Friday, March 20, 2015

For My Father-in-Law

Mike's dad died last week, most unexpectedly, and all the days since have, of course, felt surreal.  Today is the first day of a spring that was going to be our first that found me finally driving the three hours to Mike's mom and dad's house with my newly-attained license.  Instead, we begin spring suddenly without one of our parents, and the father-in-law I always called "my good buddy" will not be anxiously awaiting our arrival on his front porch.  I had so been looking forward to hearing his impressed and relieved "So you got here in one piece!" as I pulled up to his house and his oft-repeated "BE! CAREFUL!" as I drove away from it.  And knowing that Mike will not be on the phone with him rehashing the Yankees games this season or watching the games on TV with him during his visits home sends an almost-nauseating wave of sorrow over me.  Poor Mike had surely expected shortstop Derek Jeter's recent retirement to be the saddest aspect of watching Yankees baseball this year.  Oh, Life.
Every time Mike would get off the phone with his dad, he would turn to me and tease in mock-disbelieving tones, "Well!   Isn't a certain someone just so fond of YOU!  Apparently, you can do no wrong!" or "You sure have someone back home wrapped around your finger!  Oh, on and on about how you write such nice letters!  It's like he's your number one fan!"  It has long been a joke between us that when Mike says something that aggravates me, I cry out, "Well, now!  Let's just call your dad and see what he has to say about THIS!" or "I don't think your dad would care for the way you're speaking to me!"  He told Mike a few months after we got married that just as he had "found [his] angel" with Mike's mom, he thought Mike had found his angel in me.  An angel, I am not, but may we all be so blessed as to be so purely loved by someone.
During the four days and nights we spent in the hospital last week, we kept the room's TV on the Turner Classic Movies channel, and the films' actors and characters already seem as much a part of the landscape of all those rich but draining hours as the many doctors whose names we in the family couldn't keep straight and consequently referred to amongst ourselves as "Richie Rich, with the Blonde Hair and Clogs," "The One with the Red Tie," "The Wrestler," "Frank-the-One-Who-Talked-with-Us-in-That-Little-Room," "The Grey-Haired Nighttime Equivalent of Frank," "The Research Study Guy," "The One With the Beard and Glasses," and "The Doctor We Liked Who Had All Dad's Info in Her Back-Pocket."  I don't know if a day will ever come when I won't remember Paul Newman in The Hustler, an oddly-orange-skinned Jackie Gleason in Don't Drink the Water, James Cagney in Picture Snatcher, or, most memorably to me, Ann Sothern in a late night marathon of Maisie movies as people with whom we shared the horrible events of the past week and a half.  Today it still seems like a glimpse of any of these actors will forever take me back to room 303 with its wall of taped-up family photos I'd brought in from home, Mike's navy knit Yankees cap resting flat on top of his dad's EEG-lead-covered head, and Mike and I in chairs on opposite sides of the bed, providing a sometimes-mocking commentary on the old movies while we held his dad's hands.  The channel was only changed once last week, when Jackie Gleason was really hamming it up in all his wide-eyed, over-the-top glory and Mike declared that his dad would prefer the basketball game.  

I think Wednesday night was Maisie night, when I had sent Mike home to feed Stuffed and try to get some sleep and I volunteered to sit at his dad's side overnight.  The Maisie marathon was, strangely, my last bonding experience with my father-in-law.  The medical team told us all week that he was unaware of what he was experiencing and that he was feeling no distress, but when I realized, during one of the movies, that I'd been babbling at him non-stop for the better part of an hour, I joked that he was probably quite tired of the sound of my voice.  As Maisie got her man, visited the Congo, had knives thrown at her during a circus act, and marched down a dirt road in a peplum skirt-suit while carrying her luggage, I held my father-in-law's hand and filled him in on the absurdities of the films, fully believing that he could somehow hear me and that he was there in spirit.  "Oh, you'd love THIS!"  I chattered.  "Maisie's driving her car while carrying on a conversation with a policeman driving his own car in the lane beside hers.  No need to look at anything but each other while they drive, of course.  And you worry about ME on the interstate!"  In the wee hours when I could no longer even pretend to concentrate on Maisie's misadventures, I talked until my voice was raspy about family news, updated him on Stuffed--he'd always loved Stuffed--and reported on what everyone had found to eat in the hospital cafeteria that day.  "Everyone's taking good care of you," I heard myself saying multiple times that night and throughout the week.  "And everyone's taking care of each other too.  You don't have anything to worry about.  Everything will be okay."  And whenever I looked up, I'd see dear determined Maisie, hair curled in some sweet 1940s do, dusting herself off after her latest trials and taking on the world anew. 
"My good buddy" died as he had loved to live:  With his family gathered around supporting him and each other.  I have to believe that he knew we were all there with him and that he enjoyed our laughter as we shared funny memories of him in his final minutes.  It was too beautiful for him to have missed. 

