Tag Archives: love

Filling the Void with Remembrances

He had the softest ears of any dog I’ve ever known. That said, I almost never passed up an opportunity to caress them. Nor could I deny how I loved snuggling with him on the couch, his box-like body curled up and wedged next to mine—safe and warm. No matter what the day had thrown at me, I knew I could always count on him to erase the tension and to reconnect me with the here and now, almost the instant I stroked his fur and scratched behind his ears.

He had a penchant for chasing crows, for stovetop popcorn and for following me from room to room as if we were tethered together, a girl and her dog. I swear I can still hear his toenails clicking on the tile floor behind me, never mind the jangle of his collar every time he shook his head or sneezed—which he was inclined to do whenever he was happy. Of that, I am sure.

His name was Jasper and he was the most wonderful rescue pet anyone could ask for—the epitome of a “good dog.” But we lost him—three days after Christmas, no less, his aged body too tired to continue another day. Like so many dogs, he left us bit by bit as he declined over a period of months—his daily jaunts around the block becoming slower and shorter, eventually ending altogether when we had to carry him to the backyard. We tried hand feeding him to keep up his strength, to no avail. We covered him with a blanket and kept a vigil where he lay on the couch to give him some measure of comfort. We put him between us in our bed on his last night on this earth, to let him know he was loved—unconditionally.

Although it’s been almost five months now, I can’t seem to accept the fact that he’s gone. His ashes and plaster paw print came home from the vet’s shortly after his death. But I still listen for his rhythmic breathing in the quiet of night. I stare at his bed, now empty, yet lined with traces of black fur—an unwelcome reminder of what was. Against all logic and understanding, I can’t bear to remove his food dish from the kitchen. Not yet anyway. What’s more, there isn’t a room in the house where he didn’t have a favorite spot to lie, and that’s exactly where my eyes fall the minute I step through each doorway. I can’t help but visualize him in those places, his head resting comfortably on his paws, his caramel-colored eyes watching me with hopeful expectation, since there was always the possibility I’d suggest that we go for a walk and chase the godawful crows together. Heaven knows he wouldn’t want to miss a signal.

Strangely enough, I miss tripping over him. Well, maybe not so much, since that was beyond exasperating—especially in the kitchen when I cooked his meals—scrambled eggs, ground beef and rice. Truth be told, what I miss the most is kneeling down on the floor to hug him—gently wrapping my arms around his warm frame and placing my head against his, something the people at the SPCA taught me how to do appropriately. Who knew there was a proper way to hug a dog? At any rate, I followed their advice and it seemed to engender a remarkable sense of calm—in both of us. Sadly, hugging my tiny, yappy dog in a similar manner doesn’t produce the same result. Maybe it’s because he’s not as tolerant of my foolishness. Maybe it’s because he’s incredibly small. Maybe hugs just aren’t his thing.

One thing I know for sure is that he misses his forever friend, too. There are days he pads around the house in search of him, wondering why he’s no longer here to toss favorite toys in the air and growl at each other—just for fun. Other days he just seems sad—something with which I am all too familiar.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (missing my dog). Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom. Caricature by Simon Ellinas.

Copyright 2018 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Doggie Diamonds, Gratitude, Love and Loss

Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow

It’s possible my husband wept when we sold our 11-year-old Jeep recently. I’m not sure if it was because he regrets no longer having third-row seating or because he misses the French fries that the new owners will surely find beneath said seating. At any rate, he had what could only be described as an unhealthy fixation with that particular SUV. It’s been like that with all his vehicles, actually. Mine, too, for that matter. I don’t know why, but I get attached to my cars as if they’re people. Call me crazy, but I miss them when I trade them in or sell them outright—even if the vehicle in question is older than dirt and makes a roaring sound that no mechanic on the planet could successfully remedy. That said, there is a certain sadness associated with letting go, although it often makes little sense.

