The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Heartfelt September 29, 2013

On days like this I feel bad for both my ex husband and my son that they don’t live closer to each other. My ex’s father suffered a heart attack a few days ago and tonight, post-surgery, he is on a respirator facing a couple of tough days ahead. Two days ago I was surprised to hear so little feeling in Fareed’s voice as he described the situation. Rather, he’d sounded almost as if he was trying to sell me on how bad his father was –  perhaps for the value of the drama itself. Even though he seemed to be trying to convince me things looked bleak, he still didn’t register much emotion as he spoke. And because of my take on it, I don’t think I responded as he would have liked. While I was trying to offer my help, maybe I wasn’t as tender as I should have been. I didn’t react with much emotion as I hadn’t sensed much present in him. Instead I matched facts with facts, words with words; I was trying to be positive and logical, and so chose to put the spin on how things would improve, and how it probably wasn’t as bad as it seemed. After all, Martha made routine visits to the hospital with heart-related problems (ironically she too had been admitted to the hospital just yesterday for more of the same). My mom lived with Afib and I had a friend who’d had a quadruple bypass and yet still both ran and played the trumpet professionally. it just seemed heart trouble was, while frightening, something that could potentially be managed.

After I’d first heard the news, I couldn’t shake the feeling that Fareed might have wished for me to have expressed more concern for his dad. It seemed like he wanted me to get that things were dire – and somehow I sensed that he had wanted more support from me. I took this in and thought about it for a minute. Should I make a point of letting him know I was truly there for him? Or was that even my job at all? I paused, remembering that while a few years ago this would have undeniably been my intensely personal family business, it might not be entirely my affair these days. If he needed deep emotional support, wasn’t that what his wife was for? Maybe Fareed was just fine. No way to know, he offered few clues. I know he was worried, but it didn’t truly register in his voice. And then Elihu, after getting off the phone with his father the other night said in a frustrated tone “he’s not letting me in”. All right. So it wasn’t just me. Ok. So what now?

Just this past hour Fareed called again. This time I heard it. The first real emotion I think I’ve heard in his voice since the day we got married and his voice cracked as he said his vows. I heard it – finally, I heard him. Not a sales pitch, not a list of facts that support some evidence – but real feeling. Not something I think I’ve witnessed too many times in our twenty-plus years together. For as much as we’ve been through, there’s always been a cards-to-the-chest quality about my ex. Same with his dad, too. They’re not much for letting folks in. (Which is ironic, in that as a musician – especially a classical guitar player – you’d think the guy would be full of it.) And Fareed’s dad is a sentimental sap about everything. (When Fareed and I told him we preferred a sweet table to a formal cake for our wedding, his father threw up his hands in profound disappointment and said “No cake? Why bother even getting married?” He had been, apparently, quite sentimental about the role of cake at our wedding.) Fareed’s father has always been very moved – sometimes to tears – by displays of affection, love and matters of family. Yet in spite of it, he seems unable to process gritty, and absolutely honest emotion – not merely sentiment. Once he expressed confusion as to why I chose to move to New York to live next door to my folks. Knowing his strong appreciation for family I thought he’d understand it immediately, but no. He also never understood – or registered in any way – why it was that this split from his son had hurt me so deeply. Both of his reactions (or lack thereof) have always puzzled me. In the same sort of way that Fareed’s words puzzled me just recently. It’s as if the pretense of the emotion and the actual feelings themselves aren’t taking place at the same time. But just now, I felt something different; I actually felt genuine emotion from Fareed. And so did Elihu. Finally. Sorry that it took his dad’s heart attack to get here, but it’s good to know he’s present. I think he’s staying by his dad’s side now, and that too is positive news. I’m sure it helps his dad’s spirit to have his son close by.

So where will things go now? In an instant, grudges and bad tastes leftover from unresolved conflicts seem so much easier to set aside when the prospect of death emerges. There, I said it. Yeah, it seems that the threat of death forces our hands in matters of the heart. The threat of possible death makes us reveal our true fears, hastens us to let go matters of the ego, and helps us to finally express our love to each other. When I heard how serious things were, I did a quick check – had I told Riaz that I loved him when I saw him last? Yes, I had. Also I had made an effort to be present with them and enjoy their company when I visited them this past summer in Chicago. It was Riaz who’d driven me to the train station. Yes, we’d had a very sweet visit and goodbye. Ok. That made me feel better. We’d parted in a loving way. And I knew Elihu’d had a nice long stay with his grandpa this summer too. They had a fish tank together and had spent many hours stocking and enjoying it. So there’d been some good grandpa time recently. I confess I made this inventory partly in preparation for that potential sad ending – the one of course we’re hoping against – but the one I sense Fareed wants to emotionally prepare for in some way. This is his one and only, take-charge, get things done, keeper-of-the-curry-chicken recipe dad. His dad. He and his dad are two peas in a pod. Ok, so maybe two peas that don’t really communicate their deep and true feelings very well, but they are father and son, and so that makes this time a very difficult one. It’s a tricky time for grandson too, as he will not accept a sugar-coated version of his grandpa’s condition and must know where things stand.

And for right now the only place we can stand is all together, waiting, with our hearts wide open, in hopes that grandpa’s own heart will heal itself soon.

 

3 Responses to “Heartfelt”

  1. Gene Burnett Says:

    For some of us musicians, expressing our feelings musically comes easier than feeling and communicating them in relationship. I work on both but expressing feeling through music has always come easier for me. I think these feelings exist in all of us but some of us have thicker emotional skins, both in terms of what we will allow ourselves to feel and what we express to others. We also have different emotional languages, ways we communicate what’s going on inside. Compatibility can mean speaking the same language, but it can also mean learning to translate and understand different ones. Sometimes the gap is just too far to bridge. Wishing you all the best. GB

  2. wingmother Says:

    Ah Gene, you are willing to be far more generous on this topic than I am. My ex is perfectly equipped to express himself verbally yet he chooses not to. That’s what I find frustrating. His father is simply of another culture and era. I can understand – and forgive – that a bit better.


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