If there’s one certainty I’ve learned in my 29 years of life, it’s that despite all the happiness the universe will shower on you, it’s the sprinkling of heartbreak that stays with you the longest, despite you doing everything you can to keep it at bay. And that heartbreak comes to you in the most unexpected of moments, like when you’re driving on a perfectly beautiful fall day singing along to a happy tweeny bopper song (think Justin Beiber) and out of nowhere you start sobbing out of your mind, giving a new meaning to “ugly cry.”
That happened to me today, like so many other days growing up, after another visit with my dad at the hospital. My family and I have been shuffling back and forth to the hospital since I was in elementary school, with both parents taking their turn being extremely sick. While my mom has fully recovered, my dad has slowly withered away over the years, at a point now where every unexpected hospital stay, the doctors have warned us to prepare for the worst. How do you prepare for heartbreak? How do you brace yourself watching someone who you call your dad become an incoherent skeleton of someone you barely recognize. I don’t know.
And I look at my mom, who has overcome so many challenges, only to arrive at a point in her life where my dad’s hospital bedside chair is where she’s usually found, standing guard over him. I watch her lovingly moisturize his scaly ashy skin, while offering him sips of water through a straw that he almost always refuse. I watch her gently massage his chest, so carefully at times it seems as if she’s barely touching him. I watch this all through misty eyes and I wonder watching her with all the hospital lights around her, if she still remembers what it was like to have a carefree day – days spent outside of hospitals, of days with her face to the sun.
It’s almost always deathly quiet in my dad’s hospital room, despite all the beeping monitors and nurses coming in and out to check on him. It’s as if all the noise in the living world dare not even set foot in my dad’s room, where his life hangs in limbo. I tell my mom stories of the kids’ silly antics, to break up the silence . She laughs from time to time, but her smiles don’t reach her eyes anymore. They get lost on the way there, as if all the pain she’s had to endure has created an insurmountable rock between my normal everyday life and the life she leads being dictated by my dad’s illness. When I see this, I usually grow quiet again. I run out of words.
Nothing I say will change any of this. I can tell she’s hardened herself against it all. That the man lying on the bed with his eyes closed, laboring with every breath is all that matters to her right now. And I understand.
She tells me to leave, go back to the kids. I am torn. I want to stay another hour. Linger another minute. Though mostly, I want to stay forever and preserve anything left of my dad that’s worth keeping. But being an obedient daughter, I get up, say my goodbyes and leave.
When I step out of those hospital doors, climb into my car, turn on the ignition, and BLAST BLAST BLAST my music, singing along to it until I feel the tears fall and the lyrics die in my throat, this is usually when my heartbreak begins, on my drive back on Route 4 West, heading home.