Monday, February 27, 2017
Today I was missing his purple toes and putting them through the white hole in the diaper, and handing him his pills and putting on the goo in his teeth to make them stick.
I had to bring the trashcans in from the street and I didn’t have to line them up against the gate so I could throw poppa’s trash in without having to open the gate. I could just leave them, terribly, wherever.
I kept thinking I better go check on him. I went into his room like I normally would and I sat in a chair by the window behind his big fat chair by the tv and I just sat there in the nothing.
It’s like he’s hiding somewhere but he’s just all done. I can’t understand how he’s just all done. I felt like I was gonna be making his coffee forEVER. Every spoonful I put in there felt like forever. Five years taking care of somebody is a long time.
Most of my previous life I spent making sure I got out before the other person did. I was good at it, it was a good way of ensuring that nobody beat me to the exit, a little tight maneuver that guaranteed heart safety, keeping myself all wrapped up in a little box.
Then kids came, and I stayed, and Barry stayed, and eventually Poppa stayed. And then the routine of it made more sense to me than the getting out but wait this is not what I’m talking about. Or maybe it is. Maybe there’s a reason why Becky our labrador always knows where I am and comes to jump on the bed at the end of the night, because that’s where she belongs, and she’s ready.
Poppa was ours, in sickness and in health, and making his coffee and cutting up a banana and putting on his slippers and throwing out his trash and giving him a kiss on the head every day, that gave me a nice life. On the days I didn’t really feel like doing all of those things, when I’d be dressing him and brushing his hair, I’d think about how he was once somebody’s baby, and she did all these things, she must’ve loved doing all these things. So I did them for her, for her baby, and he was then mine too.
You don’t really need very much when you’re almost 101. In the last few days, he needed what he’d always needed – some help with his daily routine, a walk to the table, some food, he liked ripping the sugar packets open and stirring them in. Somedays he wouldn’t talk much, some days he’d look at me and say “What’s doin, Julie.” He would fall asleep, then eat a little, then forget to eat, then sleep a little. He liked the dog coming in so he could greet her and pet her soft head. He never stopped reaching for the dog. In the afternoon, he sat and listened to baseball, maybe just for the sound and shape of it on the tv. He liked a blanket, and dinner. Over the monitor hearing Barry saying Goodnight Dad when he was in bed and See You Tomorrow. And him saying “I hope so Bare.”
The last two days when he was having trouble breathing, it was like it wasn’t real, he could get through it. He was tough, he had no intention of leaving if his body could have fought it. But breathing with heavy liquid in your lungs is hard when your heart has been going since Ford invented the car. If you were born when people were still shocked from the recent Titanic sinking. If Charlie Chaplin was the hot young director when you were learning to walk.
Poppa had a team of people caring for him, and in the last few days he was not himself really, he was an old lion, breathing with his growly roar, closed eyes on the horizon, steady, aging, thick maned, sturdy in his weakness. He just sat in that chair, and did what his body told him, which was quietly just stay as long as you can, Lee.
I hope to be like him if I ever get to be that old, the way he’d just say thank you all the time. Loving the dog, loving all the kids, allowing himself to just be there with us, giving himself to us, and trusting us, in all our imperfections and humanness. He let us have him.
Like his worker Jose said when we told him Poppa had gone. Jose, the kindest guy in the world. He said. “I coulda done better.”