The greatest gift I could give my husband right now would be to love his father. In the nearly 1/4 century of our marriage, I have never really bonded with my in-laws. Particularly not with Grandpa. I resented the way he treated my children–though I grant they could often try anyone’s patience. Grandpa was sharp, particularly with my oldest son. There were times I wanted to make a statement, remove my son from the harshness, and say that we wouldn’t be coming back. I never did, at least not verbally. But I quietly withdrew. And I understood why my son reached a point where he simply refused to visit Grandpa.
Today, Grandpa is dying. My son went to visit him in the hospital, and wrote this poem. It’s wonderful to receive good instruction from my own child. Here is what he wrote:
Of Confession, Retreat, Love, Anger, Pain, Life, Death, and Acceptance
For him, time ticks slowly backwards,
retreating into his first infancy.
Much like from the womb — sparse hair,
a plump and frail body,
eyes dazzled by the slightest light.
Ticking backwards, in preparation
for retreat into the womb of earth.
Lucid, but with eyes strained against drowsiness.
Incoherent as he tries to speak,
lips and tongue straining to form words
against the weight of age and morphine.
On arrival, I lean down to give a gentle hug,
putting no weight into it. Only a light touch.
I am worried by looking at the bruises,
all down his arm where they check his pulse,
all down his legs from a single fall.
I watch the procession of people,
who look at him with pity, and most say
“How sad” and “poor thing,”
and I wonder if those are the right words.
His sons and daughters reminisce,
standing around his table-bed.
A pretty young nurse comes in,
and says, in a loud voice, to all of us,
that she needs to check his vitals.
She must be used to speaking to the near-deaf.
I sit back and look at his labored breathing.
A man comes in with two needles.
He scans a bar-code on them.
He scans a bar-code on the blue bracelet
on his wrist. Taking inventory.
“Have you decided what you’re doing
I stare at his face.
The sunken cheeks, and a vein that
bulges along his right cheek.
Oh, father of my father.
Retreating backwards in time.
Retreating to find a lost wife
and two daughters.
Oh, blood of my blood,
Eventually, my father turns to me.
“Would you like some time alone with him?”
I nod. A half-dozen people leave.
I stand slowly. I walk to the side of this table-bed.
I, the orator, have no words.
“I love you,” I say.
A clumsy start.
He’s mouthing words that I can’t understand.
“I’m sorry I can’t understand.”
He breathes heavy.
“Are you in pain? Are you having any trouble breathing?”
He shakes his head.
I grasp his left shoulder. I look into his squinting eyes.
“I love you. I do.” I’m trying to express it better. I fail.
I gently stroke his head.
There is silence for a while, as I try to comfort him
with clumsy clenches at his hands
and strokes of his wispy hair.
Now I’m mouthing words against a weight.
“This particular life hasn’t been easy for you, has it?”
He says nothing, but he looks at me.
“You are loved by so many. I bet that’s good to see.”
Such juvenile words.
“I love you. I do.”
There is silence again. He mumbles, and I lean in to understand.
He’s saying it’s okay for the others to come back in.
I nod. I retrieve them. I take back seat,
and look at his heavy breathing.
Oh, father of my father.
Blood of my blood. Retreating.
Did you understand what I was saying?
I forgive you. My lips could not form these words.
I did not know if you would understand if they had.
I forgive you. I love you. I understand.
That this life, for all your effort,
would treat you so unfairly.
That wars and betrayals and chains
would have you so angry.
That there would be so little equity in this universe.
That sometimes anger needed an outlet.
I forgive you. I understand. I love you. I do.
Oh father of my father.
Blood of my blood.
I see your anger in my blood.
I have known my own betrayals.
I have felt the cold hand of the universe.
I know that whatever happens now for you,
will be a relief.
I hope you find your lost wife, and two daughters.
I hope you find your peace and your justice.
Oh, father of my father,
blood of my blood,