I recently came back from Buffalo, NY, and I am still wondering why anybody would live there. Although every single person I met was exceptionally nice. AND I MEAN EXCEPTIONALLY NICE. It’s where my husband grew up, and where we went for his dad’s 80th birthday. His dad is having some major health stuff, fluid surrounding his brain, which makes him not remember things, and lose his balance. This was thought to have been Parkinson’s for several years, but was recently re-diagnosed as adult hydrocephalus. There are some things you can do to help this condition, but he’s not really in good enough health to do them. We’re probably dealing with a series of strokes here, too. Last week he found an infection in his leg, which put him into the hospital, and now into a rehab center, so last night’s party was there, in a special little room just for families to hang out. It’s a nice place, as far as those places go, and it doesn’t have that awful urine smell, which is what I most remember about where my poor Aunt Josie was.
Anyway, here’s the grateful part. The night we celebrated, I said something to Pete (my father-in-law) about being 80 and what a big birthday it is. And he said, something like, “Yeah, and I’m going to have a lot more birthdays.” And later in the night, he said something else, in a hearty voice, about living a long, long time. He said it with conviction and joy. He said it like a man on a mission. This guy clearly doesn’t want to give up. He wants to live. I admire that. I know that for a lot of people getting old brings with it too many super hard and pain-in-the-ass (back, leg, head, shoulders, knees and toes) challenges, to be excited about more living, but Pete has not only the will to live, but also the drive. What he doesn’t have is the health. And that’s a bit of a problem at this point. He may have to move into assisted living from the rehab center, and there’s the tricky and the icky. Pete will not want to leave his house, the house where his kids grew up, where the majority of his adult life was lived, where there are still so many reminders of his wife, the mom to his kids, who lived with him there, before she left him 20 years ago for her high school boyfriend while on a celebratory vacation to Hawaii in honor of their 35th wedding anniversary, and died from breast cancer a year and a half ago. (I told you this guy is a survivor.) He will not want to leave all the comfort and familiarity, (not to mention his baby grand), of this dwelling where he made a new life with an amazing new woman, who was sent by divine intervention after his wife left, and has been with him ever since, and who is as intelligent, beautiful, upbeat, and vivacious a person as you could ever find. And his kids don’t want him to leave either, and they don’t want to have to dismantle the house that represents their childhoods, and a time they can never get back again, but that this house reminds them existed. How come stuff has to happen like this? Couldn’t there be a better last chapter for all of us? REALLY, people, we need to work on the ending.
It’s all so complicated, like one of those stupid Rubik cubes–you turn it one way and it works, you turn it another and the whole thing falls apart. I understand this scenario my husband and his siblings and Pete’s partner are going through because I have already been on this shitty roller coaster ride. I have already had to walk this long and crumbling road, watching both of my parents get sick and die. And I have had to face losing the only house that I ever lived in growing up, and all its soothing contents. There was something so comforting about knowing that while I moved onto have my own life, that house remained untouched. And in my mind, some part of my younger self still lived there.
I find the whole situation so unspeakably sad and difficult, that even though I’ve never been close to my father-in-law, I abhor watching what’s happening to him. I want to make it better, be Cher and turn back the hands of time, invent some plan that could turn the whole thing around for everybody. But as for Pete. He wants to live. Perhaps it’s how you are, when you’re the son of a Holocaust survivor, or maybe it’s just his inherent nature. But this guy chooses life. And I think that given the circumstances, that’s just all kinds of beautiful.