Friday, June 16, 2006

So long, Pauline.

My dad just called. He thanked me for his Father’s Day card. He was very touched by all the things I wrote. He even joked and asked if it had been sent to the right father. I guess, in the past, I didn’t usually write much in his cards. I saved my sentimentality for my mom’s. Dad’s cards were often an after thought. He said over and over how much he appreciated the kind thoughts and knew that he was a “poor substitute for Mom.” I didn’t know how to react to that. I don’t think of him as a substitute. I just think of things as being different now. He agreed with me.

We then lightened the conversation with talk of summer plans when he changed the subject to talk about his “friend”, Pauline. My dad is back in Minnesota now, and after one dinner together in Florida, he and Pauline had agreed to have a second date back in the Midwest. He left a message on her machine this morning and she called back this afternoon. “She was very impersonal with me and told me that she just couldn’t see herself dating anyone but her husband.” (He’s been dead for seven years.) Disappointed, my dad expressed how surprised he was. “I told her that I understood as long as she was happy, but she told me that she wasn’t happy. Carol, I just don’t understand that kind of thinking.” I tried to explain to my dad that grief has no timetable. That Pauline is still devastated by the sudden loss of her life partner, but he just couldn’t quite grasp it. “I’m not upset,” he told me, “just a little surprised that someone could put their life on hold like that.” I reminded him that she is just as confused by his response to Mom’s death. Pauline doesn’t know what it’s like to watch someone live with a deadly disease for years on end.

We then talked about friends and neighbors in Minnesota. Some people have gotten sick. Helen has “anxieties – her depression is back.” Karl can’t join my dad on his morning two-mile walk because his hip is bad. And some people have died. Mr. B passed away from cancer last month. My dad expressed how grateful he was for his health, but he also expressed concerns. Everything is different, he commented. Everywhere he looks, there are reminders of my mom and the things that were so important to her. “Now none of those things matter anymore. It’s all meaningless.” As I wept he continued, “How can I make sense of that? What does it mean?” I think I knew what he was talking about. It wasn’t just the little things, like the fact that she insisted on certain sizes of glasses for different types of drinks, or the color of the fabric for the window coverings (that took weeks to decide on). It was the bigger things…the house they had worked on fixing up for over 35 years, or the pile of 5-year diaries she had faithfully put entries in a few times a week since they were married 45 years ago.

Then poof! One day changed all that. I think about that often. It is hard to comprehend the effect that one human being has on so many lives. Yesterday, in particular, was a hard day. I really missed her. I was sick. I had a terrible stomachache that turned into fatigue that left me unable to keep up with my two little ones. It was a long day that I hope will not permanently affect my children’s development. Summary: too much TV, not enough reading or imagination stretching, and more yelling than usual. At one point in the afternoon, I laid down in utter exhaustion and started to cry. I wasn’t particularly frustrated with parenting – that usually hits about early July – they were tears of frustration because I couldn’t call my mom. I couldn’t call her to tell her I was sick. She was always a great one for sympathy. No matter how insignificant my “pain”, she honored it and gave me complete support. But yesterday I couldn’t get that from her. It seemed inconceivable because I can totally remember her. I can hear her and see her. How can it be that I can’t call her? She has not faded from my brain at all, but she is completely gone.

It doesn’t make sense.

My call with my dad ended with talk of Christmas plans and cultural events in Minneapolis. He wants to explore new places, try new things and be open minded about everything. He completely appreciates his health and the new opportunity he has to live his life in any way he chooses. I’m really proud of him. He knows he has options. He can grieve and close himself off from others, like Pauline, or he can change direction.

He has not forgotten her – he just knows that he can’t change what has happened.

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