The Shadow Your Smile

November 17, 2016

I am burying my Dad today.

How did we get here? A man who, until ALS imprisoned his body, walked a minimum of 2 miles a day – rain, snow or sunshine – and who worked out at the gym three times a week – physically fit and mentally sharper than most of us on a good day. Up until the very last day of his life he was still planning, inventing and learning.

He was an artist in the every sense – cartoon sketches filled the margins of the daily newspaper and covered not only the return envelopes of bills but also every napkin in the house. An accomplished pianist, he played in several jazzy bands from the forties through the sixties, and every evening before supper, he tinkled those ivories. The melodic notes would float out of the window and onto the street on many a summer evening, causing people to look up as they walked by the house. A favorite was The Shadow of Your Smile…each note of that song is embedded in the very fibers of my being…and today I am thinking of how appropriate that song is.

He never stopped “living.” At the height of his illness, when asked how he was doing, his standard reply was “Pretty good!”…even though he had become a prisoner in his own body. Dad always saw the silver lining in life and was not one who believed in problems, only solutions. He loved his family – we were everything – and he forever loved my mother like the 25 year old young man who first saw her, standing on the church steps at the wedding of a mutual friend. She was his lover, muse and best friend….I believe the term for that is “Soul Mate.”

He would constantly remind us to celebrate everything – and so I will, Dad…

…as I remember the shadow of  your smile.







The Big Move

August 30, 2015

After a lifetime, the day finally arrived when the Rental sign went up as we had to make The Big Move – moving my parents from the home they have known for over 60 years, into an apartment. My father can no longer go up and down the unique curved staircase that I used to slide down to reach the walkway. My father can no longer walk at all…thank you ALS. The time had come to seriously downsize and move forward to a living situation that will give my parents a new sense of independence.

The house was originally my grandparents’ home – a place I stayed every other weekend with great joy. Later, as a family we lived there all together for 5 years while my father got his new company off the ground (we later moved 4 doors down). Then, many years later, my husband and I moved back into the house with our two children and also welcomed our third baby there – creating yet another series of memories.

So – on Thursday, furniture was loaded onto a truck – leaving me and my mom behind to go through cupboards and closets and pack a 62 year marriage into boxes. Clothing, dishware and long forgotten items hidden at the bottom of closets all had a story – many of which I heard from the first time. While packing away her cookbooks, 2 handmade Valentines fell out, sent to her by my father (who has always been an artist and musician, apart from his profession as an Ad Man). I ran my fingers over the simple, hand drawn cards imagining the 23 year old young man, courting the girl he had fallen desperately in love with…imagining him anticipating her surprise and delight at receiving a cute, romantic Valentine at her office.

Wedding gifts, barely used….dishes from my great grandmother’s wedding in 1893 (on my mom’s side) and dishes that graced our own family table while I was growing up. A hundred – no a million memories….and only a scant few that I could own myself, but I appreciated every single one shared. I met the young young couple my parents were (and still are, in their hearts) through those memories…but I suspect that I have always known them.

Later that night, after having moved all of the essentials and settled my parents into their new home – my husband and I went back to the house to see what was left to finish in the coming days.

I walked though the front door, as I have all my life and held back the 5 year old’s urge to call out, “Hi Granny” down the hall. I could almost smell the overly well-done toast and coffee which was my grandmother’s dinner ritual. As I moved though the house my steps seemed to slow – I stopped in the doorway of my old room and ran my hand along the molding where I split my lip open at age 2 on the night of my grandfather’s funeral…I stood in that room remembering how my little sister and I used to use the “telephone” we had made out of toilet paper rolls all taped together – as if no one could hear us! Then onto the vision of my own two daughters in their beds, set up the same way, only one of them was in a crib. I continued on to the back room, my mother’s “office” and saw pre-teen me sitting with my Grandmother on her bed, laughing together hysterically as I tried to read the Hungarian/English dictionary (of course looking up as many rude words as it held) and sharing my discovery of The Beatles…and how she showed so much interest….flash forward and I saw myself, the young mother, laying with my 7 year old son on his bed reading Harry Potter every night. Finally, the kitchen – heart of the home…my sister and I doing dishes every night, probably making quite a mess as we would be fighting or laughing, depending on the day. Simultaneously – me, cooking and creating crafts and changing the curtains and table cloths to suit the seasons when it was our turn to live there as a family.

Once we got to the basement I could hear and see me with my high school girlfriends singing into hairbrushes to The Partridge Family, which would have been spinning on vinyl. Suddenly, I had no strength left and melted into my husband’s arms, sobbing. There is truly a lifetime in those walls…my immigrant grandparents from Hungary, my newly engaged parents, my pre-teen self and finally myself as an adult and own little family.

The parties, the laughter, the tears….all embedded in the walls…walls now waiting for another family to add to the layers.

Forever Love Affair

June 3, 2015

My dad is dying. There is no nice way to say this. The ALS is eating his body up…but his mind and more importantly, his heart – have never been sharper or stronger.

He was rushed to the hospital with internal bleeding last week and as my mom and I followed the ambulance we made silly,disjointed and distracted conversation…my mother, because her heart is breaking piece by piece – me, because I am trying to catch whatever pieces I can.

He has been in for a week – and for the first day and a half they could not see each other as the countless tests kept my father separated from my mother. The next evening we were finally able to see him and as we walked into the room he smiled, his eyes lit up like a bonfire and my mother bent over to kiss him – not a tiny peck that so many elderly people exchange,-but a long, full, deep kiss on the lips.and in that moment I swear that I heard birds singing and imagined blossoms floating down around them as I heard the silent words “You may kiss the bride” – for in that moment I saw, not just my parents but the husband and wife…the lovers that they’ve been for almost 65 years.

