by Sivan Butler-Rotholz
I am on the phone with my dad, who has been in the hospital for two days. We have a forty-five minute conversation about the declining state of his health.
The conversation ambles along the halls of his deteriorating mind, guided by a labyrinth of clarity. Throughout it I am often frustrated, concerned. At times I argue with him, my own rational logic pressing to find a mirror in his mind. He needs round the clock care. He should be in a facility that can provide it. He should not be worrying about financially keeping up a household and supporting others when he cannot support himself.
My father needs to be in a nursing home, and if he can’t afford it—quite likely he can’t afford it—he needs to move in with family and hire someone. Someone to lift him and push his wheelchair, to dole out his hundred-pills-a-day, to monitor his levels and make sure he doesn’t end up in the hospital again—or worse—from incorrect dosage. As his condition progresses, that someone will have to feed him and bathe him and so on as his needs become more like those from the earliest stages of his life.
Right before my dad called I got a text message from a girlfriend.
This is one of those friends who I might go months without talking to, years without seeing. When we met, about five years ago, I fell instantly in love with her, and regardless of how close we are or ever were, she is just one of those people. I think of her fondly; I see pictures of her on facebook and smile. She may just be the prettiest girl in the world, from her startlingly beautiful inner light to her face that projects the same for the world to see. She is one of the most beautiful people on the planet, from the inside out, and the nature or depth of our friendship has nothing to do with how blessed I am that she exists on this earth, let alone that I get to call her my friend.
“Hello pretty girl!”
My phone rings and it is my father. He is in the hospital. No one told me. Now he thinks I knew he was in the hospital and didn’t call him. I-Am-A-Terrible-Daughter complex kicks in, even from 2,544 miles away. Stronger, in fact, because of the 2,544 miles; the weight of that distance immeasurable.
We begin to talk about his health, and so I miss the next text from my friend.
“Can I tell you a secret?”
My father has a degenerative disease. Absent a miracle—and I do believe in miracles—he is not going to get any better. And then, one day, he is going to die.
The matter-of-fact way in which I write this betrays every cell in my emotional body. It betrays how hard I have to work to keep the lid tight on the jar of grief that I keep shoved between my lungs and heart.
I get off the phone with my father, telling him I’m glad they’ve stabilized him, I’m glad they’re sending him to a care facility for his recovery, I’m glad he’s selling the house and focusing on taking care of himself. I tell him I love him. And again. I am surprised, sometimes, that I am able to think of anything else.
I get off the phone with my father and I do not cry. I pick up with work right where I had left off. I do cry for my father sometimes. And I carry that jar around in my ribs with the acute knowledge that one day the lid will come off and I will do nothing but cry.
I am working and then I remember the latest text from my friend. “Can I tell you a secret?” Before asking, I know what her secret is. As surely as I know why the news arrived while I was on the phone with my father.
I don’t cry when I get off the phone with my father, but as my friend and I text back and forth, as we agree that—naturally—the baby will be a girl, as I think about how beautiful she will be and how truly blessed she will be to have my girlfriend for her mom, I cry.
I cry for the heartbreaking beauty of it all. For the beauty of the baby and the beauty of her mom. For the beauty of the circle. That in the very moment that my father’s body is giving out, beautiful as it has been in his sixty-three years, a new body is forming that will be equally beautiful. I cry because I know that as blessed as I have been to share this lifetime with my father, this baby will be just as blessed to share her life with her mom. Knowing this will not keep the lid on my jar. But it will help my to go on, to continue to see the light of generation, even in the eye of the storm of decay.