I wrote this a few years before my mom died. I know my dad still grieves for my mom, but he has also shown remarkable resilience. He keeps busy volunteering at the library, taking meals to shut-ins—often to people younger than himself—, and taking trips to visit family. Because of his unshakable faith, he views Mom’s absence as temporary. It’s as if he plans to join her as soon as he’s finished with his work. That could still be many years, and he’s in no hurry. I have to confess also that my dad is not one to discuss such things with me or anyone as far as I know. So the feelings I attribute to him come mostly from my imagination and from projection.
My dad cares for my mom with unmatched devotion to her comfort and well-being. He never says it, but I know he is afraid she will die. He’s not afraid for her but for himself. He can’t imagine living without her.
I know what that feels like. I can’t imagine living without my wife. I don’t think this failure of imagination is the same as love. But it feels a lot closer to it than the feeling I used to call being in love.
When I was a kid, back before seat belts, six of use would be crammed in the back seat, and we would ride along country roads in Ohio back before the Interstate always deposited you not more than two miles from anywhere you were going, we would speed along over hills that left a curious lurching sensation in the stomach. It made us giggle.
“Did you lose your stomach on that one?” my dad would ask over his shoulder.
“Yes!” we would shout. “Do it again!”
And sometimes he would oblige us by speeding over the next hill, so it felt almost like going on the roller coaster at the amusement park by the zoo.
That’s what it used to feel like being in love. It was like losing your stomach on a hill in a fast-driving car. I would be giddy and giggly and say and do silly things, and nobody cared, not even the girl I was in love with. There was a little bit of fear, too, but it was the manageable, safe fear of midway rides at the county fair or monster movies on weekends.
I didn’t know back then how terrifying real love can be.
Now my dad takes care of my mom, hoping against hope that she won’t die and leave him all alone. She’s overweight and diabetic and has had health problems of one kind or another for years and years. Her own parents both died young, but his lived well into their nineties. The chances that she will outlive him are slim.
So every day he coddles her and makes her life less burdensome. He builds a ramp, so she can get into and out of the house without navigating stairs. He buys her a motorized wheelchair. He installs shelves where she can reach them. He fetches things for her and dotes on her like a young lover of bygone days. He makes all these sacrifices for her because he really loves her and has since they were both school kids in Ohio. And even though I have kids of my own and am old enough to have grandkids, my dad is still my hero.