Sunday, February 14, 2010

Keeping my father company

I talked to my father yesterday. This wouldn't be a big deal except that I haven't talked to him in a couple of years and I knew it would be a shock for him to hear my voice.

First I got a call from my brother who was panicked about the possibility of my father's death. "He's having trouble breathing again. He called me in the middle of the night. He's scared."

"Have you called 911?" Sometimes I could kick myself for my knee-jerk crisis counselor response.

"No," says my brother. "He doesn't want to go. He hates hospitals."

"We all hate hospitals,"I wanted to yell to him, call 911."

But I didn't say that. I let my brother talk about his difficult relationship with our father. How he had mixed feeling about having to take care of him now. How he wished our father had taken better care of himself.

"...And he's still smoking dope."

Several years ago my father was diagnosed with emphysema and congestive heart failure. Smoking of any kind is tantamount to a suicide attempt. I didn't say that either.

"I understand that it's his choice to smoke," said my brother.

"It's the choice of an addict," I countered. My brother cleared his throat. He didn't like how I framed our father's life in the context of his various addictions.

"...So I'm calling to tell you that I don't know how much time he has left."

There was a pause.

"Okay," I said.

He was waiting me to say something more and when I didn't he started talking fast. He talked about his responsibilities about his mixed feelings about taking care of him, about not wanting to pass judgement on my relationship with our father--

"Are you saying you want me to call him?"[

My brother sounded instantly relieved. "Would you?"

"I'll call him, I said.

Shortly afterward, I got a call from my mother. She was worried about my brother's agitation over his father. She told me she would go over to my father place to see how he was doing.

"I'll get him to the hospital," she said."

"Are you sure you wanna do this?"

You're brother has to work. I'll do it."

My parents have lived apart for decades. She viewed him completely differently now. He was ill, physically weak, a shrunken version of his former brawny self He was no longer the big, loud overwhelming abuser she once had been forced to escape.If anyone could get him to go to the hospital, I knew she could. She was heading over there once she off the phone with me.

I'll call him and keep him company 'til you get there," I said.

"Good, she said.

My heart beat a little faster at the thought of talking to my father after such a long silence between us. Would I run out of things to say? Should I do this? A five second debate flashed through my head. Should I do this? Would I run out of things to say I made sure I was comfortably seated, and dialed.

"Hello? He answered the phone almost immediately. I imagined lying down in his apartment, his phone right by his hand,My father's deep voiced quavered. He was breathless, gasping. The low timbre of his voice washed over me and I wasn't nervous anymore. This was the voice of my childhood.

J?" I said, It's Katinka"

"Oh!" he said. 'Oh!"

"I'm breathless, he said.

"I know," I said. People have been telling me that you're going through a hard time."

"I have a cold and it makes the breathing even worse."

"Mom is on the way to help you. I'll stay on the phone with you til she get's there."

Yah? He said. The thought of someone coming over, even my mother was already making him feel better. He was trying to catch his breath but couldn't do it.

"Please pardon me, he said, "I can't talk much."

"I'll talk, " I said.

We stayed on the phone for about forty minutes, until I heard my mother take the phone from him and tell me she'd arrived. I talked about anything I could think of, about Ethan, about my cat who was sitting on my chest, about my recovery from my accident, about lovely New Jersey. During the call my father did ease his breath. He seemed less nervous. Considering our family history, the danger, the domestic violence I could've easily hung up on him or yelled at him or ignored him altogether.For me, this call was a small example of 'staying in the moment' of letting go of painful history to help my father feel better in the present. It occured to me that even the most estranged, exploded family like mine no doubt is, sometimes has the rare chance to come together and support one another. At least while we're all still breathing.