Seven years ago, at about this same hour, eight in the morning, I sat on the couch at home at 807 Deering beside a hospice nurse who told me my daddy wouldn’t make it through the day. Then she called the family doctor and told him. “Let it happen,” he said. Dad had end-stage dementia and was a DNR.
We’d gathered to be with him, knowing the time was near — my sister, my older son, and of course, my mother was there. I hung Dad’s flag in front of the house. Dad was a veteran and hung that flag on every war holiday. This day, it was for him. He got a Bronze Star with Valor in the big war, but this day, he’d fight his last one.
He didn’t want to go. We kept telling him it was okay, he could go in peace. He didn’t want to leave life, he didn’t want to leave my mother. Sixty-one years they were together.
My sister got his tape recorder out and put in the tape of “Rise Again,” a powerful song of the Lord’s resurrection on the third day. “I’ll rise again; death can’t keep me in the ground.” Then she went to check on our mother.
Mama was outside planting flowers, knees down in the dirt, hands in the dirt, trying to avoid what was imminent inside the house. My son went to take a shower.
I was alone with Dad. He was holding on. “Dad,” I said, “You’ve got to do this first. You’ve got to show us how to do it and then come back and get us when it’s our turn.” His younger brother had died a few years back and it greatly bothered Dad, because he thought he should have gone first, because he was older. I knew he wouldn’t want to outlive any of us.
I saw the blood stop in the veins in his arms. Then it moved again. I knew what was happening. I ran outside to get my mother and sister and beat on the bathroom door for my son. We all stood there around our husband and father and grandfather as he went.
I don’t want to remember that day. I want to remember all the life in him. The fun times, the funny times, the man that he was, the lessons he taught and stood for. Maybe today, Easter Sunday, a day of life and rising again, I’ll plant a tree for him, a weeping cherry, to remember how blessed and fortunate I am to have had a good father. He wasn’t perfect, but he was good and he gave me something solid to be grounded on, and so today, I remember that man.
Sometimes I remember things and then try to re-live them. Like Mama’s brown sugar toast.
Brown sugar toast was special because we didn’t have it often. I don’t know if other mothers made it or if my mother was the only one and it really doesn’t matter because the taste of brown sugar covers up every other thought.
You take a slice of white bread and smear a thick coating of margarine over it and then you sprinkle a bunch of brown sugar on top and then you sprinkle water over it all to make the brown sugar stick and sink into the margarine. Then you put it in the oven under the broiler.
[I did update and use a five-grain bread and butter instead of margarine. ]
Some of the brown sugar melts into the butter and some of it just gets toasted. Not much is better than brown sugar.
It’s hard to re-create it exactly because everything tasted better coming out of Mama’s big white Sears oven . . . but it did bring back a memory and a time that can’t be matched and a taste that is the same in every generation.
My BFF has a birthday today. I sent her an email this morning that said, “Damn, you are XX!” (I wrote in the age, but I’m not telling you what it is.) “Did you ever think when we were girls and wearing big hair rollers and blue eye shadow and blue knit dresses and black leather jackets and riding around in your daddy’s old truck that we would be here at this age?”
I did tell her that she looks great. And she does. She is beautiful and slim and young-looking. And she dresses in a youthful, stylish way. And she has led a fairly stable life.
Me, I’m the one who lives on an avalanche waiting to happen, and I’m the one who is falling apart. Take just this week.
Well, first, there were some good things. I finished another chapter in my book and planned three more. I heard Par Donahue talk about his new book projects at Authors Circle. And I met Janie Wells and listened as she talked about her book, a tribute to her daughter who was murdered at the age of thirty, as well as Janie’s connection to her daughter and her spiritual journey in the days and years that followed. And yesterday, my friend down the street, who is still trying to sell her home up in New Hampshire, had her house featured on the Today show — exciting!
Now I will be what I am accused of being: Little Miss Sunshine, and report the bad stuff.
Monday, I started the week with a crown prep at the dentist’s office. Apparently, I am under extreme stress, and I’ve been clamping down my jaw and biting my teeth together, and I broke three teeth. I didn’t know I was doing that. This crowning process was begun with a long, long shot in my upper gum, or maybe three shots, or four — I don’t know how many. I thought we were finished, when he said, “Okay, we’ll do two more and then we’ll be done.” After those, even my entire right eye was numb. I was in the chair for two hours and left with a crooked smile and a half-closed eye.
Come Friday, I could still feel the injection sites on my gum, when I went to the Bone & Joint clinic for my shoulder. I had four X-rays, orthopedic testing, and a steroid shot stuck straight into the joint. I had to do it. I’ve spent the past two months not being able to hold my hair dryer, pour a cup of coffee, put on my underwear, open the dryer door, squeeze the mouse, put on my outerwear, pump hand lotion, hang up clothes in my closet, pick up a gallon of milk, open a bottle of wine, drive, sleep, pick up my fork to eat — you get the picture.
Life’s both a pain and a ride. Here’s to a new bottle of wine, old women, BFFs, birthdays, and new chapters!