This week is over for me. Tomorrow I get on a plane back home to my kids, my cats, my husband and the snow–most of which I am thrilled about. And yet, I leave my hometown, and in doing so, must say goodbye to my father.
My father taught for many years at a community college and in his courses he used what he called student facilitators who helped him teach. Over the years he had many and in December, they gathered together for a reunion here at my parents’ house. One of those facilitators called the other day while my mother was otherwise occupied and I took the call. “He’s my hero,” she said of my dad, “and she’s my other hero,” she said of my mom.
Mine, too, I said. Today, it is actually true—despite teenage years shouting just the opposite. This is hard stuff they are going through, but they make it easier for themselves and for us by facing it straight on. My father has not balked about any of the work we have done these last few days to keep him clean and comfortable. Has not complained about where his bed is or griped at all about being handed about like a stiff, unweildy rag doll.
More though, is my mother my hero today. She extends her loving him through this, declaring that she will care for him, being his advocate for the best care right now, now that she can control it, now that his life is almost over. She kisses him goodmorning and goodnight and several times throughout the day. She cares for him; she cares about him, and she does it all with humor and aplomb. She pays attention to what matters in these waning days, and dismisses the rest.
She breathes in and breathes out and faces what’s next with both feet planted firmly on the ground. She accepts it. She does not like it. Her heart is breaking. But she keeps on, because this is living, even in the dying.
She is superhuman, this mother of mine. My father is, too. Were that he were immortal. And yet …
We agree that I need to head home, that I need to tend to my other family, the children and husband I left behind, who fend without me, supporting me unseen. I leave, then, and will not stay these last few days. This week has been enough, I tell myself. It has to have been enough. I am honored to have been given the opportunity to serve him, to care for him, to be the one he has looked to with wide eyes, wondering, it seems, just wondering that I even exist, that I am here to make him grilled cheese sandwiches, that I am here to change his bedclothes.
I leave my heros in the capable hands of my siblings, and though I am angry at the system for the clusterfuck that led to a horrendous hospital stay, I am also, strangely grateful. The emergency situation required me to make a decision to come sooner than I had planned, and with an urgency I hadn’t prepared myself for, regardless of the truths before me. But that emergency also led me here, to be of service and to witness and experience this excruciatingly beautiful time in my parents’ lives, in my life. This is what we are here for, is it not? To be of use, to love, to neither dodge nor deflect the difficult, to understand the difference between what sort-of matters and what ultimately and always matters.
There is no goodbye that can cover this–except the goodbye that embraces the life I live anyway, the goodbye that deepens human experience, the goodbye that turns that experience back out.
There is no way out but through, and through I go, by way of an airplane that takes me away from here and back there, my feet planted firmly on the ground. Just like my heroes.