Death confronted me three times this weekend.
The Perfect Storm
My husband and I visited my parents, who live about seven hours away. As often occurs when we travel, we found ourselves with access to cable television, something we don’t have at home. So I engaged in that mind numbing practice of flipping through endless channels. One evening I stumbled across The Perfect Storm. Don’t stop here, I thought. Why would I want to watch this? They all die. We know they all die. I hated it the first time I saw it. Why would I watch it again? Click. Click. On to more cheerful channels. But an hour later, when the storm had reached its worst, there I was. Watching. Couldn’t take my eyes off it. Glued to the set.
My mother has a wonderful assortment of photos on her computer that cycle in an endless slide show. The order is totally random, so you never know what little memory is going to get triggered next. We were watching the pictures roll by when her dad—my grandpa—appeared on the screen, a delightful picture of him holding my childhood beagle. Mom commented how she loves that picture of her dad, made all the more special because she has few snapshots of him. (You know the drill. He took thousands of photos. Always behind the camera.) He passed away when I was in grade school, the first person I knew who died. It was very sad. And yet, in retrospect, he died while working in his garden, among the flowers that brought him endless pleasure.
My dad is in the Alzheimer’s wing now. I don’t know whether it’s accurate to consider him as dying. Maybe he’s only dying in the sense that all of us are dying. His body continues to go about its business. His heart keeps beating, the food gets digested, he breathes in and out. But increasingly, he’s on auto pilot. His legs should be able to walk, but his brain won’t tell them to go. There’s no one in charge.
I often read myself to sleep. I reach a point where my mind is still processing the words, but I can’t hold my eyes open. With dad, the experience is reversed. His body is still chugging along, but his mind is checking out.
Of course, I don’t really know. Mom doesn’t really know. He seems peaceful enough. I hope he is. But it is hard as the dickens for the rest of us. To watch. And wonder. And pray.
It’s a time when all that’s left is the love.