He’s reading a magazine and he looks peaceful and absorbed but his thoughts keep coming through.
As he’s gotten older, he has become less conscious of anyone around him being able to hear what he says. My sister Lucy says being in a room with him now is like living inside his head – a jumbly rag-bag of unrelated thoughts and grievances – the kind we all carry around with us and repeat mindlessly and to no purpose.
“Oh boy, I’m tired,” he sighs. “I’ve never been so tired.”
“I don’t like this magazine. Why doesn’t someone answer the phone? Here comes the mailman. Oh boy, my feet hurt. I’m going to tell him the next time I see him. I don’t know why she does that. Come here, puppy. Oh, you want some Cheerios, don’t you? No, don’t worry. I didn’t mean it that way.”
The past and the present intersect; ancient childhood regrets collide with yesterday’s longings while the future looms – implacable and stern. It’s a lot to make sense of.
Elderly people are like children in so many ways. They depend upon us to move through the day; they eat what we give them; their bodily functions are our concerns; our schedules determine theirs.
And yet, like children, like anyone, really, their thoughts remain their own.
So when I heard Dad say “I’m ready to die. I am really ready to die.” yesterday – in the stream of other unrelated thoughts and ideas his rag-bag of a mind keeps retailing to the world – I listened hard. With respect. It’s not a new thought for him. He is ready. His entire life has been a preparation for this moment: to be ready to die, to be ready to move on, to meet his Maker and to settle his accounts.
And he is – after all – 90 years old. Not a small age and certainly not an age to make light of, not an age to pretend that things are other than what they are.
I am learning all the time – from my father; from the memory of my darling, departed mother; from the example my sisters and brothers set as they take care of Dad (or don’t – very instructive too).
When he talks to himself, Dad’s face is abstracted and remote: he is clearly in some other world where what he is saying makes sense.
When he is aware of us; aware of his continued tenancy on this earth, his comments are more measured, less challenging.
Dad is ready to die. He says it often, out loud, in the face of all that our culture does to dissuade him – as if this life is not all there is; as if there is more to our existence than drawing breath.
I find it comforting.
Dad’s life is slowly drawing to a close, with all the attending physical demands and indignities that fact commands. He knows it; and yet he doesn’t. Like a baby, he takes for granted the presence of those who love him, those whose job it is to look after him. He doesn’t give it a second thought. Is there a better proof of success? Any better way we could show how much we love him, how deeply he matters, in spite of frailties and breakdowns?
I don’t think so. I think this is our measure, this is how we will be judged.