Dad's hands

It's hard to imagine the world without my dad. My father, who taught me that every cloud has a silver lining, and in whose lap my misery over problems with my third-grade teacher just melted away. My dad, whose laughter and approval made me feel like I had won an Oscar. I don't want to think about a world without the man who could once make me feel safe, simply by holding my hand.
Oh, his hands. His beautiful, skilled, surgeon's hands that saved so many lives, sank so many putts, did so many crossword puzzles, played so many songs, prayed so many prayers, and held seven small hands when they needed it most. I can still remember the way his hands felt as I slipped mine into his. They were cool and soft. Gentle yet strong. The hands of an artist. An artist of the human body. Hands that have been inside places most of us never even imagine. I still hold his hand when I see him. And he occasionally holds mine back with an astonishing strength. But it's different now because I am holding his hand, comforting him. His hands are still cool and soft, but they are now the hands of an old man and that makes me sad.
Dad is sick, dying. His beautiful, good, kind heart turned against him 10 years ago, necessitating a triple bypass. Now he is in the throes of Lewy Body Parkinson's, a disease that causes a type of dementia that eats away at the brain, leaving the equivalent of holes, and robbing him of his ability to string coherent thoughts together. He is declining both physically and mentally and there are times when he doesn't know who I am. And so I am forced to imagine the world - my world - without one of its key components.
In the early stages of his illness, he was still able to drive and get around on his own (but not without my mother worriedly watching from the kitchen window). I thought back then about the impending reality of a time when this would not be possible, when he would no longer pull his car into the driveway, push the little remote button on the sun visor which opened the garage door, drive his car into its tidy spot in the garage and then come through the side door that always squeaked, announcing his entry into the house. That day has not only arrived, it is receding into the past.
I thought back then of his home office, his refuge after retirement, medical books piled high, diplomas and awards framed by my mother and displayed on the wall, patiently waiting for him to enter, to turn on the computer and look through his files for a letter, a card signed by one of his students, a certificate. All signs and remembrances of a life he loved - and which loved him back. It was hard to think of that office empty and waiting, forever disappointed. But that day has arrived. His office is a room that is foreign to him now, even though there is a sign taped near the computer's on/off switch that says "Power" in his unmistakable handwriting.
I thought of my mother going alone into the bedroom they shared for over 50 years. Closing the door that once radiated with the energy of two people, palpable in the hallway outside their room. How will she sleep? How will she contain the grief, the loneliness, the memories, the silence of that big bed, of that big room?
I just don't know how it has happened that we have arrived at this place where we don't have much time left. Toward the end of my last visit, just before I left, I knelt down in front of his wheelchair, lay my hands over his, which were crossed on his lap, and looked into his eyes. "Dad, I'm leaving now. I'm going back to Seattle to be with Dan, Sarah and Julia. I'll miss you. I love you Dad." He looked at me hard as if he was trying to follow, trying to grasp the meaning of my words, to connect with a world that is becoming more distant for him as his illness progresses. He didn't say anything, just looked at me. But I had a clear sense that he wanted to say something. Wanted to participate in the exchange.
When was the last time I had a real conversation with my dad? I can't remember. There was a time in the kitchen during breakfast a couple of years ago, before his meds kicked in, when we talked sweetly, and I reminded him that the reason he forgets things and feels confused is because of the Parkinson's. "Oh, really?" he said. "That's what it is?" There was an actual exchange. But what about the political sparring we used to do? What about the long conversations we'd have about life and nature and my kids and growing older? What about the times I'd walk in the door and he'd greet me saying, "Hiya Iya!" in his unique, adorable way, offering to take my coat and fetch me a drink? If you knew that something was the last, what would you do? Would you memorize it? Would you prolong it? Would you videotape it? What would you do?
I know that the only way out for dad is death. And I want that for him - I want his release from this prison of sorts. But I can't bear the thought of never seeing him again. Never touching him or hearing his voice. When will that last time be? I wonder each time I see him now if it is the last and I try to cherish it. But, you know, it doesn't really change anything. Because time ticks away and you can't hang on to it. It's like trying to grasp a handful of sand. The harder you hold it, the more it slips through your fingers. You just have to be present, be good, be loving, be kind. And think hard about what you are saying and doing, knowing that this may be the thing you get to keep in the end.
I think I'll give my dad a call. Because I can. He may not know who I am, but I know who he is. And while that's not quite enough for me, it's all I have - so it'll have to do.[[In-content Ad]]