When we were newlyweds, my husband and I played a silly game that we called "Life is a Musical". We'd make up dramatic arias and ballads and rhymes about the most mundane parts of our daily lives. Then we'd sing to each other, about doing the dishes or sweeping the porch or slicing a peach, selling it as though we were on Broadway. We thought we were adorable, and we probably were.
Lately I've had a role in the musical "Life With a Dad in Failing Health". I've been shuttling back and forth between Los Angeles, where my parents live, and my real life, which is set two hours north. My dad is in end-stage, congestive heart failure. He also suffers from kidney failure, for which he goes to dialysis three times a week. After some harrowing times in the hospital and a nursing home, he is now home for good, for the time he has left. A nice young man named Edwin takes care of him during the week, and then my sister and I take turns on the weekend when Edwin gets some well-deserved time off.
Taking care of a parent in the same ways that that parent once took care of you is exhausting, both physically and emotionally. I suppose some people might find it rewarding, but I struggle just to keep my balance. My dad has always been the alpha male. To be so dependent is impossibly hard for him. He is unhappy, in pain, depressed, and basically over it. My dad is pretty focused on dying.
Also, he's not so sure about God.
Back to the musical: At the Wednesday Communion service on Level Two at the state prison where I work, my raw nerves are drawn to a song:
"We hold a treasure
not made of gold
in earthen vessels, wealth untold - -
one treasure only -
the Lord, the Christ -
in earthen vessels . . . "
The men in the inmate choir sing gently, their harmony traveling around the chapel and landing in my heart. I think about my dad's earthen vessel, so frail, so fragile. We family members fixate on his earthen vessel; we mourn the day soon to come. As strongly as I believe that his spirit will eternally be, I dread the loss of this beloved earthen vessel. I am not ready to be fatherless.
Then, on the CD playing in the car as I drive back down to my folks' house on Thursday, a day early:
"Out of nine lives,
I've spent seven
Now how in the world
do you get to heaven?
you don't know
the shape I'm in . . ."
The Band sings regretfully. They don't know the shape my dad is in. The shape I am in.
There's another song I want to play for my dad in the last act, that might make him smile. It's a posthumous John Lennon song that used to stick in my dad's head when it was popular. Although he had scant fondness for rock and roll, this song he liked. He'd sing along with it when he heard it blaring from one of our bratty rooms. Then he'd roll it out at random times:
"Nobody told me there'd be days like these!
Nobody told me there'd be days like these!
Strange days indeed!
Most peculiar, mama! Whoa!"
Strange days indeed. As much as I don't want him to go, I do want him to go, because I know he wants to go.
In the dead of night, as I rest on a mattress on the floor of the room where my dad frets and tosses, he sings in his waking sleep:
"Show me the way to go home;
I'm tired and I wanna go to bed . . . "
He sings in a sweet slow monotone. Twice, three times, four times. It sounds like a prayer. The curtain's about to fall.