As I write this, I'm sitting in the same living room, my son, her grandson, bundled in my lap, the autumn breeze whirring through the same trees out back. I'm looking at the space between living room and dining room, and I know, when my husband comes home with his siblings, there will be great bustling as they move chairs and tables to make room for the hospice bed. They will want to keep busy, to feel as if they are doing something, anything that isn't just changing a diaper and drinking a beer, but something for their parents because they love their parents.
And there is absolutely nothing that can soothe this certain ache.
The place where I heard of how Jim had the kids to himself for an afternoon and Sue came home to find the doggy gate up, the kids happily playing in the playroom, Jim asleep--on the floor? On a sofa? This was in Illinois, I think. Exhausted from the business of life--that full, rich life.
We saw him just two weeks ago, right after his brain surgery, where they removed the mass from his head, lifted that flap and squirreled away that awful thing, and Ryan made liver on a campfire pan on the grill and I wrote a poem about it and it was accepted just twenty-four hours later in Kindred. I think I can write about these things if they feel small enough: the tufts of his hair as his wife buzzes the rest off, the liver-and-onions on a plate, the calls of my son as he crawls across the carpet.
But two weeks can alter someone greatly, and I had to pause, figure out how to fix my gaze properly before taking it in: his face, sunken; his skin graying; his weakness profound. We knew he was nauseous and not eating, but all I could do was imagine him at the table in the nook of the kitchen, shaking his head and refusing to eat that plate of the fruit he abhors. Nope, not going to do it. (He's a stubborn man, you see, who married a stubborn woman, and they made my husband, who is a stubborn man who married a stubborn woman. We are in trouble with these children of ours, I know.) But I don't think that's how it went. Everything is tentative now: the taste of ice chips, the juice. And in the hospital, they've hooked him to an IV, returned him to a steroid and he's getting his color back, ready to imagine the taste of things again.
Last night, I held my daughter in sleep and listened to my husband as he gently helped his father up the stairs. I can take it from here, Ryan, his father insisted. I just want to make sure you get into bed, Dad, Ryan told him. Neither tone was sharp or frustrated; they both were kind and chiding. I wondered how many times that boy climbed into his parents' bed as a child, afraid of something, needing that comfort. How many times that father brought that boy to bed at the end of the night, hand steadying the elbow.
This is not a unique experience, but it's a terrible one.
I have so much more to say. I imagine this space will become a bit of a love letter to the man who raised my husband, a man I deeply admire and respect. He and Ryan are an awful lot alike, you see. And since Ryan is the best man I've ever known, it follows that Jim is pretty spectacular too. I have a lot to thank him for.