This last few months have been very trying for me and every day it seems it gets personally harder to make it through the day without really feeling down. I have seriously ill relatives everywhere, an aging and ill dog, who is also a family member and I haven’t slept in my bed since the beginning of March. To make all matters worse, during this most recent trip to see family, I was told by my oldest daughter that she was dating and I hadn’t met “him” yet. Compounded with my son being really sick and my youngest daughter preparing for her communion in two short weeks, I have been overwhelmed.
I’m pretty sure that it was me that convinced my father to come up and take the drive with me back to DC and Philadelphia to see his family who are ill and we took that trip just last week. Before that trip even began, a whole new stress came into play. A Wish Ball on Friday night, a full college road trip on Saturday four hours away and then an email. A wonderful niece of mine found out her grandfather was coming up and she wanted to see him and I was trying to arrange the meeting at some point while we traveled. Logistics aside, which were testing my schedule, the worst possible thing happened. I found out that my father could not see her until she was 18, which she isn’t. This all stems from my past and a court order and there was no way around it, for he was never going to go against a judge. As much as he was happy to hear that one of his granddaughters wanted contact, we were both devastated that it couldn’t happen.
I had to tell her, after the fact. After planning. After she probably got really excited too. It just plain sucked out all of my existing positive energy that I had and we hadn’t even left for this trip.
The day came and once I had picked up my father at the airport, the entire five-hour ride down was consumed in conversation around family, my niece, my brother and so many conversations where I had to bite my tongue. Daughters have to respect their fathers, but there were times when I just wanted to pull the car off the road and just look at him in the eyes and say,
“Are you kidding me?”
I cannot even go into details, because it’s really not worth it, but trust me, you would have wanted to pull that car over too. I did spend some time that night in the hotel asking my niece questions via text about her and what she was all about and sharing that information with my dad, her grampa. I know it doesn’t make up for not being able to see her, but somehow I will see her this summer, even for just a dinner at the IHOP.
Seeing my aunt, his sister, the next morning was a pretty special and heartbreaking day. I saw her children, my cousins, ate lunch and spent time just listening to these two siblings hash out history. Stories of stitches, favorites, hide and seek and driving lessons with pizza flying. Discussions of dates and times and where they lived and lots and lots of stories about their older sister, Mary Helen, who dad would see that night and the next day. My aunt Pat laughed and I remember her smiling a lot and I think both of them spent some time wishing they were kids again. Two special moments of the day happened when my aunt gave my dad their father’s whiskey shot glasses, four ounces, that she had held on to for a very long time, just waiting for the day to give them to her brother. The last was when they talked about my aunts husband, Al, who died years ago and how they used to tease each other about Army vs Navy.
The day ended with aunt Pat telling dad he was to blame for her lung cancer because he taught her to inhale and many moments of long sobbing hugs between the two of them when we left. They would never see each other again and they knew it and said goodbye.
My cousin Frank helped my dad outside, and consoled him for a time until I was ready to go. I hugged my two cousins as hard as I could and let them know I would return in a few weeks. I just can’t imagine not seeing my aunt just one more time. I want to spend time with my cousins again and somehow I would get over my mounting sadness.
Later that night we arrived in Philadelphia to see my dads second sister, Mary Helen and her husband, Ed, who I saw about six weeks ago. He is also ailing and struggling and we were going to spend the night there so dad could catch up. There is such an immense love in this house, it amazes me every time I visit. My aunt calls all of her children and grandchildren “my Michael” and “my Gina” and she shared stories of them again for my dad. While we were eating dinner, the greatest meatballs on the planet by the way, I recalled the stories that aunt Pat and dad talked about earlier that day and she helped me realize the TRUTH in those stories. Mary was the oldest of the three and called, Mary Helen. She was always called by her first and middle name. Pat and Frank, never. It was her sign of authority and she wore it well. She was always entrusted with Pat and Frank and that hour was a great lesson in history from the elder of the group of three siblings.
