Gone Like a Wisp of Smoke

 (courtesy wikipedia)

I meant to write about ice cream; how my favorite flavor has changed over the years, how I come back again and again to good old vanilla (not the yellowy so-called French vanilla, but the kind speckled with vanilla bean).  I wanted to write about how ice cream figures into our life celebrations, our rabid devotion to certain flavors, and our dismay when those flavors are discontinued.  (Personally, I’ll never forgive Ben & Jerry’s for doing-away with ‘Rainforest Crunch.’  Ed and I courted over that ice cream!  How could they do such a thing?  Does anyone have the recipe?)  I was going to end the blog by asking about your favorite flavors and your best ice cream-related memories.

But life has a way of intruding on such light topics.

I just now received a phone call that my father-in-law fell yesterday and fractured his hip in two places.  He’s in the hospital in Phoenix this morning, undergoing surgery.  He’s in his late 70s-early 80s (I can’t recall which; I’m lucky if I remember the age of my own parents) and diabetic, with the sort of blood sugar that whing-whangs all over the chart on a daily basis because, although he’s anal about taking his blood test (several times a day, in fact), he eats what he feels like eating when he feels like it no matter what the read-out (or anyone else) says.  He’s cold all the time, unable to walk any sort of distance with ease.  He visited us just before Christmas and there was such a change in him.  No longer robust, he is a shade of himself — bone-white, hunched, slow-moving, often needing a wheelchair to get about.  Always emotionally guarded, now he is apt to cry at a moment’s notice or fly into a rage at the memory of old hurts and ancient betrayals.  He is frequently sad (that emotion walking hand-in-hand with his anger) and seems lost, not in the way of someone who can’t remember where he is, but in the way of someone who suddenly looks around at their life and says, “How did I get here?”  A stubborn man who cherished his independence above all else, now he is a mass of needs.  He clings to his wife as to a life-line, afraid of being alone (and, I suspect, other things as well).

Surgery is an iffy prospect as one ages, the risk compounded when (as now) there are other issues.  And I find myself wondering about his mental state.  Does he want to live?  Does he see this as the moment he slips past life’s gate?  I know he loves his wife (with an intensity he cannot bring himself to bestow on the rest of his family), but he’s also tired.  He knows she will be well-looked after by her family (her children, as well as by us).  Will this be the moment when he says, “Enough?”  (For I believe, you see, that we have the power to affect such things.  Three years as a Hospice volunteer taught me that.)

This is a “wait and see” moment, a pause to let events unfold.  If my father-in-law should pass, how do I best support my husband?  There are no words to ease the loss of a parent (even one you are not close to) and my husband is a private person who keeps his thoughts to himself.  Perhaps just being close is the best anyone can do in that circumstance.  I don’t know.  When my grandparents died, both my mother and my father erected unscalable walls, barriers impossible to breach and necessary to respect.  If they mourned, it was never within my sight.  I don’t know how this will play out and maybe that, more than anything, is the hardest part.

Any advice is appreciated.


About Melissa Crandall

Longer ago than I care to admit--although I will--I cut my writing teeth on fanzines and media tie-in novels. Since then, I've moved on to narrative nonfiction, speculative fiction, and essays. I write to explore and understand the world around me, the things I see and experience nearby or from a distance. If I shake myself up, cool. If I shake you up, even better. Not gratuitously--what's the point in that?--but to set what I know, or think I know, on end and realize, "Well, doesn't it look different from this side!" My work is neither sexually explicit nor graphically violent. Let's face it - your imaginations will come up with things far worse than anything I could write, no matter how descriptive. Besides, it's just not my thing. I live in Connecticut with my supportive husband Ed, a cat named Ruby who might just think she's a dog, and an epileptic Australian shepherd named Holly who isn't quite certain anymore who she is, except she knows she loves her mommy.
This entry was posted in Age, Aging, Anger, Change, death, dying, Essays, Family, Fear, Life, Melissa Crandall, Relationships and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Gone Like a Wisp of Smoke

  1. John says:

    I believe your instincts are right. Just be there for him if he needs to talk or hold your hand or whatever. Sometimes being a presence is enough.

    I hope all goes as well as can be expected with the surgery.

    • Thank you, John. We were able to speak to him just as they were wheeling him in to anesthesia and he seemed in good spirits. We are hopeful. One step at a time, one breath at a time. We won’t borrow trouble, if you know what I mean.

  2. sophiaspeak says:

    Melissa, having buried four parents (mine and Steve’s), plus 4 grandparents, dearest friends and clients, and other family and non-family members, I have, sadly, way too much experience in all of this. When you need to, we shall talk because words spoken accomplish much more at times like this. I am always there for you and Ed. . . . because you guys are my family too.

    Love you.


  3. Cherilyn says:

    Everybody grieves in a different way. It would be nice if we could all lay our emotional cards out on the table, but that rarely happens.

    There is a certain brokenness when we grow up in a dysfunctional family and struggling with wanting our parent’s approval. This may not be what your husband has experienced but in case this is true he many have grieved a long time ago. Or he may need to connect with an uncle or adopt someone who is compatible with his personality to cushion the loss of his father.

    When it comes to supporting your husband, you are wise to have a wait and see approach, but you could also anticipate his physical needs like his favorite foods (you know that vanilla ice cream with the vanilla bean flecks in it?) his favorite movies (men like to escape when they are in pain and that doesn’t mean they won’t face the facts they just do it their way in their own time) and maybe even plan a little weekend trip to some place where he would enjoy exploring a museum or nature preserve or whatever fits with his hobbies. Part of absorbing the pain of death and disappointment is realizing that we are still here and we can still enjoy life. If possible add new, young life to your household. I firmly believe a puppy or kitten can make anything better.

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