Friday night when I got home from work, my Mom called. I answered the phone and she told me that my dad had been in the hospital with double-pneumonia since Wednesday. Once admitted, the doctors also determined that he has congestive heart failure and had to perform surgery to place a stint. They also confirmed what we already knew--that he was in the first stages of Alzheimer's.
We talked for a moment. She said he was okay right now, and the reason she didn’t call was she didn’t want to worry me in the middle of the work week when she knew how much I had on my plate already. I mumbled something or other. Mom said she was tired and going to bed.
I hung up and walked back into the living room. The lovely wife asked me what was the matter. I asked for a minute, focused on nothing, and then took a deep breath. I repeated what my mother had told me. I saw Maria’s face, could tell that she was starting to get upset and struggling to keep it down even as she asked if I was okay and what could she do to help.
I shrugged. Took another deep breath. Then said, “Nothing. Don’t worry about it.” Maria asked if I was sure, I nodded, and we went on about her night.
Much later, lying in bed, so many things tried to seize control of my thoughts. My father was going to die. It is a simple idea that carries a lot of sharp. It’s like thinking about early man discovering weapons, you know? After having cut themselves by accident on sharp rocks or stabbed a rough hand with a splinter, picturing that moment when one of them, maybe the smartest and by corollary the saddest of the tribe, realized that this jagged bit of rock here in his hand? You could use that to purposefully pierce flesh. This thing that had always been there suddenly carried a different meaning. It was like that, I think.
You know I experienced death when I was very young. My brother was killed in a car accident when I was around six years old. One of the best things my mother did was to explain it to me with no bullshit. That he was dead and I wouldn’t see him again and everything dies and everything will die. Some people think that means a lot of different things, but what everyone knows is that he’s dead and he was gone. She didn’t even raise a fuss during the funeral when I threw a fit outside because I didn’t want to see Nathan in the casket. If he was gone, I didn’t want to stare at meat, didn’t want the image of meat stealing the memories of my brother breathing. I’m very glad for that, especially knowing that she couldn’t have conceived that someday it would lead me to where I was this morning, with a mala in my hand.
But the thought of my father dying fucked me up for a long moment in the quiet night. It drudged up all our bullshit. The anger, the hurt feelings, the emotional distance...a damn laundry list of dysfunction. Worst of all, in the vulnerability of the dark, by proxy it reaffirmed that someday the dog is going to die, Maria is going to die, and I’m going to die.
My mind started going. Even though I know this is where suffering begins, with mental attachments to transient things, it started racing. As it raced, it gathered so many other things with it. Maria’s failing eyesight, the dog’s failing mobility, my friend Gabe’s Huntington’s Disease, and, this is probably the one you’ll have the most trouble with my reader and it would take too long to explain, the subtle way my mother refused to acknowledge my adulthood by calling when and how she did.
I took control of my thoughts by imagining a candle burning in the darkness. I focused on the candle. The image of the flame. The way it guttered and flared. When all those thoughts I had pushed to the side threatened to cloud the image, I’d focus on being present, how it felt lying there with Maria on one side, the dog on the other.
There is no moment, but this one.
When my thoughts were pushed back to the corners, I returned to the mental image of the flame until my mind quieted and, in quieting, submitted to sleep.