This morning two friends of mine called to wish me “happy birthday,” and I nearly burst into tears. When they called, I was in the middle of reading my sister’s texts updating my middle brother and me about my father’s condition. Why is it that when we’re heartbroken and most need to be loved, that it’s actually the most painful time to be loved? That when that protective layer is pockmarked and wounded by grief, even the kindest, most well-meaning of wishes becomes an abrasion.
This morning I felt ridiculous and even somewhat petty reading everyone’s lovely birthday wishes—some of which made me actually laugh out loud—as they populated my Facebook wall. Because I’m connected via social media to many people at work, there was a steady of cacophony of “Happy Birthday” as I ran into people in the halls. I didn’t quite know what to say. I said thank you, of course, but I felt as if I needed to qualify that thank you. “Thanks for remembering, but I’m not sure I’m allowed to celebrate and be happy when my father is dying such an unkind death.”
I briefly though about canceling my plans to have dinner with a small group of friends after work, and throughout the day I kept incanting under my breath, “It’s okay if you cry at dinner; they’re your friends.”
I did decide, ultimately, to not cancel dinner. And I did let myself fully enjoy the well wishes. Love hurts. But finally, I’m learning, that’s not a good reason to run away from it. And if we don’t learn to bear the hurts, maybe we never learn to fully bear the joy of love either.
Day to day I don’t know if my father
is hurtling toward twilight or dawn
is just a long time coming.
His mouth is full of stops and starts
and we try to decipher the new
language of words he can’t remember.
We measure him in half-cups and sips.
We pray the steady rise and fall of him
like a rosary of relief and longing.
We memorize each knot of his spine
like a rosary of bone and moaning.
We do not know if we should pray
for an end or a beginning.
We pray instead in icepacks
and extra pillows and cans of nutritions.
We pray not with knees pressed to the ground
nor with tongues busy with sacred groanings.
We pray instead with hands busy with
the work of my father. We pray as if
he is not sand, he is not air.
We pray as if the benediction of our
hands on the sags and folds of him is enough.