Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Right Father for Me

Over the last several months as I watch my father slowly dying, I find myself struggling to put together some sort of letter or speech that will make it all okay. I want to tie our experiences together up into a neat little package that I can present to him. I envision myself sitting next to him in a lucid moment, my eyes tracking the movement of his hands as he struggles to untie the ribbon. I imagine my father covered by a sheet that hides the insubstantial frame of bones and skin to which he has been reduced.

I sit, not daring to breathe as he takes in the weight and purpose of this gift. I watch as his brow furrows in confusion at first, and then relaxes into comprehension. The stillness of my face finally breaks as he looks at me, eyes wet with tears and we share a perfect moment of recognition - a common understanding that what has gone before is exactly what needed to happen. For both of us. The anger and bitterness, the shame of failure in the eyes of the other, the distance and then the coming together. The acceptance of each other for who we are. The deep wellspring of love that, once found will never be capped again.

In my actual life, I feel a strong sense of inadequacy. A searching, a longing to discover the precise words or tokens that can convey my true sentiments. And now, as he fails ever more quickly, a frantic quality has come to call. I want to find a way to tell him before it is too late. There is no need for apology or regret. No alternate scenarios. He is, and always was, the only right father for me.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Goods

So, before I so rudely interrupted the tales of my journey to England, I was detailing our exploits....

I should say that about a week before I flew, I took my girls to Target and Trader Joe's to fill a suitcase for the trip. Lest you misunderstand, it is not me who has difficulting living without the wares these stores provide. I was presented with a wish list by my friend, who had spent more than a decade living in the states and had gotten quite attached to some of the things she can only get here. Certain cleaning products that make her life significantly easier can only be purchased at Target. Our favorite Weight Watchers indulgence, Junior Mints, simply do not exist in the UK. And let's don't forget the children. Packets of macaroni and cheese are pretty hard to come by, at least those that are as inexpensive and tasty as Trader Joe's brand. And Laffy Taffy? Forget about it. Cheerios? The ones you get in England are super-sweet and hard to stomach if you've been brought up eating American-style ones.

I was more than happy to arrive bearing a suitcase stocked with comfort items. My girls were thrilled to be included in the shopping, especially because they weren't joining me on the trip. Unbeknownst to me, Bubba packed a little something extra in my suitcase, too. I was so busy visiting and soaking up every minute of time I spent with my friends that I didn't even notice until Day 3. By then, we were on our way to spend the day at Brighton Beach and I decided to bring him along. Yup, "him." Apparently, Bubba worried that I might find myself a bit lonely, so he tucked a very naked male Barbie doll into my luggage.

From walking the pier to playing the carnival games, riding the rides and gorging ourselves on cotton candy and fish and chips, naked Barbie man had a terrific time. To cap the day, we headed for the rocky beach to sift through the wave-worn pebbles and look for treasures.

Because the kids had such a tremendous time posing him and taking photos, I left him behind for an extended stay. So far, I hear he's been to Legoland for some more adventure. I can only hope they take him shopping for pants at some point....
Although we spent a lot of our time traveling and acting like tourists, the part of my trip that I enjoyed the most was spending time with everyone just hanging out. The kids honored me by requesting that I read them bedtime stories and help tuck them in. We played at the park together and made up goofy jokes. Tulip sat in my lap on the couch time and again, despite the fact that she grew too big for that about three years ago. I have known these amazing creatures since the day they were born and getting to spend time with them, listening to them laugh, helping prepare their meals, chasing them on the playground, and listening to their voices as they talked to each other after they'd been put to bed was absolutely priceless.
Oh, so was the ride back to the airport, but you'll have to stay tuned for that....

Sunday, April 20, 2008

No Accidents

I came home from England suffering with severe ear pain. Last Tuesday I finally went to the ear doctor who lanced my left eardrum to release the fluid that had collected behind it. Although the pain was significantly reduced almost instantly, my ear continued to drain for nearly 18 hours and I am still completely deaf in that ear.

