As Alannah Myles belts out her smoky, sensual tune, Black Velvet (if you please!) from my iPod, shadows and light from the window behind me playfully rise and fall on the wall by my computer. It’s a quiet Friday at work. My mind wanders, imitating the ebb and flow of the shadows on the wall.
I seem to have lost my focus lately. Previously, I would be the first person in to work and the last one to leave. Not only did I throw myself into whatever needed to be done during the day, but I would also drag piles of work home week after week. The business owner and his wife seemed thrilled with my dedication. Soon the wife found no need to come in to help and the owner himself appeared only when it was absolutely required.
But distractions have overwhelmed me during the past two years, mostly due to my parents’ ill health, as well as because I had been running a second business in another town in addition to this one. It had gotten more and more difficult driving there every week, but I did, no matter how many arms I broke (and break them I did, repeatedly – once both at the same time, but that’s a story for a different time.)
Then there was the call telling me my dad was being rushed to the hospital after having a psychotic break on New Year’s Day, during which he mutilated his own manhood in a misguided attempt to reassure Mom he would never have another woman besides her. I had to intercede on his behalf, playing a balancing act between getting him the help he needed and my sister’s desire to have him locked away permanently.
Later that same year my mom fell head-first off the neighbor’s porch. This was on Christmas Eve, prompting her to sing “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” in the emergency room. Laughter through tears ruled that night.
Mom lasted six months, during which time we struggled to help her regain her health. Night after night I would stay with her in the hospital, and then drag my weary body in to work. Mom’s eye socket, cheek bone, and left hip were all broken, plus she had bleeding on her brain. She would have several battles with congestive heart failure, pneumonia and then an intussusception before it was all over.
She fought like a champ to live, even when she had to labor and gasp for breath, panic plainly written all over her face. How could we not help her strive for life, when she fought so valiantly against death?
Mom’s struggle with life had refocused Dad. With the proper medication and psychiatric help his psychosis ultimately dissipated. His only desire now was to help Mom recover. Often he would spend more than twelve hours a day at her side. She would cry and pout and carry on when he had to leave at night, torturing the poor man with guilt. I have never seen a man as dedicated to any woman as he was during this time.
Eventually her pacemaker gave out. I was grateful that Dad could be with her when that time came, though he still often obsesses about it. Sixty-two years of constant togetherness were abruptly ended for them that day.
Death ultimately overcame my mother's tiny, frail body on July 4. That evening as we drove home, my sister and I saw the most astonishing sunset we have ever seen, before or after. Vivid colors of orange, purple, red and yellow streaked over the coastal gulf’s blue water. It seemed like a message from Mom via God – Don’t worry, girls, I’m home!
Dad did great for about a month after that. He worked around the house and yard, trying to keep busy. He would make his own oatmeal for breakfast, the Meals on Wheels van would deliver at lunchtime, and I made a schedule so one of us would be there every night to take him out for his evening meal. I also hired someone to help him with the cleaning and check on him during the day.
Soon, however, he became engulfed in grief. He quit eating and started spending his days in bed. One day I came to get him for his evening meal but he didn’t respond to my knock on the door. I kept knocking and dialing his number frantically until finally, with great effort, he managed to get downstairs and open the door. He was very obviously not well. He struggled to walk. He had been throwing up green bile all day as well. I stayed with him through the night, dozing in the recliner. The next day I took him to see Margaret, a family friend and nurse practitioner, who knew dad well. She immediately called an ambulance and sent him to the hospital.
It took three ER visits and over 48 hours to finally get him diagnosed with stroke, which was my friend’s initial diagnosis. During that time it got so bad that Dad eventually became violent and had to be strapped down, with one of us girls also holding him down, talking to him, fruitlessly trying to calm him down.
Even though Dad has never, ever, been a violent man, not only did he knock my niece to the floor, he also choked me and ripped the shirt of another friend of mine who happened to be a nurse there. Regardless of the massive quantities of sedative with which they dosed him, and in spite of six people hanging on to him trying to stop him, my skinny, octogenarian father still managed to get as far as the door. Two of the six were big, strong security guards, along with two of their largest male nurses.
It has been a long, slow road to recovery for him. It’s taken every bit of the energy I have, getting him to the right doctors, making sure he had the appropriate care and medications, at times staying with him through the night. But today he’s looking healthy and well, in an assisted living facility not far from my work. He still has his moments, when he wants to fight about the need to be anywhere other than living alone at home, driving his own car.
Last week I took Dad to Mom’s grave site. When we turned toward the cemetery, a solid wall of yellow stood out like an exclamation point at the end of the road. As we neared the cemetery entrance, we realized that the gorgeous, sunny yellow wall was actually the graveyard, covered with wildflowers blooming in brilliant abandon. As we walked to her grave, not only did we see the yellow Coreopsis, but also Bluebonnets, pink Evening Primroses, purple Wine Cups and red Indian Paintbrushes, all intermingled. I can’t help but think Mom had something to do with this.
Thanks, Mom. We love and miss you, too.