week.  They ran tests, drew blood, and gave him the all clear (with scheduled return visits for monitoring).

But then he died in his sleep.

He was 82.  This is not tragic, in the grand scheme of things.  But he was my father, the man who sang 'reveille' to me to wake me up for school; who walked me to school while whistling complicated scales; who read to me and my younger brother every night, asking us to 'stay sweet'; who embraced scatological humor at the dinner table; who read us 'the funnies' in the morning when they made him chuckle; who taught me how to wield a hammer to frightening effect; who gave me a wildly expensive camera when I was thirteen because it was a shared interest; who listened to my plea to go to art camp while he was bedridden and recovering from a hernia operation; who picked me up from a bazillion after-school events; who, despite initially greeting my husband by the incorrect 'Jake,' went on to have endless sci-fi conversations with him (which only makes sense since he was born on the cusp of a golden age of comics and science fiction); who knelt down and played on the floor with all of my children, and delighted in their every milestone.  This man who loved me, who would help me whenever I asked, whom I was helping as he grew older...  He's just gone.  And I am bereft. 

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Parenting Milestone

I had a kid over for dinner who has a lethal peanut allergy, and I didn't kill him!

Am I (neighborhood) mother of the year, or what?

Some of my nephews have really bad allergies, so they are not a foreign concept to me (the allergies, I mean; not the nephews).  The boys have eaten at my house plenty of times, and I didn't kill them either.  But, their mother -- my sister -- is usually around, and I'm able to ask her, "Hey -- Fleischmann's margarine doesn't have peanuts in it, right?"

I guess what I'm trying to say is that my former peanut-free hosting duties were a little...  Lazy.  Lazy is what they were.  Sure, I'd read food labels for the obvious stuff, but I'd still thrust the package at her to make sure I didn't miss something.  I had back-up.  She'd tell me if that chicken bouillon is no good, or if that sauce is a problem.

In a play date situation, though, the other parent hands you an epi-pen and waves buh-bye.  His Dad does not stick around to serve as a safety inspector.  You have to make sure that the hamburger buns aren't manufactured in a facility that also handles nuts, and that you scrub the table where your daughter ate a deadly, deadly peanut butter sandwich a mere eight hours earlier, and then you have to give your husband the stink eye because he made her that sandwich when he KNEW a kid with a peanut allergy was coming over later (and sometimes kids drop food on tables then pick up that food and put it in their mouths), and you have to buy special desserts like these because you can't be sure that any of the other desserts you already have in the pantry are OK because you threw out the packaging during your weekend organizational/purge frenzy, and (deep breath) you have to stare at the kid's mouth like a felon to watch for any hive breakouts.

It is only when the kid finishes his meal, eating mostly the gobs of fruit you heaped upon it, and disappears into the basement to play, that you can breathe.