Saturday, June 4, 2011

first day of the rest of your life

If you are mad, get over it.
If you are jealous, get over yourself.
If you are confused, find some clarity in your gut.
If you are afraid, put one foot in front of the other.
If you are weak, remember that strength comes from within.

Two days ago, I helped my dad get settled in at his last stop here on earth. This place is not the comfort of his own home with his own smells, the familiarity of the rooms in the darkness, or the feel of his old comfortable chair. It is not a beautiful suite surrounded by glorious gardens and highly paid nurses. It is just a cold room at the end of the hall with a little bed at the Veteran's Administration Healthcare System in small town, Illinois.  Building 101, Unit 4, Room 153. My dad is 64 years old. Tomorrow I turn 39. This year has been a million days long.

It's a surreal experience walking through this maze of sterile hallways behind a gurney pushed by two strong men who just climbed out of the back of an ambulance. There's no sense of urgency, but everything moves quickly. There is order and chaos. Questions and answers. You watch it in some kind of strange 3D never duplicated by Hollywood. There is a buzzing in your ears. You find yourself holding your breath. Then you find yourself forcing a deep inhale. Exhale.

This final place is not glamorous, but it is sweet. After sizing him up, you quickly see the doctor may be the kindest man you have ever met. The nurses know exactly what to do. You stretch every muscle in your face to smile bigger than you thought possible because you want them to like you. You want them to like your dad the best.

You struggle to remember every word. You wish you had written down your questions. You take the tissue from the doctor and know this scene has played out in his office a hundred times before.

You speak to every person you see. You know you will come to recognize them and they will recognize you. They will ask "are you his daughter?"  You make friends with the funny, old man on the other side of the curtain. You laugh when he teases that you are pretty, but too old for him. It is a little sweetness in the day that you will never, ever forget.

You struggle not to panic when you sit alone with him and try to go inside his mind. You watch him sleep and pray for peace. You say it over and over in your head. Please, please, please.

You try to put all the snapshots of the day together like a puzzle so that it becomes a reality. You have to figure out how to make it matter. Then you realize it is the only thing that matters. Everything that makes you mad or jealous, confused or afraid doesn't matter. And you know that you will never be weak again.