Friday, October 10, 2008
When it's Too Late to Change Your Relationship
My father has had a desperate year.
Before he turned 83, he went swimming every day and sat by the pool for hours "schmoozing" with neighbors from his condo building. He bragged that he was the youngest guy in his synagogue and therefore often had the honor of carrying the twenty pound torah scroll. He told stories about the old days -- spending his war years on a battleship in China, playing stickball on the streets of Brooklyn as a kid, running errands for a nickel for the Murder, Incorporated gang that owned his neighborhood, and meeting my mother and being overcome by her dark beauty.
This year, he has lived more in rehab facilities than in the condo he shares with my mother. He started falling. He fell four times within six months. One day he got into a car accident. He had successful back surgery to insert metal pins along his spine to brace a few fractured discs. His pain is waning and his spirit is returning. But he has 24 hour home health aide coverage and needs to be shepherded when he turns over in his hospital bed, takes a shower, or tries to walk.
His voice is now an old man's voice, hoarse and tired. It often fades by the time he gets to the end of a sentence. He remembers everything clearly but just loses interest in the details. The thought of getting back into the pool and swimming again keeps him going.
My mother is holding steady with her afflictions and her medications. She carries on with reading her mystery books and tending to the building's library. Her social network consists largely of her doctors, the doormen, and her brothers. She cooks meals and sorts through paperwork. She lets the aides do everything else for my father.
My parents orbit around each other. Sometimes they collide in affection; other times in hostility; but mostly in neutral cooperation. This pattern is no different than the one they existed within for the past fifty years.
I watch with a heavy heart. I know that they will never find a love that has at its core something sublime instead of just complacency. I see that they will never find the others hands hidden in the mountain of ashes left by their disappointments in each other.
It's too late and they are too sick to change a relationship this old.