It is not something that I want to write about. It is not really something that I want to think about, but I don’t know how to ignore it because if I do I cannot possibly fix it. And if there is anything that I know about myself and about life it is that if I do not try to fix things I will not be able to live with myself.
Whenever I have a problem I try to boil it down to its most simplistic form and then I attack it. In this case the challenge in front of me is how to help my father and my grandfather.
Two years ago my father had a major illness during which he suffered a major heart attack and underwent a triple bypass. The doctors uniformly agreed that he beat the odds and that they expected him to die. It was a major event and not totally unforeseen.
Part of the reason that they think that he survived is that he is incredibly strongwilled. He spent three weeks on a ventilator. During that time he managed to extubate himself twice, with his tongue. I spent hours flying between Los Angeles and the East Coast worried sick that I would land and find out that my father had died.
With much gratitude I say that he did not. I could not be more thankful, but at the same time I have this fear that he is heading down the wrong path. His eating habits are atrocious and that is what scares me. His weight is an issue. He is not taking good care of himself and the reason that he isn’t is because of his own fear of his father’s mortality.
My grandfather is almost 92 and in deteriorating condition. During the last six months or so he has been hospitalized twice. Both times we were told that there was a good chance that he wouldn’t be coming home. Both times he came home and both times we were told that in large part it was because he is too stubborn to die. Strongwilled men run in the family, do you see a theme here.
Anyway, my own father is hiding his stress and fear for his father in his food. I can’t ignore this and I have told my father so, but I can’t stop him. I can’t take the food away from him. I can’t always be there to monitor it and neither can anyone else.
It is making me lose my own hair watching this. A short time ago he and I had what you could term a battle about this. As we fought I kept hearing all of these voices in my head and one of them said Kabed et Evecha, veh et eemecha. (Honor thy father and thy mother).
I struggled with it because part of me felt an obligation to be careful about how I spoke to my father and part of me said that because of the obligation I have to my mother, sisters and all of the grandchildren I had to be tougher. Part of me said that because of the obligation to my father I had to make myself harder and find the key to breaking his will on this.
But if he won’t change I am not sure that anything can be done. If he has forgotten the fear he had of dying and how close he came I am not sure that I can illustrate it for him. On the other hand I can’t not do anything.
As for my grandfather I can see him winding down and it is killing me. I see the light in his eyes dimming and I am not satisfied. His quality of life is fair and could be better, but only if he decides to make it happen.
In a few months it will be three years since my grandmother died. All of his sisters are gone and he has little contact with his brothers. Most of his friends have died and the few that haven’t are in homes. Add his having gone blind and other physical ailments and you have a recipe for depression.
The man is clearly depressed and I understand why. But, if he can find the strength he doesn’t have to be. There are still so many good things, but he just cannot seem to feel the heat of the sun on his back. Blue skies don’t mean as much and now I fear that he lives in a world of shadows.
So I watch as my father does what he can to try and pull him out. I am not a passive bystander. I interact with him and try hard to get that smile. He has an infectious laugh and so many incredible stories.
During the six months of my father’s illness my grandfather leaned on me and told me stories that I had never heard before. I know how he lost his virginity. Who it was, where and when. I know about how he fell in love and how he wished that he would have stayed in the carnival business. I learned more stories about his time hustling pool and two trips through the army.
I know stories that I will forever treasure and never share. They are ours. They are part of a special bond. I am the oldest grandchild. He and I have done so much together and share so many stories. I have tried so damn hard to help, to break through the wall that he has erected but he just won’t let it happen.
So you want to know what I fear. I fear that as he dies he is taking my father with him and I can’t seem to do a fucking thing to stop it. It reminds me of an experience I had when I was about ten or so.
Some of the neighborhood boys set up a little tug-of-war. I got conned into trying to beat a bunch of the older boys by myself. They let me beat them the first time and then the second they all pulled and I got yanked to the ground. But I couldn’t let go of the rope. I tried to stop them, I yelled and screamed but I couldn’t stop myself from being dragged and I couldn’t let go.
I was so damn angry. I remember the burning tears and the shame. I remember the fear and I remember the pain. But most of all I remember the frustration I felt. In this respect I am no different than my father and my grandfather, we all have those feelings.
And now you have my fear. Now you hear my cry of fright and my admission of vulnerability. Now you know that I am searching for a car bumper to tie that rope to. Now you know that I am trying so very hard to find a way to fix things and that my fear is that I am just not trying hard enough.
One day I am going to have to sit down and tell my children that their grandfathers are gone. There are two questions. When will this conversation happen and will I be able to take comfort that I did all that I could.
Right now I just don’t know.