This theme came at a very difficult time for me. There has been something going on in my family that I haven’t written about, and lately, thinking about it and dealing with it has taken up most of my otherwise unoccupied time. I write for three music related blogs, and I know that my readership isn’t exactly huge. While I hope that those of you who do read my writings find them worthwhile, in reality, I mostly do it for myself. I enjoy having an excuse to write, even if it is mostly ignored, because it is the writing itself that is the most rewarding to me. Although I do like it when I find out people are actually reading it, and even better, when they think it is good.
I’ve held off writing about the fact that my father is dying because it is hard. He’s been fighting metastasized lung cancer for a few years now, going through surgery and cycles of chemo and radiation therapy. Gradually he has wasted away from a man who, in his seventies, would play tennis as a warmup to 18 holes of golf, to where he is as I write this, unable to get out of bed. From a smart, funny, strongly opinionated man to someone who rarely speaks and often seems confused.
The fact that I’m dealing with a dying parent is not anything particularly unique, especially among my contemporaries. In fact, my wife and I consider ourselves lucky that this is the first of our parents for whom this has become an issue. So not writing about it (although I have not been hesitant to discuss it with friends) has been partially an attempt not to make it seem like I think my situation is anything special. But since writing to me is therapeutic, and because Star Maker Machine wants me to write about Moms, and I can’t write about my Mom now without writing about how my father’s condition has affected her, I decided to start typing. Dad’s decline and impending death has had a profound effect on my mother, to say the least. And I am so proud of her for the way that she is handling everything.
My parents have been a couple since high school. They stayed together through college and married shortly after graduation. I was born not too long after that, while my father was in law school. They were kids then and they have been married, happily, I believe, for nearly 57 years. My parents were best friends, did virtually everything together, and I cannot ever remember hearing either of them say anything negative about the other. It was, by all accounts, a true partnership and a true love affair.
As was the norm then, and is still common today, my parents worked as a team, but with different domains. Dad went to work, dealt with the finances, and was involved in big family decisions. Mom ran the house and dealt with most of the kid-related and family issues. Her quiet strength was the hub around which our family revolved, even as we married and had our own children, even as in many ways, she revolved around Dad.
But my father’s retirement, then illness, began to shift the paradigm. Although they continued to do most things together, Mom started to do things to get herself personal time. She continued to play golf and tennis. She lunched and shopped with friends. She took up bridge and signed up for adult education courses (sometimes with Dad). All the while, she took care of Dad, gradually having to do more and more as he was able to do less and less.
It finally got to the point where Dad couldn’t easily walk up and down the stairs, and for that, and other, reasons, my parents prepared to sell their house and buy a smaller one on a single level, expecting that it would be easier for both of them. Mom, and to the extent possible, Dad, started to pack up their stuff and begin purging years of accumulated possessions. Mom began to assume the job of dealing with their bills, for the first time, and I spent time with her working through how to pay things online, so that she didn’t need to save piles of papers or write and mail checks. My wife and I helped to organize their files, arranged for shredding of boxes of documents, and the whole family pitched in to help get rid of unneeded items. It took a while to arrange both the buy and the sell, and closings were planned, tentatively, for late April or early May.
I was so impressed by how my mother just did what needed to be done. She took an increasingly large role in dealing with Dad’s doctors, and with the real estate agents, movers, bankers, mortgage brokers, contractors and lawyers involved in the sale of her old house and the purchase and renovation of her new house. I have tried to help as much as I could, but she was in charge, doing many things she had never done before.
Earlier this month, Dad took a turn for the worse, and over the past few weeks, his decline has snowballed to the point that we aren’t even sure if he will survive to the move date, next week, my 55th birthday. Two days ago, I sat with Mom at the closing, signing my father’s name to the sheaves of papers, under a power of attorney, and she stoically and repeatedly signed her name. Afterwards, we went back to the house that she no longer owns, so I could see my Dad, who was, with his aide, watching the Mets rout the Braves in a day game. He was awake, acknowledged me with a smile, but I have no idea whether or not he really knew who I was, understood that we had come from the closing, or appreciated the power display our favorite team had unleashed. Meanwhile, Mom simply took care of what needed to be done.
These days, when I cry, it isn’t because I’m sad that my father is dying, although I am, because at this point, I think that death is preferable to the life he has. I cry for my Mom, who will be without her best friend, living in a new house alone, and forced to take on unexpected responsibilities. But I know that she can, because she is such a strong person, and even in her late seventies has untapped personal resources to draw upon.
Lucero is a band that is mostly known for exuberant rocking songs about various forms of debauchery, misbehavior and lost love, often tinged with regret. But they also write slower, gut wrenching personal songs. “Mom,” which closes their great album 1372 Overton Park, is one of those—a song that both apologizes to a mom for the singer’s misdeeds, but also thanks her for what she has done for him. It isn’t the most appropriate song for this piece, but it is a good one, by a band that should be better known.