Struggling through with joy...
Struggling through with joy...
Almost ten years ago my dad went from being a healthy-ish 66 year-old grandfather (who smoked filterless cigarettes, suffered from chronic stress and drank too much) to laying in a bed in ICU, hooked to a respirator, dying from septic shock. It took roughly 36 hours for him to go from showing flulike symptoms and texting me smart ass remarks to being sedated and intubated. He was never conscious again after the initial sedation.
No one knew what was wrong with him; we had to wear masks, gloves and gowns to be in the room with him because doctors were concerned he’d contracted the plague while out walking his Yorkie. And yes, I do mean that plague, the one that killed half of England so long ago. Every day, sometimes every hour, brought some fresh and horrific surprise: we were told if he survives he will probably be significantly brain damaged; his skin is much like that of a severe burn patient because his body is no longer nurturing it with any blood; he will likely need several fingers and part of his nose amputated; we are airlifting him to a burn unit across the state; his internal organs are failing.
In the five or six days before he died, I constantly tried to adjust to a new normal. My mother, brother or I were in the room with him at all times. We had a makeshift schedule, with my mom rarely leaving my father’s room. Often his brothers and sisters visited, although it was incredibly difficult for them to see him the way he was, wrapped in gauze, looking bruised from head to toe, hooked to machines. We read to him, took turns taking breaks in the hospital cafeteria, took turns going home to spend time with our dogs. I tried to maintain a regular exercise schedule and shower only because I felt like I was losing my mind. Having clean hair seemed like a good idea.
In a strange way, those horrible days prepared me for the current pandemic crisis. In the days after my dad died, I had a strong need to maintain indicators of normalcy. It became incredibly important to wear eyeshadow. I walked and walked and walked if I wasn’t jogging. I monitored my food intake in order to maintain a healthy diet.
Now I am facing weeks at home with my husband and young children. Next week I need to simultaneously learn to teach remotely while homeschooling my own kids. I can’t hang out with my mother, whom I am used to seeing, hugging, and talking to several times a week. I can’t just run to the store to pick up milk. There will be no ordering of pizza or tacos.
Which means I am clinging madly to my routines. I drag myself out of bed at 5:30 or 6 to meditate, shower, and apply makeup; I try to wear clothes I’m not ashamed to leave the house in, even though I won’t be leaving the house. I jog or walk or do yoga and try to limit my time online to cooking blogs and how-to-draw videos.
I pretend leprechauns have invaded our home and fold socks like I’ve never folded socks before because sweet Jesus, if the socks are folded and the beds are made it can’t be that bad, right?
And it helps. Just like it did after my dad died. In the years since his death I’ve marveled at how much he taught me even as I slowly had to let him go. On Sunday we had our last meal out for who knows how long, and the pizza place where we ate was blasting the same music my father played throughout my childhood. It’s cheesy to think our loved ones are speaking to us from the great beyond via satellite radio, but I’ll take it. I felt like my dad, who would’ve been wound just as tightly as I am about this whole crisis, wanting to scream commands at everyone he loves just like I do, was putting his hand on my shoulder to say, “It’s bad right now, but it will get better.”
Just like it did after he died, and I dragged myself through each new day trying to be a human. Look, I wanted to tell everyone, I have eyeshadow on. I brushed my teeth. I’m handling this ok.
And now I want to lean out the front door to my neighbor smoking in her pajamas and yell, “Listen, I know your scared, but I’m wearing eyeliner and I’ve got shitloads of food, so it’s all going to be ok eventually. Have a can of beans and some toilet paper.”
Much like those days when my dad was dying, every day brings some awful news. I let my brain process it in small amounts. I try not to think about my mother, who is probably running all over town like a goddamn teenager instead of staying home the way I want her to. I try to believe my brother and his wife and kids will be just fine, that I am not bothered we are all so far apart. I try not to worry about homeless people and the waiter who served us last week and has a three-month-old daughter to care for and now has no income. I try not to consider what will happen if I can’t sit with my most beloveds if they get really sick. I try to pretend my students will learn virtually as much in our virtual classroom. I try not to miss them.
Instead, I make dinner. I pray, and pray some more. I fall asleep on the couch with my husband just like I do most nights. We talk about books and ideas instead of work. We don’t say a lot about the things that bother us most, and he places a calming hand on my hip at night until I can sleep again.
I think of all I’ve learned since my dad died. That bullshit line we always hear is true: all we have is today. Right now, today is not ideal. My focus has been narrowed down to our smallish house and what I can do to maintain a level of safety, contentment and happiness for my children. So we draw, and play outside, and we read books, and I remember those awful days of grief when I lost my dad, and I remember how I survived. I realize I am a better human because of them, and I hope these days will mold me into a better human too.