Sunday, February 04, 2007

CRACKING THE SHELL



Time is the one and only thing we have for certain while on this planet.

Free time, not enough time, wasting time and making time. Time can be a healer; its slow passage the only thing that lifts the chest crushing pain of loss to let the memories fill the void. Time can be a predator; ticking swiftly closer to a dreaded moment that snatches away a loved one.

This week I prayed for more time.

On Friday, my dad went in for a procedure to determine the reason for his declining health. His heart, a stark contrast to this rock of a man, is fragile. The procedure was to be followed by at attempt to correct the flaws; surgery that he would likely not sustain. Friday crept along slowly like a snake eyeing its prey. Recovering from pneumonia left me unable to eradicate the physical distance between us. My younger brother, closest of the flock to my dad, chomped at the bit to fly to Florida, but was himself grounded by a virus. I worked through my day, hearing silent clocks, now loudly ticking, waiting for the phone call.

My dad and I shared the usual hard shell banter the day before. These exchanges always full of humor and wit, facts and truth, but emotion kept always just beneath the shell. I don’t know the cause for this emotional armor. I believe the Irish are prone to it. There seem to be two varieties to these people: one stoic, steadfast and honorable, the other robust, carefree and fool hearty. My dad is surely of the former design.

Mine was not a family of ‘I love you’s” although love was ever-present. I do not remember princess-like Daddy’s little girl encounters. That was Ok with me. I knew that he loved me in his guarded way. My mom and dad were opposite; the type that repel instead of attract. They were obviously unsuited, yet partnered for more than thirty years to raise the group of offspring they brought to the world. Their relationship reached the point of apathy that goes beyond repair. There were times I blamed my mom and times I faulted my dad. In some ways, it was a relief that their time had ended.

During this period of separation, their connection didn’t fizzle out or fade away, but rotted and molded as they moved to opposite ends of the home they shared since I was two. My mom and I were good friends and talked constantly. It was at this time in my life that I began to know my dad. We would go to dinner together to talk. For the first time I felt “special” in his presence and we learned about one another as if meeting for the first time. On one of these encounters, I had to question him about why he had stopped wearing his bullet-proof vest to work; information leaked by my mother.

His answer, as always, was matter-of-fact and seemingly unemotional, but it spoke volumes to me about the man beneath the shell. He couldn’t imagine a life without my mother and couldn’t figure out how to support us and himself simultaneously. “There are organizations and funds for situations like these and you would all be taken care of.” The statement was not that of a martyr, but that of a silent and practical man who loved his family without words.
Friday moved painfully forward.
This could not happen like this.
I needed time.

Perhaps I did not need years or months or weeks, but I needed to be face to face with my father; to look into his tired green eyes and slowly but surely crack the shell. I needed to speak the words that he couldn’t say and that I needed to; even if I spoke for both of us.

The call came; no surgery took place. After the exploratory procedure, it was determined that he had an aneurism. In addition, two of the three former by-passes were completely shut down and the third blocked in several places. His kidneys were failing due to lack of oxygen. The team consulted and waited until Saturday to present their findings. “We can send you home and you can wait it out; an unknown amount of time, or we can go in and attempt to remove the aneurism and repair the by-pass; the chances of your surviving the surgery are very limited. Think about it,” they told him.

“There is nothing to think about,” my dad told them, “schedule the surgery.” His feelings were sure, his desires clear; I will either return to some kind of normal life, or I will go.

My flight is booked for 8am on Monday.

I am grateful.

Grateful that I am well enough to travel.

Grateful that we need not make decisions on his behalf.

Grateful that I have the opportunity of a lifetime.

Thank you for your prayers.

5 comments:

Carrie Wilson Link said...

My thoughts and prayers are with you, your dad, and your whole family, Nancy.

Susan McDuffie, LMFT said...

Wow, Nancy, I am right there with you in heart and spirit. May God bless you with all the strength and courage that you will need to get through this hard time.

Jerri said...

Winged prayers fly along with you, friend. Prayers for time, for healing in all ways, for strength.

Blessings be.

Carrie Wilson Link said...

Thinking of you.

Jenny Rough said...

My thoughts and prayers are with you and your dad, Nancy.