I am jarred awake between 2:00 and 3:00 am each morning. There is a feeling that lingers and it dissipates as I try to understand it — like a dream. I am trying to hold on to but rather than wanting to hold on; I am desperate to understand it. It could be any number of things — the angst that surrounds us now, the unknown, the fear, the illness, the loss — it is pervasive. But this morning, it holds on a little longer than usual and finally, there is clarity. It is my father. I am losing him.
I have known it for some time. I have watched his magnificent brain deteriorate for years and yet, during Covid it has been at a pace that is unfathomable. I know I am not alone. I know there has been so much loss. I know many who have lost their parents or are watching their parents fade during this time of isolation, fear and disease. I do not write to set myself apart from other’s pain but to feel some sense of closeness with a father who has been my champion and who I have no access to other than a few minutes on FaceTime when he is able. He needs my mother to make the call or take the call. There are days that it can’t happen — he is too sleepy, or too angry, or too something.
Twice in the last week, although his eyes were closed and he seemed to be a state of wakeful sleep (if there such a thing) he told me I was beautiful. His eyes lifted only slightly and although all other words that he spoke muffled and indistinguishable, this sentence was as clear as before this disease stole his brain.
You look beautiful.
And in that moment I feel my heart grow, my back straighten, and my love for him overcomes me…
The iPad has become my Mirror of Erised.
I can’t touch him or feel him. He is just beyond reach. Staring at him through the screen is not enough though I do so longingly hoping for a moment of presence, voice, acknowledgement.
I talk to Jeff about it…he has lost his father. January 7th will be two years since he passed. Jeff has two pieces of advice for me…this feeling never goes away and he is still here.
I learned a new Hebrew word last week — שמעתי — shamati, which means, I heard (thanks to Devon Spier for the translation). It is this idea of witness. To bear witness — to acknowledge that you have heard — your presence.
I find myself thinking about The Curious Case of Benjamin Button — the way Daisy cares for him as he ages, in reverse. Born an old man, and progressively getting younger the older he gets, the last scene is one where he is a baby and Daisy, his love, rocks him as he slowly closes his eyes and dies.
What strikes me is not the cliché of how we start in diapers and end in them but how she looks upon him — with expectation. She knew that he knew who she was. One last time.
It is this longing to be seen — to be known — to be heard.
Each time I go on the call with my father I am desperate for him to see me, know me, hear me. One sentence. One word. One kiss.
My expectations are less each day but they will not fade completely. I hold the memories so when he tells me I am beautiful I am once again his little girl who knows without any shadow of a doubt that to him, I am beautiful and loved. In that moment, a lifetime of love is held.
I am reminded of the line in The Fault in Our Stars by John Green:
“There are infinite numbers between 0 and 1. There’s .1 and .12 and .112 and an infinite collection of others. Of course, there is a bigger infinite set of numbers between 0 and 2, or between 0 and a million. Some infinities are bigger than other infinities…. I cannot tell you how grateful I am for our little infinity. You gave me forever within the numbered days, and I’m grateful.”