Dad Didn’t Die

A few weeks ago, my father was seriously ill and also 1,243 miles away. While flying to him, I thought back to our conversation mere weeks ago, when I was in Florida for the winter and we saw each other at least once a week, just the two of us sitting in chairs at my sunroom table where we enjoyed the majestic palms stretching down the boulevard. On these visits, Dad became softer with me, more open emotionally, and I felt I could talk to him about anything.

I asked him about my grandmother, his mother, who had died in Florida when I was a teenager. I remember my father in 1971, dressed for his flight down south. In his sharply creased trousers and his caramel colored sweater with the black strip over a crisp white shirt, he looked as handsome as a movie star. His normal handsome was James Dean but this handsome was toned down, more serious and refined, as befitted the occasion. I asked him to take me with him and he said it wasn’t possible.

I loved my grandmother so much, and had missed her since she’d made the permanent move south. I’d been down to see her a few times, she’d been north a few times, too, always with crates of oranges and grapefruit, but this was different. This might be the last time. But when Dad said no, he meant it. I mourned for her from afar, the only person who’d ever shown me physical affection when I was a child. She hugged me tight. She held me in her arms. She kissed me and told me she loved me. She put her hand in mine and held tight. Nobody else in our family did those things. Not my parents or my maternal grandparents. For a long time, I thought that meant Grandma Hines was the only person who really loved me. And she was dying. Or maybe already dead.

“I never made it in time,” my dad confessed almost fifty years later as we sat in the same Florida sun where many generations of his mother’s family had been born and raised. “She was dead when I got there.” We sat in silence, remembering the robust six-foot tall woman with the warm heart and arms that wrapped around you like a love package. I noted the guilt in my father’s voice as he recalled his inability to see his mother one last time. He’d been unreachable for awhile, working out of town or maybe just unavailable. We weren’t a real family then. Neither Dad nor I lived with my brothers and mom. Mom had a habit of kicking us both out with regularity, but the shadow of death had brought the whole family together for a little while.

Now I was flying to see my father under similar conditions. Would I make it in time? It had been such a difficult decision to go back to Florida. I’d only been home from my extended winter stay for two weeks. I’d sorely missed my husband those winter months. I didn’t want to leave him again so soon, but remembering the regret my dad had held on to all these years made me determined to see him, maybe for the last time.

My brother came down too. I got to St Pete just a bit before him, rented a car at the tiny airport, and dumped my bags in the condo. Then I went to the hospital. My dad was not my dad. He was in intensive care, as his vitals were not good, he looked so pale, hooked up to many machines that jabbed him with needles up and down his arms. His eyes were closed. I told the nurse I’d just sit with him. I’d made the right decision to come; he wasn’t dead yet, but he looked terrifyingly near it.

My hand reached for the one part of his arm that wasn’t taped to his skin with an IV. His eyes fluttered open. When he recognized me, his whole face smiled. We chatted in our familiar way. The doctor came and listed the possible grim outcomes. It could be this or that or the other or a combination. But they had a plan and were giving medication and running tests. I was warily optimistic. My brother joined us and soon I left so Dad and Bob could have some one on one time.

And thus we went on, my brother and I making sure each day one of us went to the hospital early and the other later. We’d then debrief each other via phone or text. My brother was staying at my dad’s condo, but he came to mine one day and we sat and talked about a lot of difficult things, including our mother, politics and religion.

Since Trump has been elected, I’ve wanted to know what his supporters think of him now. But I didn’t want to risk the friendships that had survived the election, so I had stayed silent. Bob said “I hate his ego but I love the economy. Nearly everybody has a job. The market’s doing great and thank God we aren’t granting asylum to busloads of thugs who not only get medical insurance but Social Security! Did you know Mexico supplies bus transport and pays their fare to our border?”

I didn’t and still find it difficult to believe that last one. I need Snopes for that. But, aside from saying having a job was not the same as earning a living wage, I was able to agree in theory with the rest of it. Our views on both politics and religion differ wildly but somehow that day we found common ground.

I’m not one to try to convince another they should see things (like the inexplicable workings of the universe or our current president) as I do. But my brother, a religious scholar of the evangelical sort, who studies both Hebrew and Greek, the better to translate God’s Word, has a more open line to the Holy Spirit than me. I told him our octogenarian father had heartbreakingly confided, during one of our weekly winter talks, that he was afraid of dying. I asked Bob if he knew of a way to help ease our dad’s mind on that. If Dad was afraid when he was healthy, what must he be suffering now? My brother agreed to have a chat with Dad about Jesus.

