New Mama Musings

Monday, May 26, 2008

RIP: December 13, 1928 - May 25, 2008

My dad passed away last night.

At around the time my dad was dying I had gone to bed and laid there, watching Henry sleep, and thinking about my dad. When he was about Henry's age his beloved older sister Frances died of influenza, and not understanding, he sat on the front steps of their house waiting for her to come home.

I imagined that little boy being Henry, and then I thought of my dad the way he was yesterday -- waxy-looking, with his mouth open, and the death rattle in his breathing -- and got all freaked out about mortality.

We had a thunderstorm last night -- the first one in a long time -- and I also thought of my dad lying in his room in the hospice with its one wall of windows, and of the lightening flashing and my dad being there by himself. I wondered if he would pass away like that. (My mom, exhausted, had gone home to sleep, but some nurses were with him when he died.)

For so long I had been thinking that since my dad was such a terrible father, this wasn't really affecting me...but I think I was wrong. He was still my dad, even if he wasn't the dad I would have wanted.

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.

--T.S. Eliot

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Don't Say Any Words

I've been struggling for some time with how to explain my dad's move to a nursing home, inevitable decline and eventual death to Henry. What words could I use to make things clear without scaring him? How could Henry even comprehend the idea of someone dying and never coming back?

My dad moved to the nursing home a little over a month ago and two weeks later, before I got the chance to take Henry to visit him, my dad was rushed to the hospital with what was thought to be a gallbladder infection. He developed a few other problems and after an extended stay there he was released to a hospice. They are giving him massive doses of morphine to make him comfortable, but not doing much beyond that. A few days ago my dad stopped eating and drinking.

We took Henry to the hospital once and to the hospice twice. He heard my dad moaning in pain, saw him sleeping with his mouth open, and the last time, saw my dad almost comatose. And after all those visits Henry has asked no questions at all about his grandpa.

This is a kid who drives me batty with questions all day long: "Why doesn't Paige (our neighbor) want dandelions in her yard?" "Why does the road have those lines on it?" "Why do some clocks have all the numbers and some clocks don't?"

And no matter how thoroughly or definitively we think we've answered his question, our response is almost always followed by another "Why?"

My dad has been on the decline since just before Henry was born, so he was never a robust or playful grandpa to him.

Still, though, my dad was present during our weekly visits to my parents' house. He and Henry both liked baked beans for lunch. He would comment on the toys Henry was playing with. And Henry would talk about Grandpa as much as he would talk about anyone he knew.

Before my dad was moved to the nursing home he would fall asleep in his chair quite a bit, and during our last visit to my parents' house before my dad moved out I remember Henry running into the living room, putting his hands on the chair next to my dad, and saying, "I came in to see you, Grandpa!" My dad smiled and said, "Was I sleeping?"

My guess is that Henry just can't or doesn't want to process this change in his grandpa. I haven't tried to explain it because I'm afraid of scaring him. Whenever we mention something that Henry doesn't want to hear, he says, "Don't say anything! Don't say any words!" and I think if I broached the subject with him, this would be his response.

My mom thinks my dad will be gone by the end of this coming weekend, and I still don't know exactly what I'll say to Henry. I guess I'll simply tell him that Grandpa died, that he was very old and that his body stopped working.

And then I'll stop talking and let Henry process it in whatever way he can.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

For the Love of God -- Do NOT Talk to Him!

Everywhere we go, people try to talk to Henry. Invariably he says, "No" to every question (even things like "What's your name?") and generally comes off as anti-social.

I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, I'm a little embarrassed that my kid can't even say "hello" when greeted by a cashier.

But on the other hand, I'm reserved and a bit shy by nature too, so I understand the desire to avoid unwanted attention. He doesn't know these people. They're big; he's little. Maybe he doesn't feel like talking. Maybe he's intimidated.

Maybe he thinks they're morons and undeserving of his attention.

Whatever it is, I don't think I would appreciate the sort of attention he gets merely because he's a kid -- people asking my name, my age, if I'm being a good helper to the person I'm out with, etc.

The other day a friend's mother actually tried to pick Henry up from behind, saying, "Let's see how heavy you are." Henry crumpled to the floor. It was such a violation; I was shocked.

I've been a little unsure about what to do in these situations (except when he was physically handled -- I firmly said, "Don't pick him up!" and comforted him). I want to acknowledge and respect Henry's feelings. But I also don't want to be rude to people who really only have the best of intentions. And I would like to model socially appropriate behavior for my son.

When the clerk at Starbucks says "hi" to Henry and he tells her, "No, don't say that!" I don't want to minimize his feelings by saying, "He's cranky."

I remember being upset about something as an adolescent and my parents rolling their eyes, saying to one another, "Here we go, another teenager." I never want Henry to feel that I'm trivializing his emotions. Even saying "he's shy" is labeling him and may not accurately reflect his current state of mind anyway.

For now I've decided to smile and say, "He'd rather not talk right now." This way I am acknowledging the other person in a socially appropriate way while validating my son's feelings at the same time.

Hopefully, someday, Henry will figure out how to honor everyone's feelings himself.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

The Words I've Been Waiting to Hear

"I love reading books."

That's my boy.