Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Things Left Undone

I walk out the front door of my parent's house and I gaze out at the lush green yard and the strategically placed plants. I quietly take in the scene, looking for clues.

I am looking for evidence. For signs of life. I am trying to find places that my dad has touched - places that are preserved in time from before his surgery in July. Today is the 60th day that my dad has been in a hospital bed, and I do not know what is going to happen to him.

I feel sad when I find our s'mores sticks near the portable firepit in the backyard. They are covered in cobwebs and mildew from months of inactivity on the s'more front. I look at those s'more sticks and I consider the fact that they are actually a third generation model. My dad had previously tried a few contraptions with coat hangers, but we found that those just conducted heat and made the marshmallows melt off.

I feel overwhelmed when I see the dead leaves amassing under the huge trees. In my mind's eye, I picture my dad with the leaf blower and the big black plastic bags, herding the four-foot piles of red, brown, and orange crumblings. Who is going to do the leaves this year? Me? My mom? Some pitying neighbor boy?

I have had a lot of time to think about what it means to lose someone you love. I keep trying out the idea, for fear that if I do not get practice in now, I will be punched in the nose if that time comes and I am not prepared. I have learned that the smallest things can make you miss a person because they are evidence of a time when things were normal and even boring. I now know that experiencing boredom is one of life's luxuries.

The somewhat boring part of my dad's life, in my mind, has been his "projects." Like any dad, my dad is always doing projects inside and outside the house. I used to feel bad, especially when he had multiple projects going that seemed to be making slow progress. But now I realize how talented my dad is at those tasks, and how much he loves them.

My mom and I went to the hardware store today. Last night as I watched her shuffle through mail, my heart broke when I saw her pull out the coupons to Kraemer's True Value Hardware, my dad's favorite neighborhood store. I felt sad to see my mom doing something my dad would normally do. I also felt sad because going to Kraemer's is just one of those special dad memories. I used to go to Kraemer's with my dad and the first thing we would do when we walked in was take a big whiff of that lovely do-it-yourself hardware scent.

Walking into the store with my mom felt awkward. We initially could not find what we needed, and we had to figure out the best value on plastic lawn bags for gathering leaves. My stomach knotted up in anticipation for all that lay ahead of us - Fall, Winter, Christmas and the whole holiday to-do. My mom and I both felt it, but we said nothing. How do we function without having dad around?

I have been missing my dad when I see the projects he would be working on right now. The leaky roof, the dying plants, the overgrown lawn. Today when I walked out the front door, I happened upon a project that sacked me in the stomach and deflated the wind in my lungs.

The Christmas Tree Lights.

My dad has had this meticulous (I would add never-ending and quasi-pathetic) project going on for sometime. He has been untangling the Christmas lights from our massive pine trees in the front lawn. Being that he puts them up again each and every Christmas, I am not sure what the end goal is in taking them down. I spot some tools and hanging reds and yellows. I decide to duck underneath our massive trees and have a look. I am momentarily stricken by the way in which this project was left so haphazardly in mid-progress. It's as if my dad took a lunch break and decided to leave his tools, ladder, and strewn Christmas lights just laying around until he got back. Was he working on this the day before his surgery? Did he think that he would get back to this project in a mere two weeks time?

My first year out of college, I had a big corporate job that gave me money that I didn't know what to do with. My college loans had not kicked in, I had no credit card debt, no car, and I lived at home with my mom and dad. It was a tough time for me and I was pretty depressed. I was dreading Christmas. But that was the year that I decided to give my dad a big Christmas gift.

I thought that this might be a dream come true for my dad. I wrote him a $300 check and told him to use it to rent a cherry picker to put up the Christmas lights on the pine trees in the front yard. This was the most wonderfully bizarre and extravagant thing we could think of, and my dad actually did it. I remember the beep beep beep sound of the truck backing up as my dad aligned it just right. My mom, who is considerably afraid of heights, could not watch as my dad maneuvered himself from many feet in the sky while decorating the trees. The neighbors looked on in curiosity, confusion, and probably horror. My brother and I made several references to National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation.

I have learned so much in the past few months. I think the most important thing I have learned is the true worth of a human life. There are things that only my daddy can do. There are things that only your daddy can do. There are things that I uniquely alone can do for my family and friends, and vise versa. Why does it take an unexpected chronic illness for me to fully comprehend and appreciate this?

I will continue to tip toe around my parent's house, looking for clues. I will keep noting the things that are unique to my dad, and hope beyond hope that he can tend to them again. I will make a commitment to view the man in the hospital bed as the same dad I have always known. He is that same man who stayed at my college art department with me until 4AM, helping me build frames for my paintings. He is the same man who goes on walks with me and comments on cozy-looking houses at night. He is the same man who eagerly drives to my apartment to bring me home for pizza dinner. He is the same man who takes the time to answer every question and allay all worries. He is the same man who knows Kraemer's True Value Hardware by heart. He is the same man who untangles Christmas lights from our pine trees.

He is the same man. He always is. He is my dad.


  1. susan I am so sad. i miss the past when this was not so hard. why is this happening? it is not fair to you or your family. i want this nightmare to end for you and to wake up.

    tears from brazil, saba

  2. i loose gracie all over again tomorrow luv. i know nearly every part of what you feel. i love you. so much.

  3. I always loved your dad's Christmas lights and made it as point to drive by your house for them. They are in my memory forever. No joke