Role Reversal

April 29, 2015

It’s 6:30 am. I’ve already been up for a good hour. Partially because I generally wake up close to that time – but in reality, it’s because my mother woke me accidentally – she was having a bad dream…something I am sure is a regular occurrence now with my Dad’s illness. I can hear him breathing on his oxygen  machine from the kitchen – the very kitchen I grew up in. How strange this morning seems – and yet all so familiar too.

Yesterday, my Dad called me at work, something he NEVER does. Mom fell ill; she was dizzy and in bed and he was worried. Having ALS, he is now pretty much wheelchair-bound, so it is difficult for him to help her – although he so valiantly tries. Of course, I rushed directly over to their house….my old house – in fact my grandmother’s old house (talk about “coming home”).

I know I am not a doctor – but I am a mother (too) and she seems to have a virus of some sort (blocked ears). I settled her in and she napped for most of the afternoon – but not before asking me to organize my Dad’s dinner….her main concern. How funny and yet how sweet – 61 years later, she is concerned about getting his dinner on the table on time. No problem, I tell her. I leave to pick up my daughter from school and go home to organize my own family before returning…I insist that I will spend the night because the truth is that they need me to (for Heaven’s sake….who will make Dad’s breakfast if I am not here – and ALS or not – Dad still has his appetite and loves a good breakfast). Mom is all worried about putting me out – but I tell her her “Mom – you sat on edge of my bed for years when I was a kid, whenever I was sick and if I called you today to say I wasn’t well...” she finished my sentence with “I’d rush right over“. Love. Family. Enough said.

So here I am. Roles are reversed and it is strange – and yet, I feel both relieved and happy to be able to do this for them….they have given me so much. Does it take a bit of rescheduling? Of course. But my family (thank goodness that I married the man of my dreams and have such terrific supportive kids … really) and my wonderful boss and co-workers make it a cinch…ease my concerns with their honest love and support.

So here I sit, at the kitchen table – in my old “seat” waiting for Dad to wake up(although he did briefly – first words out of his mouth were – How is Mom? 61 years and still each other’s main concern, truly amazing…) so I can make his coffee and his breakfast. I feel okay – I feel weird – I feel a bit scared as that future inevitable has given me a trial run. I take solace and am reminded that; To whom much is given – much is expected.…and I know that in the end,  I will be able to finish this journey – with grace and a smile, if only to make my parents’ life easier…it’s all I can do.

My dad, so cruelly diagnosed with ALS, was taken to hospital 3 weeks ago –  he caught the flu (ironically, having had the flu shot). As a family, we have spent the last 3 weeks in limbo/in hell. How could this happen to our family? We kept saying. How could this happen to my parents, who have had an incredible 60+ year romance….one that has touched more people than I could ever have imagined. I bumped into some former neighbours last week – they broke down in tears, hearing about my parents; with whom they had just attended a neighbourhood cocktail party two weeks earlier (so like my parents!).  The woman, mustering all of her strength and courage said to me through tears; “Your parents are lucky. So many people never find that kind of love – and your parents shared their romance everywhere they went, waving at neighbours as they walked hand in hand” …..and there I was – holding someone in my arms who was touched by my parents, breaking down in public – appropriately unashamed. I watch my Dad fight an already decided losing battle. He fights the tears back whenever he says goodbye to my Mom for the day…he is not ready to break up with her….although, truth be told….one day he must.

My mom often says, in a small, quiet  voice, “You never think it’s going to end”.

Up until a few months ago they were still mall crawling on a rainy afternoon, going out for a burger, inviting friends over for cocktails….they have never stopped being that 25 year old couple – those precious newlyweds that had a lifetime of dreams ahead of them – they are always in a stage of planning things… after 60 years, my parents still have dreams.

And that – is what makes breaking up virtually impossible to do.

Where does the magic go?

February 6, 2014

I stopped by my parents’ home today to visit and say hello. My father has ALS which has been a tremendous blow to our family – we never saw it coming….a man who, although 86, puts most of us to shame with how active and in-shape he has always been. Walking 2 miles daily – rain or shine, and not in a shuffling elderly way – always striding at a clip, shoulders back.   He also worked  out at the gym three times a week  for the last 60 years – and by the way; never liked doing the “senior group” – always wanted to push himself and work out with young people. However, this is what Life has decided to hand him and we have no choice but to accept it. One of the incredible lessons has been the moments of insight I have had into my parents 60 year-long love affair….I have always known that they loved each other and they have never been afraid to show their devotion and affection, on a daily basis. They have also felt free express their normal marital differences from time to time – so I never had a skewed idea of what marriage was all about.

But, it is the intimate moments that I have accidentally witnessed.

One day, while in the hospital  awaiting results from a series of tests due to a false scare that he was suffering from a pulmonary embolism; I was sitting behind them in the waiting room and my mother suddenly said quietly “We had some really great times – didn’t we?”  and added “It seems like just yesterday. We had so much fun…”

My dad responded with a tired smile and nodded. “We sure did… it’s all in here” he said, pointing to his chest…to his heart.

I had to hold back the tears because it was not my time.

Today, while chit-chatting about life in general, my dad pointed out to my mother that the times that she holds most dear were the times when my sister and I were small children and they were a young couple – a young family. He reminisced about how they used to get together with their group of friends  – other young couple with young families. Glory days; for most of those lovely, fun-loving people, all of whom were a big part of my daily life….are long gone.

Once again – I kept the tears to myself because  it is not my time.

I often sit and talk with my husband and wonder out loud with him – where do all these wonderful times that we are having now, the good feelings, the long evenings of parties and gatherings with family and friends, all the hysterical laughter – where do these moments of magic go ….once we  – go?