For nearly eight years after my mother’s stroke I lived to help my father make her life the very best it could be. Few coworkers during those years knew of my life outside the walls of academia. Only a handful of close friends recognized the paralyzing stress that lodged in my jaw.
Now the days I am not teaching are reserved for appointments and errands with Dad. He is 95 and trust me, totally in charge of life. On the schedule this morning: routine blood work for his checkup next week, the barber for his signature buzz cut, and an inaugural trip to the new Dunkin Donuts on the south side of town. Eating a single treat after monitoring his sugar intake a month before lab results has become tradition. Until today, I would pop in, stock up on a half dozen frosted yummies and deliver them to Dad’s apartment. The new shop has a wide entrance, more seats, and larger windows. Dad wants to check it out.
Only two cars in the lot, I unfold his cadet blue rollator and we wind our way down the ramp and inside. The menu on the wall includes active video panels in between the list of coffee varieties and breakfast fare.
“Do they have anything like regular coffee?” Dad leans over to ask.
“Yes, way at the top, roasted coffee.”
“Boy, you need binoculars to read that far.”
Straining my eyes behind trifocals I know he is right, as always.
I wait for the coffees. Dad rolls his way toward the far window and sinks onto a comfortable seat at a low table. I set down the coffees and he chomps into a sweet frosted break from the overnight fast.
“All we need is Mom and the paper.”
A reflexive smile curves onto my face, then freezes. The coffee, the chocolate morning treat, and Dunkin Donuts.
Mom and Dad visited their local DD outside of Washington D.C. for years. My children remind me of trips there with Mamma and Pappa including detailed accounts of how they could choose anything they wanted off the menu no matter the time of day.
I stir the cream in my cup of steaming coffee and begin my search for a newspaper. Finding one could make things right, maybe even normal.
No paper to be found, no normal either.
And that feeling of helplessness pinches my arms, as it has so many times.
Grief is a word I avoid. There is so much to do, so much to appreciate. And I do not like the weight of sadness. I do understand it though. With acknowledgement, I avoid anything related to loss, to emptiness, to regret. That is my choice.
I think of my mother in between most breaths. She is with me. I hear her words of critical guidance, her laughter, her stories, her moods, her caring.
Dad misses her too, every minute of every day.
Like so many of us who care for loved ones, I understand each set of circumstances is unique. I know the potential tsunami of powerlessness one phone call can bring. And I appreciate the gratitude that pools in our hearts at the end of another good day.