Sometimes it’s the intangible things that I miss most—like personality, charm or a degree of sex appeal. Case in point, my Mini Cooper always looked as if it wore a smile, just for me. And I thought its black rims and racing stripes were slimming, if nothing else. Other times I long for tangible features my cars exemplified, such as its handling or color. Lord knows I loved the fact that three out of the last five vehicles I’ve owned have taken corners like a dream and have been members of the beige family—a hue perfectly suited to hide months of road grime and mud. Oddly enough, my kids were thrilled to learn that the majority of our vehicles had deep cup holders in which they were inclined to deposit an embarrassment of rocks they harvested from all over the East Coast. They were also quite fond of moonroofs and, more recently, seating that could accommodate half the marching band.

On occasion, I suppose people become attached to their cars because of sheer frugality. My husband, for instance, absolutely adored his 1960 Chevy Bel Air because it was a good beater car and he only paid $200 for it. Of course, he lovingly patched rusty holes in its side and fender with masking tape and a vat of Bondo to lengthen its life and, by extension, to continue their bromance. Apparently, there were also gaping holes in the floorboard and his baseball bats were known to have fallen through on more than one occasion. Steel plates were welded into place so they could ride off into the sunset for over 100,000 miles. True story.

In fact, several of his cars logged more than 100,000 miles—a testament to his undying love for the vehicles in question and an unwillingness to let go. Like so many people, we get comfortable in our marriages to our 4-wheeled darlings. They “fit us” like no other and we come to know their souls—or so it’s rumored. Tiny dings or scratches in the paint get overlooked, as does fading and wear and tear of the upholstery. As the years go by, I can only hope that my husband continues to overlook my flaws as readily as he does his dear vehicles’. The jury is still out on that one.

As strange as it sounds, my heart skips a beat when I happen to pass a vehicle that resembles one of mine I recently sold or traded. I wonder how its new owner is treating it and whether or not he or she avoids potholes and brakes for squirrels. If it was a stick shift, I worry about the state of its clutch and gears. If it was a 4X4, I imagine it plowing through snowdrifts—without me.

When all is said and done, I suppose I have to learn to cope with the fact that I can’t keep every vehicle I’ve ever owned. At some point the relationship has to die. But on the bright side, I look forward to bonding with the new cars I adopt—recognizing that eventually we’ll slip into the comfortable phase of knowing each other, inside and out.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live, missing my beloved cars—except for the minivan I loathed with all my being. Visit me there at www.melindawentzel.comand www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom. Caricature by Simon Ellinas.

Copyright 2018 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under "N" is for Nostalgia, Captain Quirk, Road Trip

Life is Good…Mostly

IMG_7997I own a handful of trendy t-shirts emblazoned with the slogan: LIFE IS GOOD. I wear them because they’re ridiculously soft, they feature stick figures with infectious smiles and, quite frankly, because I like the upbeat message they send to the big, bad world. Often times, people will stop me in the grocery store or post office, point at my shirt and nod in agreement: “Yeah, life is good, isn’t it!” which is great, because sometimes I’m the one that needs a reminder.

That said, sometimes life is downright ugly—like right now, as the wheels fly off this crazed election and increasingly hateful rhetoric spews from otherwise civilized and compassionate people. I am no exception. Life is not only ugly, it’s also heartbreaking and undeniably unjust because senseless violence continues to ravage the globe, hurricanes, floods and fires strike unmercifully and so many people I love grapple with cancer, or Alzheimer’s or any number of other devastating diseases. Neighbors move away. Parents and beloved pets die. Friends endure unspeakable adversity—including, but not limited to financial ruin, crippling addictions or, heaven forbid, having to bury a child. What’s more, marriages fail, suicides happen and people I care about become broken for a host of reasons.