Every day we watched our dad improve bit by bit. The first bite of food. The first successful procedure. The final diagnosis, which was not as bad as we thought. He needed to heal from an infection and, in due time, have a gall bladder operation.

Whoosh, the relief.

Another blessing, my brother had felt the spirit come upon him and had talked to Dad about life after death. Dad, who moved from atheist to agnostic as he aged, heard the good news that heaven was real and awaited him whenever his sojourn on this planet ended.

The next day during my hospital visit, I said, “So Dad, Bobby tells me he talked to you about God and heaven.” Dad, still in a world of hurt and under the influence of heavy pain killers, said “Yes, and it was good news, but, Cindy, what about the frog?”

“Frog?” He had me stumped, so tried to explain further. “You know, the one that you say we all came from.” Ah, I got it now. Dad meant the primordial soup that created single cell organisms from which, over millennia, humanity evolved. My brother and I had not discussed the frog. Bob had agreed with me when I said I didn’t think religion and science had to be irreconcilable. “Absolutely,” he’d said, “they complement each other.” We talked about black holes and dark matter and the Great Attractor, all of which to me seem cohorts of a mysterious, maybe even benevolent, universe. But we didn’t talk about the frog. I knew my brother takes the Bible quite literally and that there was a line at which we could meet and where that line could not be crossed.

I had explained evolution to Dad during one winter visit. Neither of my parents finished high school, as they were very busy being teenage parents, so biology and the origin of the species is not something on their everyday minds. Dad found all of what I’d said interesting but pretty darn unbelievable. He didn’t like thinking he was descended from mud, but neither did he absolutely believe the Bible, which he had read some years ago, perhaps in an attempt to lift the burden of disbelief. “Some of those guys were nuts,” is the way Dad put it.

“Dad,” I said, “I know Bobby thinks the earth and all its creatures were created in a single week. But Einstein’s time-motion theory of relativity proved that everything that has ever happened or will happen in the future is also happening now, all at once.” His eyes wandered to the clock on the wall. I tried to simplify the explanation. “Time, as we think of it, is a human construct that helps us make sense of our lives in the world now. But time, when considered with motion over the broad range of the known universe, really is happening all at once. God’s ‘week’ could have been billions of years. God could have dabbled with his creations for an eternity.”

Dad closed his eyes for a minute. Science is a wearying subject for many people, particularly those flying high on opioids. When he opened his eyes again, he said, “But Cindy, you have to admit, most of us don’t look a damn thing like frogs.” Dad was back. And he wouldn’t be dying any day soon. He had too much thinking to do, sorting out the universe, frogs, and his own sprogs.

 

 

 

 

Changing Your Life

Sitting here writing about changing my life with advice from a self-help book when I feel as if that’s an impossible task. It’s almost as if someone snatched away the me I used to be, and frankly, all I want to do is get her back. Where did the Cindy who loved yoga and writing go? When did my resolve to eat healthfully disappear? I’m reading STICK WITH IT as a last-ditch effort. The book bases its premise on an acronym SCIENCE and does claim that all the advice is science-based. Since last report I’ve read two more chapters and actually made some progress. Did some backsliding, too.

I’ve already written about stepladders and community in previous posts. This past week I felt I needed a super dose of help so I tackled “Important” and “Easy.” I can sum up those two chapters swiftly. “Important” is all about priorities. If you think the change you want to make is important, you’ll try harder to make it and keep it. Sean Young, the author, sites a study about the three most important things in many people’s lives.

Money, health, and relationships are the top three. Turns out, as long as you’re not destitute, money isn’t important to health or happiness. People with money can still get death sentence diseases or be clinically depressed. People with lots of money are often miserable in their relationships.

It’s easy to think “if I just had X amount of dollars, all would be well.” I’ve thought that myself many times. One of the changes I’d like to make is in my health. “If I hired a chef, I’d be able to eat better with less effort. I’d also be able to hire a private yoga teacher.” All true but I can see that money wouldn’t take away temptation as far as cake goes and if I didn’t feel like working out, a coach wouldn’t motivate me to do it.  I’d just cancel. Health has to be important enough to me to change my eating and exercise habits for the better.