Because I can't 'fix' it, try as I might, I decided to look for the lesson here. Meditating kept bringing me back around to the same notion: it is time for me to stop hearing so that I can listen. Had I come home from my trip in perfect physical health, I would have hurtled myself headlong back into the busy life I have, cooking, cleaning, writing, working, caring for others, planning activities and events, and not taking the time to stop and recognize something else I can't 'fix' - my father's days are numbered.

While I know he's fading quickly and he knows it, too, we have yet to say it out loud to each other. I was content to let him tell me what he wants me to hear and believe that it is because I'm letting him have his dignity and control instead of because I don't want to acknowledge the truth in his presence. While I spoke to Bubba about setting up hospice care for him, I was too shy to broach the subject with my father.

I'm listening. Thursday morning I called my father's wife to talk to her about hospice, to encourage her to look into it and see what relief it can provide to both of them. No answer.

Friday morning, frustrated with my continued inability to hear at all out of my left ear, I phoned the doctor to seek advice. Is there anything else I can do to speed up my recovery? Sorry, the doctor is out of town until Monday.

No accidents. This morning, my father's wife called to say that last week, the doctor referred them to hospice. Thursday morning when I called, they were meeting with the hospice nurse 'just to see what it would be like.' Dad dismissed the idea. He's not ready. He can't go there.

This afternoon I called Dad to tell him that I wanted to understand why he won't accept hospice care. I asked him to imagine giving up the management of his own pain medications. I asked him to imagine what it would be like if his body didn't hurt all the time. If he had energy enough to do something fun. Something he wanted to do before he died. My youngest wants to finger paint with him. My oldest wants to have scooter races (his electric, hers not so much) in the park. I asked him to imagine what it would feel like to let himself be taken care of.

My father; strong, independent, stubborn. This is the hardest part, but maybe if he does it for all of us it will be easier.

Did I mention that my father is deaf in his left ear? Has been my whole life.

No accidents.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Visit, Continued

Day 2: Dickens' World. Yup, an indoor theme park designed around the dark, dreary novels of Charles Dickens. My friend's oldest daughter (I'll call her Tulip) had just completed a course of study that included an in-depth look at "Oliver Twist," and wanted to check out Dickens' World. Never mind that Tulip and her classmates are just eight years old. Never mind that Dickens' novels are inherently depressing and, I'd wager, frightening to a normal child.

Turns out, Dickens' World is a bit overwhelming, too. The creators did a tremendous job of re-creating an authentic Victorian street scene, complete with street urchins, dress-up clothes for the little ones, a haunted house, and an orphanage with a cruel headmaster. The grown-ups quite enjoyed ourselves, but I daresay the kids will need a few more years to fully appreciate this spectacle.


Day 3: Tourists in London!!! Can I just say that every time I travel to Europe I am astonished, overwhelmed and entirely pleased with the quality of the transit options? We spent less than we would have for a nice breakfast on transit tickets for the day. One pass allowed us to board a train to London (a clean, fast, efficient train), ride the Tube as much as we wanted, and take a riverboat on the Thames to the Tower of London. Simple, fast, cheap.

We rode the train with the commuters - businessmen talking on their cell phones, ladies with their lattes headed to the city to do some shopping, and other tourists like us, and emerged less than an hour later in London. A quick Tube ride landed us just beneath the famed Big Ben. We snapped photos, stood on the bridge and watched the river traffic below us, and headed for the London Eye - an enormous ferris wheel lodged on one side of the River across from the Houses of Parliament.

The entire ride takes about an hour as you slowly roll up and over the city and the river. We were lucky enough to be blessed with a clear day and we could see the whole of the city. Looking out over this amazing juxtaposition of ancient and modern while standing in the company of some of the people I love the most in the world was absolutely majestic.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Down to Business

The part I miss most about traveling on an airplane isn't the food or the peanuts or the flexibility. It's the fact that you used to be able to get off an airplane, walk down that long hall that separated the actual mechanical beast from the terminal, and emerge into the waiting area to find a group of adoring strangers, each holding their breath as passenger after passenger disembarked until the one they were waiting for finally came out. I miss being that person. The one who sparked that squeal, the sudden movement to break free from the crowd and rush forward, arms out, to welcome you to town. They had been waiting just for you. Given the choice between walking the red carpet at the Oscars or having that singular experience one more time, I'd choose the airport waiting area over and over again. Hands down.

