Thursday, November 13, 2008

Remembering Mom and Dad

"A pistol shot, at five o’clock, the bells of heaven ring,
Tell me what you done it for. No I won't tell you a thing.
Yesterday I begged you before I hit the ground,
All I leave behind me is only what I found…
Take up your china doll, take up your china doll,
Its only fractured and just a little nervous from the fall.”
- Grateful Dead, China Doll
I was captured today, by the old black and white photo of my parents, taken together back before they were married. In the picture, they are young and their joyful gazes were so innocently happy.

Their smiling eyes seem to have that universally blank expression on graduates’ faces in a million high school yearbook pictures. They thought then that they would be brave enough to meet the future together with joy. They were practically children then, not yet tempered by the challenges of marriage and parenthood. They were in love then, and they both died on this day, in their mid-seventies, older, wiser, sicker, but still in love. Their youthful confidence in love and in life was justified.

Feeling my old self of today, I recognize I’m no longer getting better, just older. I’m sinking slowly back from parent role, and more into helpless child. I wonder at their bravery in the face of the unknown – those two young people who became my Mom and Dad. They promised they would face it together – whatever came. They did, separated in death by exactly one year.

Mom went first, “defeated” as they say, in her brave battle with colon cancer. Dad was sentenced to one year of solitary confinement, finding himself alone after a lifetime together. He died on the one-year anniversary of his wife’s death, dropping like a stone as he got ready to go to mass. He died of loneliness and a broken heart, like a shattered china doll.

As old as I am today, as young as their picture was then, they’re still Mom and Dad. Sometimes, I’m afraid, because I’m older than the kids in their picture, and I don’t know what to do, and they can’t teach me.

Other times, looking into their eyes in that picture, I find that I’m doing okay after all. Increasingly, I feel like the brittle china doll, I see that picture and pick myself up, “only fractured and just a little nervous” from falling through youth into my own old age. I’m still alive – and I’m still standing after all. Thanks, Mom and Dad.


tina said...

Yes, you are still alive and still standing and still okay. Do not let it all worry you. Sorry about your mother and father, but they are looking down still watching out for you and hoping for you to be happy and only just a bit 'nervous'. Hang tough.

Frances said...

Tina is a brave soul, commenting on this emotionally charged post. I am feeling a little less sure of the whole thing, but wish you strength of purpose as well. My in laws had the same experience as your parents. She went down to color cancer, as did my own mother, and my father in law a year later, the same as yours, of a broken heart and loneliness. But think of the many happy years they shared and the love they had for each other. Many people do not get to experience those joys. And those of a loving daughter.


TC said...

I think it's scary not knowing what's on the other side, didn't really care until after I hit the half-century mark. I'm a little more "brittle" too I reckon, physically anyway. I don't think one loses wisdom as one ages, that's easy to see when you talk to other "old" gardeners. One even gains more when reading such words as you've written here.

walk2write said...

Your mom and dad's love story isn't finished yet, and they were continuing one that went before them. I'm curious, though. How did you "fall through youth" directly into old age? There has to be a middle somewhere. I've been in the middle for the last 20 years. I'll just let it expand like an amoeba until it engulfs whatever comes after it. Don't worry, WS. We all have our brittle moments. That's why we'll be here to catch you.

Blackswamp_Girl said...

I have a feeling... as I talk to my parents about some of the things that I'm going through now, things that they went through at my age but hid from me when I was young... I have a feeling that you aren't any more or less uncertain about things than they were, at times. Nor are you any more or less hopeful, or capable, or loved, or loving. There is a sadness in this knowledge... but also some comfort, no?

Martha in Michigan said...

Well, I thought of them, too, on the 13th, and wondered whether anyone else would mention the date. I find, after three and a half years, that I have reached the same wistful state about G as I have about Mom and Dad. They are all now a part of my past. I am able to think of them without tearing up, and to remember the good as vividly as the bad times. There is a difference, though. I miss our folks most when I wish I could share some good news with them or when I wish I could ask for advice. In both cases, I can imagine what they’d say, filling in their “lines” from my memory bank. They are kind of static presences there, stuck at the last stages at which I knew them, and they will always remain my parents. A spouse is different, in that your relationship constantly evolves (or so it seemed to me, over 40 years). In a way, I am free to interpolate, to imagine our life together since 2005 that might have been, for who knows who we would be right now if we were still together? In a real sense, I don’t even know what I’ve lost. (And I'm not sure what that means or whether it makes any sense.)