June 17, 2004

It has been a busy

It has been a busy week. One of R's buddies from his active duty days in the USMC arrived last Friday evening. On Saturday, they went to Zion National Park. On Sunday, with three of our girls in tow, they hit the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. Monday, they were guided to an off the map gorgeous trail in Kolob Canyon. Tuesday, taking the older girls, they hit Zion again and did several trails along with one that E had previously done, Hidden Canyon. Wednesday Pete took himself to Bryce Canyon and R took himself in for one day of work. Today, we began the swimming competition of Utah Summer Games. Our girls all won medals in backstroke. For some reason, they excel at this stroke. A brought home a gold; E a silver; C has a bronze and a personal best time in dropping 15 seconds. For those of you who don't swim, let me assure you, that is huge. I timed lane one- easy as giving a baby candy. In four hours, I only had five swimmers. I like cheering on the swimmers as they are coming in the home stretch. It is such a demanding sport that a kid can feel that kicking in the last 10 meters won't matter-so I give a big grin and encouraging words. The meet continues for the next two days.

Although we have been busy, something deep inside me has been very melancholy. While eating dinner on Saturday evening, R's mom called to let him know that she had finally told her husband of 42 years and a victim of a stroke on Father's Day 2002, that she wanted to place him in a nursing home. He was upset at first. He argued to the best of his ability. But, after a few hours, he came around. The care that he requires is simply too physical for her. She has a lovely woman who comes to help her several days a week, but it is still exhausting her to help to the bathroom every hour on the hour; bathe him; etc.

I have writtten of this only a few times. Even as I type now, I am really struggling with giving this grief words. My father-in-law was the kindest man I ever met. And that says much for me 'cause I have met many men and not too many have been kind. He is a gentle and sensitive soul. He did his best to take care of his children by spending quality time with them before it was officially labeled as such. He shared his love of horses and riding with his daughter and when she graduated, drove darn near all over the country to check out every university she even remotely considered attending. His love of the water and appreciation of the great outdoors was bestowed upon his son, R. They would float and fish their way two states away if it promised an angler's dream come true-the biggest fish ever.

One of the most endearing stories that testifies to his compassion and love is from R's childhood. R had taken something from a store and his father was called from work to come and pick him up. The long silence of his father on the drive home was both unnerving and powerfully convicting to young R. Finally, B looked at his son and told him that he was very, very disappointed in him but, that there was never anything that he could do that make him not love his son. That stayed with R his whole life. He believed his father because his father not only told him, he showed him that this was true.

When R announced to his parents that he was not attending college, but was enlisting in the United States Marine Corps, they were less than thrilled. R presented his case: he knew he wasn't ready for the rigorous studying that attending university would demand of him. He father listened to him and always had an encouraging word for him when he called or came home.

In the spring of 1989, R told his parents about a girl that had caught his eye and was filling his time. I met them after a week of spring break at a family friend's apartment in Manhattan Beach. They were warm and welcoming. I felt like I walked into the door of the home I never had. The people were honest, funny, kind. My future father-in-law later complimented his son on his choice saying that I had such nice teeth and a pretty smile. He would always tell me that it reminded him of a "Pepsodent" smile. I could see his delight in my familiar toothy grin anytime I walked into the room. R would, a few years into our marriage, reveal the secrets of wife-selecting that his dad entrusted into him as a young man: "always look at the mother-it's how your wife will look in twenty years" and "check out a woman's ankles-a big tree doesn't have a small trunk" and something about teeth, although I can't recall it at the moment.