Instead, we shuffle like sheep, prodded along by time schedules and the unknown, filing down steps, cascading onto moving sidewalks, assembled around a baggage claim turntable hoping to recognize our suitcases so that we can wheel them through customs and out into the entrance of the terminal where hundreds of people are waiting for hundreds of others who have come off dozens of flights that were late because it snowed in London for the first April in Her-Majesty-knows-how-many-years. Slightly more impersonal.

Having said that, when I finally saw that shock of blonde hair that marked my dearest friend's head, I felt instantly warm. It was I who squealed and momentarily wobbled between dropping my hard-won luggage and running to her or simply shouting her name and having her come to me. We met in the middle. The hug that felt so real, so familiar, erased the last eight months of separation, and her daughter wiggled inbetween us, her head now at the height of my collarbone. We were together again!

The 45 minute drive to their village was gorgeous. The light dusting of snow that had been at the airport grew as we headed out of town and the budding trees and spring-green fields were beginning to get coated. The sheep with their little white clouds of lambs in tow looked as though the cold weather didn't worry them a bit, and the pubs (public houses) along the way with their silly names (The Dog and the Goose, The Hound and the Bear) were picturesque and not at all ridiculous.

The town, while modern enough to sport a Subway and a Starbucks restaurant, is still English-countryside enough that the houses don't come with numbers for their street addresses. Each house, built of stone and brick, has its own name. The Catholic church carries history both outside and in. The sparse lawn around it is home to ancient tombstones covered in lichens and tipping to one side. The soaring ceiling is made of inlaid wood so intricate it must have taken more care and time to complete than anything I've ever done in my lifetime. And yet, the flowers at the end of each pew were evidence that a wedding had been held there just this past weekend and the caretaker and his lovely dog let me in to have a look around at the place where a good chunk of the townspeople come together every Sunday.

History. Now. This place is about the two of those things coming together. The solidity and comfort that history offer so that we can have a base upon which to build our today. What a beautiful place for a reunion. I am so lucky.

Monday, April 14, 2008


In nearly every sense of the word, I am trapped. The flight home from England was fine - I was lucky to be booked on two of the few flights that weren't cancelled by American Airlines this weekend. Whew! But as the plane began its descent into my home airport, an incredible pressure began building in my ears. Yawning, chewing gum, shifting my jaw from side to side - nothing worked. By the time the wheels grazed the tarmac lightning bolts of pain were shooting up and down the sides of my face and neck, causing me to hold my head and moan.

I managed to make it to the baggage claim area and hail a taxi for the midnight ride home. I apologized to the very friendly driver for not being able to hear a word he was saying and concentrated on not losing my airplane food-dinner in the back seat. By Saturday morning, Bubba had to drive me to our local urgent care facility because I was so dizzy and nauseous I couldn't stand at all by myself. The pain was so intense I was ready to claw the skin off of my face. The lovely doctor dropped numbing drops into my ear canals, gave me an antibiotic and some Vicodin as well as a shot to stop the dry heaves, and said I'd feel better in a few days. Probably. As she peered into my ears with her otoscope, she drew in a sharp breath and said, "Wow - these nearly ruptured! There is a lot of blood behind those eardrums."

It's Monday. I have no appetite and the food I do put into my mouth tastes very odd. I can get my right ear to pop in small crackles several times a day, but my left ear feels as though it has completely disappeared from my face. I can't hear much of anything unless it happens to be a high-pitched noise such as the dog barking or the microwave beeping. Those particular noises have me climbing the walls. I can't stand for more than five minutes at a time without the room spinning around me and now and then sharp spikes of pain jab me in the ear.