I suppose that loss—sometimes more than people can bear—comes with the territory, an unwelcome side effect of this thing called life. Strangely enough, the more sorrow I experience, the more difficult it seems to manage on a personal level, each event affecting me more deeply than the last. You’d think that by now coping with it would be a walk in the park for me—something distinctly unpleasant, yet easy to accept because, if nothing else, it’s familiar. Admittedly, I sometimes stay in bed and hide from the world—especially on days when sadness and negativity threaten to consume me, convinced that by avoiding reality somehow it will cease to exist.

Of course, avoidance is only temporary. It does nothing to change what is real. So I shake my fist at God, infuriated by the fact that bad things happen to good people each and every day—despite denial, despite rage and despite prayers.

And then, as the sun rises, a funny thing happens. My dog ambles over to my bedside and shoves his head and warm muzzle into my hand, demanding to be petted, acknowledged, and eventually, fed since it’s time for breakfast. I then crawl on the floor and spend a few moments rubbing his impossibly soft ears and talking with him about all the important things in his life—the walk we’ll take later, his renowned affinity for squirrels and how great his scrambled eggs will taste. Yes, my dog eats scrambled eggs. Don’t judge.IMG_6206

At any rate, somewhere between hugging him and caressing the leathery pads on his feet my mind is flooded with what can only be described as gratitude. Indeed, I can’t imagine life without the rescue dog my family and I decided to adopt more than two years ago—our black lab-mix with the grizzled face and unsteady gait. Nor can I take for granted the other loveable beasts that reside here, never mind that our curly-haired, pint-sized yapper is decidedly neurotic and that our cat gives him plenty to be neurotic about.

From there, it mushrooms into recognizing all the good that has come into my life—all the people for whom I am thankful and all the experiences I’m glad to have had. I think of my husband, a man who has been my best friend for more than 20 years, the love of my life and my soft spot to land when the universe spirals out of control. I think of my three children who are talented, bright and most importantly, kind—ever so grateful that I get to be their mom. I think of all the people who touch their lives daily and I can’t help but feel an overwhelming sense of indebtedness. I think of my treasured friends, my church family and how fortunate I am to have the lot of them in my life.

Of course, I’m happy to have a roof overhead, food in my pantry and the sweet refuge of music and books, too. But mainly it’s the people that remind me that life is, indeed, good…mostly.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (probably wearing a LIFE IS GOOD t-shirt). Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2016 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under A Depraved New World, Gratitude, Love and Loss

“M” is for Motherhood

dandelion_canvas_gallery_wrap_canvas-r4f47808710544c519e1462fbeb5dbfdc_z3geq_8byvr_324While it’s true the term “motherhood” is a simple collection of ten letters, specifically arranged for ease of pronunciation, it is suggestive of so much more. In sum, I regard it as a wholly intangible, behemoth-like affair that effectively upended all that I thought I knew about life as a decidedly callow twenty-something. Needless to say, the experience continues to shape and mold me, schooling me day and night in the curious ways and means of children, wowing me with the inherent remarkableness of the aforementioned creatures and rendering me forever changed as an individual. As it should be, I suppose. That said, here’s how I spell motherhood.

M Motherhood is a messy beast-of-a-thing—with its suffocating mass of sippy cups and sidewalk chalk, Legos and lunch boxes, bicycles and Band-Aids. Never mind the ubiquitous nature of stuffed animals and the profusion of refrigerator-worthy masterpieces that inhabit our homes, marking time as our progenies progress along the winding path of childhood. And let us not forget all the lovely shades of gray with which we must contend: the tangled complexities of teens, the relentless questioning of toddlers and the soft underbelly of the headstrong child—the one we try desperately to govern without stifling. Indeed, motherhood is a messy business.

O Motherhood is overwhelming to be sure—a seemingly insufferable, plate’s-too-full collection of moments that, when taken together or viewed within the prism of the unattainable ideal, beat us into submission, the thrum of parental failure ringing in our ears. That said, there’s nothing quite like comparing oneself to the façade of perfection—holding our harried selves up against those who appear to be getting it right, the moms who keep all the plates spinning as if flawless extensions of themselves.

