Writing the personal is often difficult for me. But I take a deep breath and plunge in with the hope that the personal is also what is found in the common ground of our hearts.
I am sitting with dad. He had a stroke three years ago, uses a walker and must have someone with him all the time. He can’t fall, although he did recently. He is mending. Slowly.
As one of his primary caregivers, I find the time with dad involves everything from preparing his lunch, to watching old episodes of Get Smart with him, to ensuring he’s OK when he’s napping. And often more.
So I often ask if he needs water, something to eat, or would like to watch something else on TV. He can say “yes” or “no,” but it’s hard to tell. Sometimes “yes” means “no” and “no” means “yes.”
I tell him that I love him. Often. I learned many years ago that life is brief and it’s important to say I love you every chance I can. So I lean into him as he rests in his recliner and say, “I love you, dad.”
Sometimes he’ll say, “I love you, too.”
And so it goes when I sit with dad. I stay with dad to relieve my mother. She is with him much of the time and shares their first-floor bedroom in the former dining room that once was space to boisterous Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners. It is now filled with twin beds — dad’s with a guard rail — and medical supplies and the smell of aging.
Sometimes, when dad is napping, I pray. I pray for him. For my mother, our family. I pray for our world that seems so desperate these days, stewing in values that seem off center and sad to me. I pray for myself. Sometimes I write on this laptop. My blog. It keeps me sane. It is another form of prayer.
Today, as dad slept, I walked into the front parlor — do they still call them parlors — and saw the aging Bible sitting on the piano that I’ve seen a thousand times before. It always seemed another part of the bric-a-brac and chachkas that gathered dust.
Curious, I picked it up. The book was weighty and thick with yellowed pages and a tattered leather cover, worn around the edges.
My mother’s handwriting in blue fountain pen ink graced the front page where she wrote that the Bible was a gift to herself dated 1945 in Red Boiling Springs, Tennessee. Also listed were the names of siblings, parents, grandmothers and grandfathers. Some from Tennessee, some from Kentucky. I sat with those names, their energies and spirits in another world, but at one time, flesh and blood and bone whose lives gave me life.
With great care, I went through the pages and found bookmarks that were bits of the past, tucked away as if in a time capsule.
A faded greeting card with a basket of flowers on it from Mexican relatives in Texas congratulating my parents on their wedding in 1948.
An old napkin with a faded sketch in blue of a quaint cottage with the words “The Inn on Buttermilk Bay.” Where was it I wondered, and when had they been there? Had it been a happy time, one where youth still gave them joy and freedom?
Two ticket stubs to a Glenn Miller band concert and a letter from my late grandmother in Nashville. When she wrote that letter she was as old as my mother is now — 87. And in it, she speaks of Easter and going to church and included the folded, yellowed news clipping of one of my mother’s childhood friends who had died.
There were saved birthday cards from grandchildren and the memorial cards from the funerals of friends.
A poignant feeling stirred in my heart at the mystery of life that is both rich and frayed — a tapestry stitched with the threads of memories, some joyful, some sorrowful. And all of it fleeting.
I searched for Psalm 23 and read ” … surely goodness and loving kindness follow me all the days of my life.”
Goodness and kindness indeed have followed mom and dad, despite the sorrows and struggles of life. And of this I’m sure — God has been and is still with them, even now as steps falter and bones aches and vision blurs and words spill out jumbled, when all that was once ripe and full of promise is now being stripped away.
I close the book and whisper a prayer. For strength. For grace.
Dad is stirring. He opens his tired eyes and I look into them, seeing a lifetime unfold before me.
He smiles. This. This smile. These moments now. These are the memories I am tucking away in the bible of my heart. I will find comfort in them in the future when I will need them. And for this, I am thankful.
I squeeze dad’s hand and go to fix his lunch.