It’s after midnight and so it’s already ‘tomorrow’ and that means he’s leaving, today. She’ll take him to the airport where he’ll wave her off from a soppy goodbye, pushing her back to her car at the curb, urging her to be on her way. She’ll try to delay as long as possible, watching him, if she can, til he disappears through the sliding doors into the terminal. She does this because she wonders if this will be the last time she ever sees him again and she wants to watch him until she can’t see him anymore.
Although she hasn’t really thought of him as being old, he’s old. She rarely thinks about his chronological age, as he is very sharp and still helps with so many things such as tallying the Girl Scouts complicated cookie order, reconciling the books at his son’s company, getting out the level and the ladder to ascertain whether or not that picture in her living room really is hanging straight. (They both can see that it’s just a bit off.) He accompanies her to the carpet stores where they dicker on prices per square foot and installation costs and he helps her think through such details as whether the banister should be painted before the carpet installation, or afterwards. He carries her samples to and from the store. He helps measure light fixtures and gives her good advice on their finishes. It’s he who pointed out why the bronze metal was really better suited to her house than the brushed nickel finish she was considering. Her husband doesn’t notice such details, nor does her husband care. So she when she wants another perspective she knows she can ask her Dad (if he’s visiting) because he’ll give her the thoughtful advice she’s after. That’s what her Dad does. His advice is good and is never foisted. It’s only given if asked and ask she does, because he has a global way of looking at things, of seeing all the angles and outcomes. This is what she likes.
But there’s no denying he’s aging. She watches from the kitchen window as he walks his youngest grandchild to the bus stop every morning during his stay. She sees an elderly man out there, walking. This gives her a start. And when he returns he is sometimes so winded, she feels alarmed. The bus stop is only one house away. The short walk there and back takes so much out of him. She watches him as he sinks into the Eames lounge to rest and recover, feeling her heart in her throat.
Then there’s the coughing. During this most recent visit he’s been coughing more. She knows he has a respiratory condition as the oxygen maker arrives at the house on the day he does. He sleeps with the oxygen, supposing this helps his body overall, but even he is skeptical of its efficacy. She is concerned about the more frequent coughing.
His being with her in her home has become much more poignant since her mother, his beloved wife, died in May 2007. She cannot believe it will soon be two years with her gone. Since she left them for Heaven he’s been visiting regularly to her delight. Lately, he’s been staying for two weeks, something he never would have done had her mother been living. So it’s given them a new context: a closer one-on-one rapport, when before, she and her mother would have fallen in together with him happy enough to be on the periphery. She now confides in him things she would never have said out loud to him, had her mother been around. She figures, ‘what the heck’ and tells him that now he has to listen to her. Lately he’s heard things from her that he probably would have rather not known, but he’s game and kind and she feels grateful she still has a parent to talk to.
Never mind the obvious aging of his physical self, he also talks freely and humorously about his own impending death. The kind of death statements that make her laugh out loud for their utter truthfulness but does he have to be so…stark? Oh, she realizes that behind the death talk are these truths: that he understands and embraces the belief of life everlasting and feels he’s mostly completed his life’s journey; he misses his wife; and accepts death as the last step before achieving his own eternal life. Stuff he lives by, and has taught his kids and grandkids, and how can she argue with that?
So he makes her laughcry with his death talk and then she gets serious and tells him that she’s not ready for him to go, that she doesn’t want to be an “orphan” just yet (silly talk from someone who’s not young anymore anyway), that she needs him and wants him and will miss him so much when he does go. And then he tells her that he supposes one is never quite ready (for the death of a loved one), but that she’ll be okay.
So she gamely drives him to the airport and tries to press him for a tentative timeframe for his next visit. He doesn’t commit. He’s busy enough at home, and she’s glad for that. At eighty and a half, the guy is still driving to the office every day, is playing golf and bridge, and enjoys spending time with all his grandkids. And these grandkids love him, and the older ones have brought their friends to meet him, and they love him too. He makes an impression where ever he goes.
At the airport she snaps picture after picture which she knows he doesn’t like, but tolerates. He leaves her with a kiss, tells her to go home and get on with her life (nice) and then makes a funny, uncharacteristic comment (that was originally uttered by his own brother – who was known for his colorful language – many years earlier to an overeager photographer at a family wedding), “Get that f*ing camera out of my face!”
It’s an inside joke, wholly unlike who he really is. But it made her smile instead of cry and it was good.
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Jeannie Greenwald is a blogger, neighborhoods / 'go local' evangelist, hobbyist photographer, and degreed psychologist.