T Motherhood is timeless—an eternal post to which we are assigned, willing or not. From the moment our writhing infants, ruddy-faced and wrinkled, are placed upon our chests, motherhood begins in earnest. And although our parent/child relationships shift and season over time, they remain inextricably woven within the fabric of our lives. Not even death can end the appointed role, as a mother’s counsel is sought long after she has been eulogized.

H Motherhood is a humbling experience. Ask anyone who has ever faced the stinging truth as it relates to intolerance and hypocrisy—delivered by a six-year-old, no less, soundly putting those who ought to know better in their respective places. So often kids eclipse our academic abilities, too, reminding us how important it is to embrace change. Never mind that every fiber of our being screams in protest. Moreover, becoming a parent means a humbling loss of identity to some extent, punctuating the uncertain nature of our so-called significance in certain circles. We are simply So-and-So’s mom now—maker of sandwiches, applier of sunscreen, gracious recipient of dandelions. But somehow the title feels right, as does finding a pretty vase for the dandelions.www.melindawentzel.com

E Motherhood is edifying in that literally every day we learn something new—most of which is harvested from conversations at the dinner table or at bedtime, from diaries that beckon unremittingly or from tiny notes we discover wadded up in someone’s pants pocket. We spend a lot of time watching, too, realizing that our mothers were right all along. Children will, indeed, cut their own hair, shove peas up their noses and breach late night curfews to test both boundaries and our resolve. Arguably, the lessons of motherhood never truly end.

R Motherhood is real. Good, bad or indifferent, it is palpable, inimitable and exceedingly enlivening. It is the stuff from which memories are made and so much purpose is derived.

H Motherhood delivers nothing less than a heady rush—an intoxicating dose of awe wrapped in the sheer rapture of having had a hand in creating life, not to mention having been called upon to shape one or more future citizens of this world. Mothers are, without question, difference-makers.

O Motherhood makes us swell with omnipotence now and again—a grand and glorious surge of I’M THE MOM, THAT’S WHY sort of sway that leaves us feeling all-powerful, if only fleetingly. But nothing makes us puff up more than hearing censure as priceless as, “Dad, did you get Mom’s permission to do that? She’s the Rule Captain, you know.”

O With motherhood comes obsession. And spiraling panic. And unfounded fear. And, of course, debilitating worry over that which will probably never occur anyway. In sum, we fret about bumps and bruises, unexplained rashes and fevers that strike in the dead of night…about report cards and recklessness, friends we cannot hope to choose and fast cars that will whisper to our charges, inevitably luring them within, despite our best efforts to forbid such foolishness.

D Motherhood is delicious—a profoundly gratifying slice of life we would do well to savor. Never mind its patented swirl of disorder and wealth of doubts, fears and impossible demands. Indeed, motherhood threatens to swallow us whole, while at the same time allowing us to drink in its goodness, gulp by gulp.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (reflecting on the many facets of motherhood). Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2011 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Gratitude, In the Trenches of Parentville, Mushy Stuff

Exhaust the Little Moment

IMG_0365Without question, I am the most incompetent individual using Snapchat on the planet today, a Neanderthal when it comes to hi-tech forums for sharing photos and videos via smartphones and the like. I know this to be true because my teenage daughters broke the devastating news to me. Thankfully, I’m not particularly devastated by it—just discouraged, and slightly annoyed by my failure to embrace yet another trend in social media.

According to my brood, it seems that I’ve missed the whole point of said craze. While I’m fixated upon sharing my treasured photographs, clever memes and the occasional video clip with friends and family on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, I’m passionate about preserving them as well. Like seashells I’ve culled from the miles of shoreline I’ve trekked, I want to enjoy them later, slowly turning them over in my hands, feeling the grit of sand between my fingers, revisiting the memory that was created in the gathering process.