Apparently, finger shadow puppets were made in church on Sundays, dad rode bikes when he was grounded and shot bb guns when he wasn’t supposed to. He started smoking at 11 and was not the uh…..wonderful child he and Pat claimed! Like I didn’t know this already, but confirmation was nice to receive and fun to see the two spat about it. After dinner, we all watched what? The Phils. If you are in their house, a Philadelphia sport is on the TV. The Fliers were down 0-3 so the Phils were a better bet to watch. At about 11 pm my Uncle Ed went to bed first and I got my spot on the couch ready. Dad would take the guest room this time. At the bottom of the stairs, just before they both went up, Mary and dad held each other and cried. It would be the only time they would share solemn sorrow the entire visit. So much sadness. It came through a casual embrace and left the air as soon as it came. Both trying to hold strong for the other.
That night was long and sleepless and thoughts about everything happening in my life kept me worrying until early dawn.
The next day, our last for this visit, we went to see my Aunt Floss and Uncle Walt and the stories continued. It was a tremendous afternoon and filled with so much emotion. New photos of the great-grandchildren were posted on her hospital wall and she was in better spirits. Walt talked about “wintering over” while he served in the Navy and other great naval battles and stories that would have Floss rolling her eyes or actually adding details because she was still very proud of her husband. I sat there again, listening to my dad and his aunt and uncle and typed myself as many notes as I could so I wouldn’t forget these moments through my fogged memory. I was past exhaustion but somehow still paid attention to every detail. My dad thought Floss looked good and that Walt had shrunk several inches. My father sought out his uncle when he is 17 to learn about the Navy and he was taller than my dad. Now, my dad was taller and larger than life to uncle Walt.
Tired and ready to head back to my house, we left the hospital. We grabbed 20 fresh soft pretzels and snacked while we drove. Thank god we had a GPS because neither one of us could have read a map through our sore eyes. No pictures were taken this time. Dad isn’t one for pictures and quite frankly, it just wasn’t right. Exhausted and mentally drained, we pulled in the driveway around 6 pm and headed to dinner with my family. I really don’t remember much more from that night except crashing on the sofa and trying to sleep through worry. It didn’t work and that would be three nights in a row of no sleep.
Through all of this going on for three days, I was not home for my oldest daughter’s first real “man” date. I didn’t get to meet him or “check him out” or embarrass her greatly. Nothing! She went out at 3pm and got home about 10pm! What?! He paid for everything! What?! He asked her out again and to a Spring dance too. What?! You would never guess his name. Oh yes. It’s Frank. Her BBM status was “It’s about time” for three days. That was enough said for me to know she was really happy. Why is it that I am always there for every surgery and every bad thing that she has to endure and could not be here for the one really great thing. I just don’t get it. Somebody hates me. What the hell did I do wrong? It has to be Karma, I suppose. I will try to reach out to a jerk in the next week to redeem myself and be super nice. Maybe that way I will get to meet him on the second date.
The most regrettable thing? At exit 6, on the way back from Philly, my dad and I realized we broke a cardinal rule. We forgot the cheese steak. You cannot go to Philly and NOT get a hole in the wall great, greasy, cheesy cheese steak. We did. Too tired to turn around, we kept driving. Born and raised in the Friendly City and it slipped our minds. A true shame. Maybe I will buy that jerk-to-be lunch so that next time, my Karma will be enhanced and my brain will function and I will remember the samich.
Until then, I will wonder what Jody’s face looked like when she got home that night, and try to forget what my aunt Pat has turned into. I will pray for my Uncle Ed and Aunt Flossy and hope that they both get well and keep loving their children and grand children for many years. I still haven’t slept. I dropped my dad at the airport today, one week later. The send off was tense and labored and I’m sure so much needs to be said, but wont be. I’m sad, certainly depressed and I’m watching my beautiful Magnum lie here next to me breathing long and labored breaths. I will call Justin in a few minutes to help me get her up to go outside and use the restroom. In three weeks we have to decide what to do next. That is precisely the time I need to be in DC again.
But I’m great, trust me. Seeing my cousins and second cousins keep me going and going.
- The Weekend that was…a tough one (wigsbabe.wordpress.com)