Thursday, June 11, 2009
The next days were full of turmoil and turning points.
We took care of the neighbors' goats while they were away. I went over and got my instructions, and then for the next three days I followed those instructions. But when Nancy got back she accused me of stealing half a bag of their feed. And no thank yous.
I got a call from my mother. My father wasn't doing well. As soon as they gave him a treatment - draining his belly of excess fluid - he deteriorated again. And each treatment left him without energy. Back in the winter the doctor had said that if he had one more drink it would kill him and he never had another, though he continued to smoke. It looked like it might already be too late.
The last days of July sweated themselves away with mosquito-y milkings at night and fly-hazed chores in the morning. Milk filled the fridge and the freezer, and on the counter the new wheels of cheese tended to mold in the unrelenting 90-degree temperatures and over-abundant humidities.
Then the call came. My father was in the hospital. The last treatment had been too rough on him. I needed to go home.
I left by train that night, and prayed the peculiar prayer that he would die before I got there: I was too afraid to see him weakened and dying. Lifelong friends were to pick me up at the Stamford station and take me straight to the hospital. When I got there he was alive, and I did see him. He was comatose.
His arms were bruised. Propped up, he half-lay under the white sheets. Mercifully he had no tubes: he hadn't wanted them back a few years before when he made those kinds of decisions, calmly, unconcernedly, in happier days. He had wanted nothing extraordinary and he had nothing extraordinary now.
I drove home my mother and my sister, who had come, and talked about this and that. I slept fitfully in the heat with the big old window fan blowing on me, the same as had kept me sane in the miserable summer days of my childhood. I consumed quantities of cold water and thought of my father with no tubes. How thirsty he must be! When morning came, we drove back to the hospital.
My sister had come in some days before, and together we visited and held vigil. My sister was a few months pregnant. Her enthusiasm about having a third child was under control. Her bump made me envious, and also hopeful that someday we too might have another child.
But we were there to be with my father, and I was not content to turn my back on him. I went to his bedside and talked to the unconscious familiar and unfamiliar face.
He responded with a grunt.
So I talked some more. And I asked him if he wanted some water.
He nodded vigorously, so I used a straw to dribble an inch or two of water at a time into his dry mouth. He scared me by choking on it, so I asked if he wanted more. He nodded earnestly.
So all afternoon I dribbled the life-giving water into his eager mounth and talked to him. He didn't say anything, but expressed his interest with small nods, all the while receiving the next inch of water eagerly.
He knew I was there, and I wondered if that worried him. We had a deep communion during those hours. I was able to give him that life-sustaining potion, water. Or love.
The next day I needed to hurry back to take care of family and farm. I was there a day when the call came: he had died. My mother and sister had opted not to go early to the hospital the morning after I left, and a few hours into the day they received the dreaded call. It was August 19, 1977. My father was dead at age 68 of liver disease. And kidney failure due to dehydration.
I ran next door and asked Nancy if she could take care of the goats while we went home for the funeral. She refused.
I got on the phone and could find no one home. All were on vacation. I begged Nancy.
Finally she relented. I thanked her and we piled in the car for the three-hour drive to Connecticut and the intense days ahead.