Such is not the case with Snapchat, however. It’s a transient beast. A keyhole view of life that self-destructs within mere seconds. A way of capturing the gloriousness of an instant (serious or silly as that might be), and then letting it die, just as the ephemeral traces of fireworks fade into the dark of night.

Needless to say, the whole thing seems completely foreign to me and I’m having great difficulty wrapping my mind around the concept, despite the fact that Thing One and Thing Two have spent upwards of FIVE WHOLE MINUTES trying to help me understand. Of course, how could I expect them to invest more time, given the fact that they’re terribly busy Snapchatting with their inner circle of cyber friends? However, I’m part of that inner circle now, so it’s all good.

At any rate, I’m fairly certain that neither of the aforementioned teenagers have read any poetry by Gwendolyn Brooks. But somehow they’ve managed to apply a smattering of her most storied words to their lives.

“Exhaust the little moment. Soon it dies. And be it gash or gold it will not come again in this identical disguise.”

Apparently, the beauty of this particular form of media sharing is in its impermanence, forcing would-be recipients to attend to the content of what is sent. Naturally, I can envision a host of opportunities for abuse among teens and tweens in this venue, but at this juncture in time I choose to focus on what is positive about it. Perhaps I can even learn to love that which is decidedly temporary—a lesson that can surely be applied to life itself on a grander scale, much as Brooks opined. Indeed, our hearts are only beating—temporarily, so we may as well make the most of it.

Further, Snapchat has afforded me a tiny glimpse into the colorful teenaged world in which my daughters currently reside, beyond taking note of which books, movies and YouTube tripe happens to intrigue them at the moment. Crazy as it sounds, it gives me the chance to connect a little more, too, engaging on their level, joining in their fun, speaking their language for a time—albeit clumsily. I get to look on as they revel in the art of just being themselves as well, which is a gift in every sense of the word, especially as they begin keeping me at arm’s length more and more with each passing year.

Granted, Snapchat may not be as endearing or prized as hearing firsthand about a certain someone’s latest crush, perceived injustice or small victory, but it’s something, and that something is good.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live. Snapchatting. Sort of. Visit me there at www.Facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2015 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Gratitude, Growing Pains, Techno Tripe, The Natives are Decidedly Restless

Valentine’s Day in the Trenches of Parentville

IMG_0350Somewhere in the great continuum of life, my children evolved from toddlers to teens—seemingly overnight. And although I don’t miss the blur of early parenthood, projectile vomiting or the abundance of Legos I trod upon in the dead of night, I do miss delicious experiences like shopping for valentines with my brood.

Stop laughing.

Never mind that it was a painstaking process, watching them pace back and forth in store aisles attempting to choose the ultimate Disney-themed design from the hoards that were available. Even more painstaking was the process of helping them fill out dozens for classmates and beloved teachers, since the children in question had yet to master the art of writing their own names. But that was part of the fun—witnessing their determined efforts and the care with which they tackled the task year after year. In the end, it was always worth it.

So it’s sort of sad that the celebrated valentines-exchange-gig is over for my kids. Sadder still is the fact that mass marketers never seemed to have capitalized on consumers like parents—an enormous segment of the population that could potentially benefit from trading sentiments related to being in the trenches together. Just for fun, I came up with a handful of ludicrous valentines that moms and dads might find fitting for the occasion.

1) You look ravishing, Valentine…especially when you find time to shower and brush your teeth after a harrowing day with the kids.

2) Can’t wait to be alone with you, Babe…right after we read 47 bedtime stories and wipe the pasta off the dining room walls.

3) You had me at “I’ll go to the parent/teacher conference this time. You just make yourself comfy on the couch, have a big glass of wine and read a great book.”

4) There’s nothing that says LOVE like offering to fold our brood’s laundry (the right way) and find all their missing socks.

5) You’re never sexier than when you’re unplugging the kids’ toilet or helping them with their godawful homework.