My other goal is to finish my book. I actually did complete a writing project that was on my to-do list. To get my books on audio, I had to fill out five spec sheets, choosing a section of each story to be narrated. After weeks of procrastinating, I got it done this past week. So that’s what I mean…this self-help method is working to a point. But all the money in the world can’t conjure that spark of hot desire that compels me to tell a story and get it in great shape for my editor’s eyes. But, since it’s important to me, partly because of the writing communities I’ve been a part of for so long, I am determined to get it done this summer.

So much for “important.” Next is “Easy” and I do know that “easy” helped me start a yoga practice again. I simply loaded Gaia onto my computer and with a couple of clicks and a move from chair to floor, I’m ready to go. No special equipment or clothing needed. No trip in the car to the yoga studio. “Easy” works for me as far as exercise goes.

Eating the right food is a bit more complicated. Fast food is easy. The stocking, preparing and cooking of whole nutritious food takes way more energy. Stepladders (that first helpful hint in SCIENCE) breaks down difficult or complex tasks, which does make them easier. I’m still working with my goal of eating right. And I’m trying not to bask too long in the glory of finishing the tasks for the audio books.

I have a set of steps for completing the book project, too. Meanwhile I’m still reading. I’ve done S, C, I, and E. I can’t wait to see what the heck N is all about. Neurohacks. Hmmm. Something with the brain, I suspect. SCIE/NCE. Maybe I can get this book finished by next weeks so I’ll have all the tools necessary to implement my goals.

 

 

Stick With It

Rewrote the end of the manuscript I’ve been working on for a few years now. The first and last chapters always need the most revision. But I think this time I’ve got it. The photo is of the finally finished product. I say finished by that’s just the story I’ve told. Now I need to edit, add chapter headings, and construct a timeline. These are things I’d rather not do, but do them I must. Only then, when I feel the narrative is as tight and the writing as polished as I want it to be, can I send it to my editor.

I have a lot of experience sticking to my writing projects. In other areas of life, I’m not so great. I’ve gained and lost weight for 25 years, never able to stay for long on the slim end of the scale. I’ve also started and abandoned every kind of exercise program you can imagine from running to weight training to every kind of dance class under the sun to yoga. I like yoga best, but even that hasn’t stuck as firmly as I wish.

Which is why when I was at the bookstore the other day, a book called “Stick To It” caught my eye. I’d just had a bad report on my blood sugar from my doctor (I can never stick to the plan not to eat cake, either) and she suggested I go on the Mediterranean diet. While at the bookstore, I picked up a cookbook, too. The Mediterranean food pyramid looks a bit different than the one from the USDA.

Because I’ve been on so many diets, I worry that this is yet another one I won’t be able to stick to. Thus, the new self-help book might finally give me ways to stick to a diet and exercise routine that work for life. Here’s hoping. The subtitle to the book by Sean Young is “A Scientifically Proven Process for Changing Your Life–For Good.”  Young has a process he calls SCIENCE. It’s an acronym for stepladder, community, important, easy, neurohacks, captivating, and engrained.

Over the weekend I finished a couple of chapters. The stepladder concept is simple and makes sense (unlike some of the other words that seem silly, like “captivating” or strange like “neurohacks”). Stepladders are just breaking goals down into manageable steps. Before that, people need to discern what goals are really dreams. Dreams come after you’ve done the work with the steps toward a goal. That makes sense. One step at a time.

I outlined some steps toward my goals of exercising more and eating right. I even rejoined Weight Watchers (the “C” in SCIENCE is) so there’s my community for diet. I bought the cookbook. And each day I’ve used at least one recipe from the cookbook. So, I’m eating Mediterranean. I also joined an online group called Gaia (gaia.com) that has a terrific 20 minute yoga flow. I’ve managed to do that once. I plan to do it again today, but not sure if I will have the time since I need to pack for a much anticipated trip to Seattle to meet my new granddaughter, Julia June, just a few weeks old. We leave early tomorrow morning.

Not bringing the book with me, but I will be grocery shopping for easy Mediterranean fare like hummus and pita and grape leaves. I kind of know how to do this from my years as a vegetarian. I always get lots of exercise in Seattle. Owen likes the playground down the street, Murphy likes a walk, Al loves riding a bike around the neighborhood the kids live in, everybody in that house loves being active, so I know I will be more active than usual too, but in a fun way. I’m sure I’ll be doing my regular sun salutations, and Gaia has a mobile app, so I may even try that. Maybe.

I plan to write a series of posts on “Sticking With It” upon my return from Seattle  I’ll track my progress here. The main goal for this week is to reconnect in real time with my Seattle family. Namaste.