The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Stress Test September 30, 2013

The last few days I’ve been experiencing a dull, ever-present concern in the back of my mind for the things going on in a hospital room in Chicago. I don’t dwell on it, and I continue to live my life, but I keep wondering… Just how bad are things? How much has the situation improved? Has it improved at all? And more than I should, I worry about my ex. Perhaps now he’s finally beginning to consider the inevitable events of the next few years. Both our parents are getting old, and this is relatively new territory for us – or at least more so for him. I’ve been living close to it, thinking about it, planning for it – doing all that for a few years now, yet Fareed and his folks aren’t the type to discuss such plans. So it makes sense that he might be caught a bit off guard. Hell, I suppose no matter how much planning and discussing one does, it probably always throws one off guard to find your mom has fallen, that your dad has had a stroke, that an emergency has finally happened… There can’t ever be a good time for bad news. But at least it should be talked about, and ahead of time if possible. The Conants have done a good job of that at least. Got the DNRs in place, the health care proxies and such… My ex father-in-law’s heart attack and subsequent surgery are a huge alarm bell that the times are changing. My dad’s thing is so slow moving that it doesn’t have the same effect as a catastrophic event. Sure my dad’s not himself, and if I compare him to what he was like just a few months ago, it can break my heart. But at least he’s moderately healthy, moderately ambulatory. He kinda seems the same on the outside. But shit. Honestly he’s not at all the same as he was, and we all know it.

This stuff is just plain awful., no matter what form it takes. It’s just plain sad. It’s that stuff that you kinda think everybody else goes through, but that somehow, just somehow, you – will not. You, being special and different, are going to manage to sidestep this canyon of heartbreak and fear… somehow, your story will be easier, different… Things will wind up tidily. But hey, even if they do, you still have that matter of death at the end of it all. Maybe there will be no regrets, nothing left unsaid, and a full life left at the right time, but still, it’s there. The end. The end of your parent’s life. Why is it that we just don’t talk about this stuff? Or is it just my families? I hope that with my son – and with families coming up these days – that we will be able to discuss our aging processes with complete ease. Maybe that’s being naive or over simplifying it, but still it’s a hell of a lot more likely that my son and I will not have the problem on the topic that generations before have. I certainly pray not.

I heard good news from Elihu that his grandpa is indeed doing better. Still ‘being  breathed’, but better. I hope they’ve got him doped up pretty good too, cuz it cannot feel too pleasant having a tube like that down one’s gullet. And it looks like they’re getting his lungs clear of liquid too. All much better news. So the knot in my stomach unties just a bit, but not a whole lot. Because I still have items on the list that aren’t going away anytime soon: I have much new music to learn. Music that I need to be able to play to tempo in just a couple of days for my new accompanying post at my son’s school. I hadn’t thought it would be this much of a challenge, really. How hard could a couple of classical pieces be? Hmm. Schumann with his stupid ‘Des Abends’ in D flat, and Mr. Debussy with his etherically beautiful but pesky ‘Dr. Gradus ad Parnassum’…. it’s not so much the key in  this case but the damned tempo that has me concerned… Oh I love my old friend Mr. Bach, and his sons too, and I really have missed using both my brains and my fingers at the same time, but this is a bit much. Lots to bring up to speed while life continues on without pause. A Halloween costume is underway, I must ship a desk to a friend in France, I have a friend’s child coming home with us after school this week to cover a gap in childcare, the chickens await butchering, Elihu and his boat of a bass must get to a lesson tomorrow, and I am down to less than $60 in my checking account. All of it overlapping. Ich. I don’t like the way it feels. I know it won’t always be thus, and that everything that’s happening is on its way to becoming something better, something good and satisfying. Ultimately, things can only get better from this moment on. I think. Maybe not, but hopefully. .. Right?

But what softens the load is the image I see outside of my kitchen window (as I wash dishes for the third friggin time today, sigh). Elihu is dancing through the yellow leaves which cover the ground by the creek, he is jumping over the pond, crossing the small plank bridge, squatting down and reaching, then jumping up, running around to the other side and squatting down once more… He’s on his ‘final tour before torpor’ of the remaining frogs. (Each one he shows me has me a bit concerned; might they not want to hunker down in the mud before it’s too late?) Today he is happy, happy, happy. Finally, NOwhere to be. No errands, no visits, no ‘just next door’s, no visitors, no nothing. Nothing but frogs and chickens, that is. And all to the soundtrack of the aforementioned Debussy and Schumann. Not a bad way to pass a warm, early fall afternoon. I’m happy to have the excuse to play so much music, really, as before this new job I could never – would never – have justified this many hours at the piano when there are so many other necessary things to do, not the least of which is simply to be with my child. But in playing the piano with all of the windows open – as my son runs around the property hither and yon – I am actually with him. He can hear me, and I can see him too. And It’s one of the loveliest ways to pass an afternoon. We’re each doing our thing, each one close to the other. In moments like these, I sometime feel that life can’t get much better- regardless of the stress that’s yet to show up in my week, in my life even.

Elihu would tell you the same. We love being home, doing nothing, and simply being side by side. It makes the rest of it all – commitments, homework, chores, extra life stress – all worthwhile. So let’s all hope that life looks much more peaceful next week this time… Because living in a state of stress has begun to feel like a test of my abilities. And I am not a fan of stress – or tests.

 

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.