For quite some time, my life has been moving along in an orderly, harmonious, predictable fashion, a veritable string of sunny days with only the occasional light shower, but recently that has changed. We have been dealing with my father’s latest battle with cancer. Aside from the obvious concerns for my father (pain, treatment plans and, well, mortality), there are the superficial ones: appointments, insurance, bills, logistics of juggling family and work. I am not the only person my age dealing with these challenges, and I am cognizant that others have much greater burdens to manage. As my father is fond of saying, “I cried because I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet.” Still, my peaceful, well run, and predictable life which I love and appreciate so much is currently turned on its head, and I selfishly don’t like it one bit.
Hang in there, I tell myself. Just get him through the next round of chemo. Just get through the next platelet transfusion. Just get through the stem-cell transplant. But these things are looming for many months on the horizon. My father is brave and grateful for our help, rarely complaining; a model patient in some ways, a high maintenance patient in other ways. I found myself in the dangerous trap of waiting for this ordeal to be behind us before I could “let” myself be happy and exhale again. This is never a wise strategy.
Happiness is still here, I just need to look a bit harder to find it. It arrives in the most unexpected times and places, but when it arrives, it delights me more than anything would on a normal, peaceful day. It arrives in the form of a casserole from a friend who is the very definition of busy and over-scheduled, yet carved out time to lovingly provide a meal for us. It arrives when I see my father and son watching ESPN together, debating the merits of various players no one else in this family knows. It arrives when I discover that, like me, my father takes his coffee with just milk and prefers angel hair pasta over normal spaghetti and his bacon burnt. It arrives in the form of a foot massage from my husband, who silently rubs my feet while not complaining when Real Housewives of New York is on rather than the highbrow NOVA documentary he would prefer.
My parents have been divorced well over twenty years, but last week my mom prepared a couple of my father’s favorite meals and drove for an hour up here to deliver them. It was my day off, which usually means the day I have to catch up on laundry, shopping, errands, cleaning and various dad-related duties. There is never enough time and lately there has been even less, and while my mom and dad sat in my family room and chatted, I started to finish up some long overdue vacuuming. But then I heard this:
“See Alexis? She had a baby with a mobster, too. Yeah, the one with the dark hair who’s married to the man who has amnesia…”
They were watching General Hospital together, a soap that hasn’t been on my tv since 1984 and which Dad has never watched, but Mom was attempting to fill him in on the last thirty years. Despite their differences, numerous differences, they still care about each other and can usually manage to be civil and supportive, especially when the chips are down. Moments like this fortify me, and I gather them like little pebbles and take them out of my pocket when I need to feel better.
It was another busy day and my last chance to catch up on some gardening for a while, so Dad sat on the front porch while I tended to the pots and flower beds. Then we moved to the deck while I planted my herbs. Finally, we moved down to the patio, where I planted the hot peppers and tomatoes and thinned out the radishes. We chatted the whole time, feeling the warm sun on our faces.
“Today was a good day,” he said. “I liked being outside with you while you planted things.” You’re right, Dad. It was a very good day.