It’s funny how my kids age and don’t age to me. Empirically I know they are older. They do many adult things. But in my head (or maybe it’s my heart) they are still tiny. They still need to be care for and loved and nurtured. My daughter has had trouble sleeping since she was an infant. And when she has a night terror, even at 15, she still calls for me. I don’t have night terrors, but I think even at 38, I would still call for my parents. My dad had a heart attack last month. It was a shock to my system. I don’t entirely know why. I love him deeply but we live unconnected lives. And yet, somehow, even if we talk only a few times a year and he lives 1000 miles away, knowing that he is alive and healthy is comforting to me.
I drove down a few days after the surgery to see him. Walking into the hospital room and seeing him full of tubes was upsetting. His fragility was surprising to me. I had never seen my father tired or even sad. He was, in my head (or maybe it’s my heart), still a strong, young, healthy man. We don’t really know each other, not in a day-to-day way, but we know each other in that deep hearted way that only kindred spirits can. Maybe because I am most closely connected to the part of him that endures, I was shocked to realize that he could still be affected by the same things that will affect all of us — frailty, death, exhaustion. I don’t know. I just know that seeing him there, knowing how close he came to dying, changed me.
He looked at me and said, “I realized it would be okay. That I have had a good life and if I had to go, I’ve done everything I wanted to do.” He seemed comforted and a little surprised by that. And then he asked me, “Are you happy?” I said I was. Later that day, as he was drifting in and out of sleep, his voice drifted from the bed in between snores, “I am glad you are happy honey.”
I don’t know who I am in his head, how old I am, but I do know that he has tried to be the best father he can be. And maybe that’s what I have to accept. I don’t know if I will ever see my children for who they are. But I have tried to be the best mother I can be. Parent and child, the roles are so confusing and confused and full of social expectation and personal pressure. But, in my head (or maybe it’s my heart), I think if we stay true to the love we have for these beings, we will do the best we can with what we have. And that might just be enough.