‘More nana-bread!’ ‘Okay, just one more small piece.’ I slice a sliver of banana bread, delighted that she so enjoys something I made. She takes it eagerly. ‘Mmmm,’ she says, as she munches. How can I deny her? I draw chalk hearts on the driveway. Pink, blue, yellow, orange and green. She runs, jumps on them. ‘Papa, go to a blue one!’ Gary leaps to it. ‘Nana, green!’ I jog over. She has invented a sport, she directs us with enthusiasm. She trips on her sandal. Skins her knee. I scoop her up, carry her inside. We clean the scrape, apply ointment and a colorful band-aid. Back outside to our rainbow heart game. Laughter turns to tears And back again in minutes. ‘I love you, Papa!’ She says as we climb the stairs to bed. He is on the phone with a patient. ‘I love you, Papa!’ He doesn’t hear. ‘Papa loves you sooo much,’ I assure her. She is strapped into her car seat. I blow kisses. She smiles. They drive away. I wave, take a deep breath, exhale. Relief and longing in unequal parts wash over me. When will I get to hold that little bundle of life, love, demands and discovery again?
March 13th, in addition to marking my son’s 31st birthday, was the 15th anniversary of my father’s death. I am pleased to report that memories of Dad’s strength, intelligence and ever-present support have replaced the images that haunted me in the years immediately after his death. My thoughts of him then were of an ill, diminished person, and that was as painful as the loss itself. I am happy now to be able to call upon memories of my healthy father, but the pain of that time is still part of me. The other day I was struck by one poignant memory and wrote a prose-poem.
I bring the Styrofoam cup to my lips
Breathe in the steam and scent of coffee
Take a small sip to test the temperature
The liquid warming as it travels through my system
Soothing my throat
Reaching the pit of my stomach
Grounding and calming me.
Sitting next to Dad
Who is shivering in a hospital bed
In the emergency room
Taken by ambulance early that morning
My strong, broad-shouldered Dad
Brought low by chronic lymphocytic leukemia
Or maybe it’s the treatment
Is it worse than the disease?
Doctors and nurses minister to him
Trying to figure out what’s happening
“You think I’ll be able to get my chemo today?”
He asks hopefully
Ever focused on moving forward,
Working toward remission or cure
Or at least more time with us
“No, Pop. Not today. Don’t worry about that now.”
I am grateful for the coffee
Warming my hands
Clearing my bleary brain
Settling my nerves
I post this now in the midst of the craziness and uncertainty – with a hot cup of coffee offering small comfort, but at least it is some comfort. Thinking of friends and family and wishing everyone strength and hope in this challenging time.