I found a number of hearts last week, as I tend to do, and I took every one as a hug from God, as I always do.  Our first night in the hospital, I spotted a paper towel scrap-heart on the floor of the family lounge.
One morning at breakfast in the cafeteria, a heart-shaped potato "cube" tumbled out of my cup onto my tray.
I looked down as we prepared to enter my father-in-law's room as a family for the last time and saw another paper towel scrap-heart on the floor outside the intensive care unit's entrance. 
One melted spot in the snow at the cemetery after the funeral was heart-shaped.
And a stunning heart-shaped knot stood out in a tree trunk there, as well.
Almost twelve hours after the funeral Monday, after his mom had gone to bed, Mike and I sat together at his parents' kitchen table for a belated supper of Sloppy Joes and potato chips, occasionally sneaking scraps of lunch-meat ham to the stray cat his parents had recently taken in.  All day, I had felt twenty years older than I had when the week before had begun, but eating Sloppy Joes beside my husband in his childhood kitchen  was what broke me and made me feel too young for all we'd been through already, and soon we were off to bed too.  We know, though, that life will go on and that the thoughts of Turner Classic Movies and the Yankees' Opening Day won't always punch us in the chest the way they do right now.  Everyone's taking care of each other, as I kept repeating last week.  Everything will be okay.  While guiding our rental car down a steep and winding  hill on the way to his parents' house the morning of the funeral, Mike mentioned that whenever his dad would drive down the same hill, seemingly flying out of control as the car gained speed, he'd call out, "Dig in your toenails!  We're going up on two wheels!"  Ah, my father-in-law.  :)  "Dig in your toenails!" became a catchphrase of sorts between me and Mike that day, and it continues to strike me as astute, albeit homespun, advice for all the heartbreaking days ahead this spring.  Our plucky and unstoppable Maisie would concur:  We're up on two wheels here, but everything will be okay. 


La Table De Nana said...

Awww.... this made me tear up.
She does write such beautiful letters Mike..your dad was right♥
My sympathies to you.Losing a parent is devastating.You are lucky to have each other and what a blessing that you knew each other..
He had time to meet Mike's angel:)
Thinking about his mom too.

Carol said...

Oh, Val.

I have been there, with Joe's dad. It's very hard and it never really goes away. I am sure Mike's dad heard you, and loved you for being there with him.

Hugs to you and Mike and Stuffed.


Val said...

Thank you, Monique and Carol. ♥

FlowerLady Lorraine said...

Dearest Val ~ I am sorry for the loss of your father-in-law. You and Mike and his family are in my prayers. My heart goes out to your mother-in-law.

I love it that you found different hearts, especially the one in the tree, that is wonderful!

Love and hugs ~ FlowerLady

Val said...

Thank you, Lorraine. I know you know....They were married more than 50 years.

The hearts were sweet finds, yes. The one in the tree is so stunning. :) ♥

Lisa said...

Val, I'm so sorry for Mike - the shock of the suddenness of it. And sorry for you, who was such a favorite of this nice man's. Hearts to you. :)

Val said...

Thank you, Lisa--That's sweet. ♥

Yes, the suddenness. . . .It's still unbelievable.

Nellie said...

What a beautiful remembrance for your father-in-law! I send you my sincere sympathies at this time of loss. Hugs to you and Mike!

Val said...

Thank you, Nellie. ♥

Marie Rayner said...

Oh dear Val, my heart and prayers go out to you and your husband and his family on the loss of this very special man. I can tell how special he was by your words, and the love for him they convey, and by the way he so obviously loved you back. Loving your found hearts, and the dig in the toenails, etc. This was a beautiful touching post. Sending love. xxoo

Val said...

Thank you, Marie. :) ♥

Barb Cowles said...

Val, So sorry to hear about your father-in-law. And, so glad that you had some time with him. Yes, I think he knew you were there. I wish there was something to say that would ease the pain. Love to all of you. Barb

CraveCute said...

I am sorry for the loss of your father-in-law. This is such a loving tribute to him. Seeing hearts everywhere is similar to my experience after my mother died, only it was butterflies. They seemed to be everywhere, real and artistic. I just read a story about a widow who after the death of her husband found single white feathers in unexpected places.

Anonymous said...

Dearest Val,

You and your family have all my sympathy for the loss of your dear Father-in-Law. I know how hard it is to have to let go of someone you love so much - like I did my FIL, too.

My prayers and love come to you today,

(I left a reply yesterday but an error must have occurred as it is not here. ? )

Val said...

Barb, Diane, and Lily:

Thank you for your kind comments. ♥

Barb, yes, the four days in the hospital at least gave the family time with him and with each other, and better that than just meeting up at the funeral home later, I think, so that was a blessing.

Diane, I love the story of the butterflies. One of my sisters-in-law experienced that after her grandmother died. One followed her--and only her, it seemed--around on her wedding day too. I love those kinds of stories. Thank you.

Lily, I have no idea what happened with your first comment--Ah, technology! :) --but I'm glad you tried again. Thank you for your empathy.

Anonymous said...

Hi Val,

Still thinking of you and holding you and your family close. Blessings upon you, dear one.


Val said...

Thank you so much, Lily. ♥♥♥

Anonymous said...

Happy Easter, Dear Val. I know this one feels different to Mike's Mom, Mike and you. Prayers for you all.

(")_(")♥•.¸¸. ´´¯`•♥

Val said...

Thank you, Lily. That was a sweet note to come home to last night. ♥ Happy Easter to you!

Anonymous said...

Oh, I really liked the other earlier photo of your F-I-L but think I like this one here even more. He looks so gentle and kind.


Val said...

Yes, Lily, I like both pictures too, but since this once captures him how I knew him (the age I knew him), I decided to go with it. Also, in all his young pictures, he looks exactly like my husband--minus the glasses--so I tend to think Husband and not Father-in-Law when I look at the first one I'd posted, so I went with a more recent one instead. :)

Val said...

And it does seem to capture his kindness, yes. :) ♥