When R and I announced that we were expecting our first child, B jokingly said that he didn't feel old enough to be called "grandpa." I reminded him that it was quite possible for him to be a great-grandfather at his age (his wife is 13 years younger than himself). He paused for a moment, looked at me and laughed. And agreed. One evening, I was standing in the kitchen, gravid with his son's first child, and I felt the baby moving. He saw my hand move to my swollen belly, an intent expression on my face. B asked me if he could feel the baby. My eyes filled up as I placed his hand on my stomach. He felt a strong jolt to his hand from the child and his face lit up. He was obviously excited and it made me feel so very special to him. From then on, if he was near when I was pregnant, he would ask to feel the child move. I have pictures of him holding each of his granddaughters as newborns. I have even more of him snuggling with them as toddlers, playing games with them as school children. He always joined in their games and antics. He also reminded them to chew with their mouth closed and to remove their elbows from the table.

I talked with him almost daily. There were a few times that we crossed the line with one another, but we so loved each other, that working out our differences was more important than holding onto them.

My mother-in-law, having grown up poor, was far more frugal in her Christmas giving. My father-in-law had been raised more well-to-do. After she would take our requiste one gift request, he would then sneak around and, with much conspiring and whispering, demand to know a few other trinkets we desired. Inevitably, there they would be under the tree-our most desired gift, the card signed as given by both of them.

Father's Day 2002 I had an afternoon nap. I awakened to R's voice, fuzzy in the background, yet something was urgent in his tone. Following it into the kitchen, he turned toward me and when I saw his face, I knew something was terribly wrong . He covered the receiver and told me, "Dad had a stroke." My heart fell into my stomach. Not Bob, I thought. He had just finished a bike ride across Missouri. Although it had diminshed some that year, he typically biked about 2000 miles a year, riding RAGBRAI several times. He was a member of Rails to Trails and devoted to a biking club. In the '70's he took off with the running craze, but later turned to riding. He had a quadruple bypass on Valentine's Day in 1990. Where most men only take lightly the admonishment to adjust eating habits, to exercise, learn stress reduction techniques, he took it very seriously. That is why the stroke took us all by surprise. Not Bob, we thought. He was the one who was supposed to live until he was 95; still biking and shopping and tinkering with computers and keeping up on all the latest technology and keeping his same annoyingly comforting habits.

He lost the use of the right side of his body and the stroke damaged some of his cognitive abilities. He took therapy and even attempted water therapy, but eventually settled into routine and habit; and hope of regaining the use of his right hand and leg to facilitate independence fadded to the back our minds. My mother-in-law has done everything she can possibly do to help him. But this stroke took away what she knew and plays tricks on her, much like the subliminal messaging done in the '50's to movie goers. Occasionally she gets a quick brief glimpse of who she knew and it has given her joy and sadness; hope and disappointment; love and hate. We know that she has done a stand up job. More than many could have done and have done. More than she imagined herself able to do. It is time and we all know it and support her in it. But it makes me inconsolably sad. The past keeps stepping on the heels of my ability to accept the present. I think placing him in a nursing home is final proof of what I have denied myself to accept. I grieve for the loss of who I knew and yet, know that I must be faithful to my father-in-law as he has been only this to me. While he is not the same man-he is much simpler in his desires, his needs, his conversation-he is the same soul.

I love you, B.

Posted by Rae at June 17, 2004 07:38 PM


Posted by: Ith at June 17, 2004 09:11 PM

A common phrase one might hear from an Arizonan when talking about the Grand Caynon.

"Oh, is it still there?"

Its a great natural landmark, breathtakingly beautiful, and I do not mean to belittle it in anyway. But the general consensus around these parts: Seeing it once is good enough.

Personally, I've seen it twice.

"I had to make sure it was still there" I told a friend after the second viewing.

Posted by: Jeremy at June 18, 2004 04:51 PM

I saw the GCanyon once when I was 13, and again when I was 45.

I was taking my new wife to see it for her first time. I told her that I remembered that "when you get out of your car and walk down the path to one of the view points, you get out there and all you can say is "Oh, my gosh!"

Just as I was telling her this, we were walking down the path, and we both said exactly that... for real.

Seeing it a second time is easily as phenomenal at the first time.

Posted by: david_d at June 21, 2004 03:48 PM
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