The good news is that the girls have been refraining from fighting with each other all weekend so that their shrieks don't hurt my ears. Bubba has been a terrific nurse, taking the girls to school and packing their lunches, making sure I have Gatorade and ice chips and don't have to answer the phone. The dog is my faithful companion, as are the two lovely kitties who missed me while I was away, and I'm not expected to do much.

As nice as that all is/was, I'm a little bored and terrifically frustrated at this point, so if you have any extra healing ju-ju, please send it this way so I can get on with it. Thanks!

Saturday, April 05, 2008

What a Zoo!

Typical morning conversation as we snuggle in bed with the girls before rousing ourselves to start our day:

5-yr. old: Did you know that they named 'Saturday' after Saturn?

Bubba: The car? They named a day of the week after a car?

5yo: No, dork! The planet Saturn. Like Mars, Jupiter and Pluto before they turned it in to a rock.

Bubba: Is that where you're from? Mars? Or Saturn?

5yo: Nope. I'm from Monkeyland.

Bubba: Is that on Jupiter?

5yo: No. Monkeyland is on the freeway. Right near Disneyland.

Bubba: So I have to drive there?

5yo: No. You have to use the monkey bars.

Man, I'm gonna miss these guys! I'm on my way to redeem my terrific Christmas gift from Bubba - spending a week in England with my best friend. The girls and I all sobbed at the airport together in an enormous group hug while Bubba furiously swiped at his own eyes and urged me to go through the security checkpoint so we could stop the blubbering.

I hate leaving them and knowing that I'll miss a week of their lives. I hate leaving them after this rough, rough week we spent with my father at his house, having to acknowledge in person the way cancer is having its way with his body. I can't wait to scope out all of the terrific places for us to go back and visit together and find just the perfect treasures to bring home for them.

I love knowing that Bubba will take excellent care of them while I'm gone. I love knowing that they miss me and want me to be with them. The little monkeys.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Forgiveness: Inspired

After reading Paul Martin's blog Original Faith," I was spurred to some deeper thought about the nature of forgiveness and its place in my own life. As I read the input from several other bloggers who frequent Paul's site, I began to further solidify my own ideas about what it means to forgive someone. As a childhood Catholic, I distinctly remember the portion of "The Lord's Prayer" that reminds us to forgive those who have trespassed against us. On some level, the phrase, "I forgive you," has always felt a bit condescending to me. As if I have chosen the better road, the higher route, the more benevolent path and I am taking pity on the person who had the gall to 'trespass' against me. It has always bothered me. And I began to wonder why forgiving someone has historically been so difficult to do for so many.

Examining my recent past, I discovered that for me, forgiving has nothing to do with anyone but me. The reason I have found it so hard to forgive is because I am disregarding one of Don Miguel Ruiz's "Four Agreements"; don't take it personally. Regardless of the fact that certain acts performed by others have impacted me in significant, sometimes traumatic ways, I don't believe that I can honestly point to a one that was intentionally designed to harm me. Perhaps the doer was making a rash decision, a poor decision, a thoughtless decision. In many cases, there is no argument that they ought not to have done what they did. In all cases, it's not my judgement call to make.

Perhaps I deserved more consideration. Perhaps I deserved an apology. Neither of those things will retroactively 'fix' the difficulties I experienced as a result of an action someone else took. Hanging on to resentment or anger or emotional pain won't change anything, either. Forgiveness, for me, is the act of letting go of the notion that I was at the center of the act. Letting go of the idea that the motivation for another person's actions was solely to hurt me personally. Letting the negative energy flow from me and be replaced with compassion for that individual and the guilt they may feel or the hurt they were experiencing that led them to make such a choice is a more powerful healing tonic.

Forgiveness is for me. The peace I feel after acknowledging that it is possible to learn and grow and move forward is so much bigger than any anger or hurt I might have felt before. I am hopeful that my forgiveness might offer others some solace or comfort if they feel that they have harmed me in some way, but that is not my motivation. Forgiveness is about finding perspective and balance in my own heart.
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