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.

 

Hospital Stay February 8, 2013

It was probably inevitable, I suppose, that one of my parents should find themselves in the hospital. Even though dad’s situation doesn’t seem like it would require such treatment, it had nonetheless been him who I’d pictured going in first. But no. Instead, my mother, the woman who still captains the ship, who still feeds my brother and dad, who takes care of the five cats, who shops, cleans the house as she can, works two days a week, pays for Elihu’s Waldorf education as well as the mortgage on our house – it is she who must stay for four days and four nights in the hospital. She’s been increasingly out of breath the last couple of months and learned she has Atrial Fibrillation (otherwise known as Afib). They tried to zap her heart to make the top and bottom valves get beating in sycn again, but it didn’t take. So now she’ll need some new meds – and she’ll have to stay in the hospital as they monitor her progress. Naturally, upon learning this, I was worried about her, but then a new reality came to me: I was now in charge. Crap. Good thing I only have one kid. Good thing I have an automatic coop door opener. Good thing my schedule isn’t over booked. Here it is, finally. I’d wondered how I’d deal with something like this for a while now, but I hand’t taken the train of thought and gone very far with it. I had a vague idea, but thought it still somewhere far off in my future. And really, even now I’m not overly concerned; things aren’t dire, not really. Mom’s being well cared for and I think dad’s ok too, and Elihu and I will enjoy being with grandpa and making him supper over the next few nights. It’s ok for the short term, but I can’t imagine living like this. Yeah, I think a one parent household is a ways off yet – but still, this is a good little wake-up call. I realize that things won’t always be thus.

It’s weird. The way we’ve all prepared the docs and sat around the table with a lawyer; on paper we’re ‘ready’ – yet still I have no idea what I’ll actually need to do when the first parent passes. I know, I know… I shouldn’t talk like this. But hey, my mom’s a 78 year old woman with a heart condition. My dad can’t even remember if he’s eaten lunch, much less operate a phone or a microwave, and his condition will only get worse as time passes. Things are changing, and I need to consider some game plans. But for now I can’t, I gotta run. Accidents at night still necessitate loads and loads of laundry (I really need to invest in a second pair of sheets and another mattress pad!), the birds still need tending, eggs need to be washed and packed, food needs to be prepared…. Plus dad needs a bunch of meds twice a day, mom needs some things brought to her in the hospital, and guess what? I’m out of gas and low on cash. And it’s a snow day, so I’ve got the kid tagging along. Sheesh. !

One thing I will do today. Mom doesn’t own a light bathrobe. She’d never in a million years think to buy herself one, because it’s a luxury, not a necessity. So, armed with a Kohl’s gift card I’m going to get her one. So she can get out of that bed and walk down the hall with some dignity. She hasn’t asked me to bring much, just the last issue of the New Yorker, some deodorant and floss. I’ll try to do better than that. I’ll pack her a little weekend getaway bag. Cuz this really is the closest thing my mother has probably ever had in her life to a real vacation. Hopefully she’ll find some rest and relaxation over the next few days, and she’ll find her heart beating normally again. Then maybe she won’t need another hospital vacation again for a long time.