6) Be mine, Valentine! The kids are at a SLEEPOVER!www.melindawentzel.com

7) I’ll be yours always and forever…if you promise to let me nap on the beach while you keep our youngest from drowning and/or pooping in the sand.

8) You’re my soul mate and I can’t imagine life without you as we tackle sleep deprivation, sibling rivalry and teen angst together.

9) You take my breath away—even when I’m NOT yelling at the kids.

10) I’ll love you till the end of time, Valentine, or until our children stop asking unanswerable questions.

11) Nothing sounds more romantic than you, me and grocery shopping WITHOUT the kids.

12) Dance with me, tiny dancer—even though the floor is littered with Cheerios and naked Barbie dolls.

13) Kiss me, you fool—never mind that our children are conducting a science experiment in the kitchen—possibly with flour, glue and glitter.

14) I’ll love you to the moon and back…if you’ll plan the kids’ birthday parties and the next six vacations.

15) You complete me, my dear, but never more than when you’re taxiing the kids all over the damn place.

16) Oh, how I adore thee, my hero…especially when you traipse around the house in your underwear because I heard a strange noise at 3 a.m.

17) Valentine, you make my heart race, even more than when our children play in traffic or ride scooters through the house.

18) Love means never having to explain why you let the kids eat ice cream for dinner.

19) I’m hopelessly devoted to you—just like I’m devoted to posting stuff on Facebook that may or may not make our teens cringe.

20) My love for you is unconditional, much like my love for the bacon and chicken nuggets my kids discard.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live with my special Valentine. Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2016 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Gratitude, In the Trenches of Parentville, Love and Other Drugs, Romance for Dummies, The Natives are Decidedly Restless

Daughters and Dads: Love and Loss

IMG_0232I hated feeling powerless. As if there was nothing I could do to positively affect anything in the universe, let alone my dad’s pain and suffering. Yet that’s exactly how I felt as I stood beside my ailing father’s bedside after his stroke, holding his hand, attempting to interpret his garbled speech, pausing briefly to take in the jumbled masses of wires and tubes that were now heinously tethered to him, wondering like crazy why he couldn’t move his left side and why his eyes seemed drawn only to the light coming from the window and not to my face, which was surely fraught with dread.

I remember he called me “Sweetheart” when I first entered the room and he turned his head toward the sound of my voice as I moved closer. He kept straining to see the sky behind me, his dark eyes darting back and forth and looking right past me, never really focusing on anything—which seemed odd to me at the time. Maybe he was unable to see, I later thought. Again and again he tried to climb out of bed, telling us all he had things to do, occupied always with the notion that life wasn’t meant to be lived as an idle person.

He seemed so small lying there, a shell of the man I remembered from my childhood. Alzheimer’s had stolen so much more than his memory, and now the stroke had taken what was left. I remember feeling cheated—as if I were losing him in bits and pieces, and even the pieces I no longer recognized were being taken from me in some cruel twist of fate.

Just that morning I had talked with him on the phone, after his fall. It was five days before Christmas and his caregiver had called me, alerting me to the news. He seemed fine aside from a horrendous headache and a few distorted words here and there, sounding as if he were chewing on a bit of gravel as he spoke. But that was the Alzheimer’s, wasn’t it? It was also possible he had hit his mouth on something during the fall, causing his lips to swell, making it difficult to speak. Wasn’t it?

“Dad, did you bump your mouth this morning? When you fell?”

No. He hadn’t. Why couldn’t I just hit the rewind button and revisit our conversation? Did I tell him I loved him? I can’t be sure. I do remember telling him that my husband was on another phone calling an ambulance and that it would be there soon. The people at the hospital would get him all patched up. Just like new. I promised.

