Sappy Anniversary [first posted April 4, 2012]
I really don’t want to think about this anniversary.
Unlike tomorrow, which is the 10th anniversary of our being in this house. I will want to celebrate that. I will want to hold my husband’s hand and walk around the yard and celebrate every strawberry, blueberry, and raspberry we savored from our own fruit patches. I will want for us to tell their stories. For example, when we first moved here to a house we had little furniture to fill, we made a trip to southwest Michigan and purchased one-of-a-kind cottage-style stuff, which we crammed into our little red Mazda up to its ceiling. On the way home, we passed a blueberry farm selling blueberry bushes for $3. We bought six and since the only space left in the car was the back shelf, that’s where the bushes rode on their way to their new home in Chicago.
Today, however, is not a homey blueberry-cobbler type of anniversary. Rather, it was one year ago today that my sweet father, content to smile over peanut butter sandwiches at his beloved wife of 62 years, entered the Alzheimer’s wing of a nursing home so near and yet so far from the kitchen table where he’d squeeze Mom's hand after lunch and announce, “I’m going to go brush my tooth.” It was what he had said for years after meals, and we always laughed. Not so much because it was funny or even one of his many priceless puns. Just because he thought it was funny. And he was so happy to toddle around his home from table to toothbrush to TV with maybe an unannounced stop at the cookie jar
Home is where the heart is. One year later, my dad’s distance from his home evokes strong emotions in me. My broken heart over his broken heart, which he keenly felt one year ago but most likely rarely remembers now, is a hand holding an hourglass whose “sand” is my life, my very breath, and my tears. Sometimes Dad’s safety in the nursing home opens my grateful palm to lightly swing the timepiece in rhythm with the folks who kindly feed and clothe, cheerfully bathe and diaper my hero as Alzheimer’s shuts off switch after switch in his body. Sometimes, with reminders of his simple pleasures stolen, choking grief tightens its grip on the hourglass throat so that my breaths trying to flow freely barely dribble through. Sometimes, outrage that he is reduced to helplessness is a fist angry enough to crush the hourglass to shards, sending tears cascading.
Yesterday I drove 20 miles to visit my father. I was crying so hard in the car that I drove right past the nursing home and drove 20 miles back home. The last few months my hand has been swinging the hourglass. I’ve been able to breathe okay and haven’t cried much for my father. My mom’s health crisis in February rendered my visits to Dad delightful child’s play. I thought perhaps my grief over his decline had plateaued in the acceptance stage.
But yesterday I passed a tiny, white brick, two-dormer colonial house that played a part of an early childhood memory for me. When the high school my dad taught at was still the only one for four towns around, its homecoming parade route went past this house, which in the 1950s was red brick. What most fascinated me as a little girl was a tiny pond with gold fish in the front yard near where my parents, my brother, and I sat on a blanket to watch the home team’s cheerleaders, pompom squad, and spirited band march by in all their red-and-white youthful glory. No one else in my family remembers this event. The pond has long been sodded over. Memory Lane hit me hard as I drove to visit my father on the day before his one-year anniversary. I couldn’t visit him. I just couldn’t.