Not surprisingly, I had a number of angry discussions with God that week about the unfairness of it all. About how desperately (almost incredulously) I wanted things to return to the fucked-up “normal” I knew—the life that came to be defined by a certain uncertainty. Some moments in time, I was his wife. Other times, his mother. And when the Almighty was smiling upon me, I was his daughter. I’d even settle for the days during which he informed me he never had a daughter, as deeply as that hurt. Needless to say, I longed to see him get up out of his favorite chair and make his way across the living room to hug me when I visited, welcoming me with a warm and genuine embrace. Always. I could envision him in his khakis, pinstriped oxford shirt and matching sweater, the most dapper 80-year-old man I knew—clean-shaven, a splash of cologne and a smile. This was, of course, a testament to Agatha, his caregiver, who knew how important his appearance was to his happiness.

At any rate, as the week wore on I found myself bartering with God, eager to hear my dad tell me how his day was going, even if that meant acknowledging his addled state and mixed-up reality. I wanted to talk about the apple crumb pie and pumpkin cookies I planned to bring on Christmas Day, about how lovable our dogs were, about the ridiculous dearth of snow this winter. Again and again I replayed the details of the last day I had spent with him before the stroke, trying like mad to harvest it from the depths of my mind. Vividly I recall sitting next to him on the couch as darkness fell, both of our faces bathed in the soft glow of Christmas lights that enveloped the tiny tree my mom used to decorate. Who knew this would be the only year of my entire life that I wouldn’t spend at least some portion of the holiday with him? It would be only the second Christmas without Mom.IMG_0130

But the doctors didn’t know everything, did they? Surely they didn’t know my father. He had overcome a frightening bout with hypothermia and frostbite following last November’s near dawn excursion through the neighborhood—sans shoes. Hunters had found him a quarter mile from his house, huddled in a rock-strewn ditch, badly bruised and cut. Months later, he bounced back. He had survived the loss of his true love—his wife of 56 years to cancer as well as his son’s suicide almost a decade earlier. He weathered the loss of his beloved father at the tender age of 19 and battled the horribleness of dementia every damn day since his diagnosis, managing to preserve both his dignity and his sense of humor. No small feat.

Nope. The neurosurgeons didn’t know my dad. And I hated discussing his prognosis with them over his bed, so we went to a little room filled with a smattering of chairs and an enormous conference table—the place where we reviewed his CAT scans, tried to digest the awful news and cried into the box of tissues they reflexively offered. I wondered how many times they had done this before, shared the dim outlook with the next of kin, pointed to the screen and tried to make us understand that things would never be the same. My husband and I emerged from the room shaken, saddened and numb to an extent. One foot testing the waters of reality, one still squarely planted in denial.

That said, I can’t imagine my dad would have liked all the hubbub—the constant whir of activity in and out of his ICU room, the annoying buzzes and blips of machinery, the squawk of the intercom, the helicopter landings on the roof, the incessant poking and prodding of his veins, the hideous crown of wires atop his head. He seemed plagued by frustration wrapped in angst, as if he were lost in a deep forest, separated from all that was familiar and good by an impossibly dense thicket that he couldn’t manage to escape despite his best efforts. And he was trying; there is no doubt. I studied his face, even as his eyes were closed, and watched his restless body struggle amidst the tangled wood to find a way home. And I could do absolutely nothing to help him, which was the hardest part. All I could do was tousle his hair, hold his hand and tell him I loved him. On my last day at the hospital, during a rare moment when everyone happened to have left the room, I whispered in his ear the message that it was okay if he had to go. I let him know that we would be alright and told him, once more, how much we loved him. It was not a Christmas Eve message I had ever envisioned delivering to my father.

Late that afternoon, it was clear he wasn’t coming home. He had had another “neurological event,” as his failingsIMG_0211 were not-so-affectionately termed. And there were decisions to be made. Hard decisions. I remember sobbing alone in my car on the way home, pounding the steering wheel and shouting at God, at my dad, at the meadows enshrouded in fog at the edge of twilight. It was hard to see the road through my tears, let alone the milky mist that hugged the tree line, and I vowed to continue my sob-fest in the shower—the very best place to cry, apart from my husband’s shoulders.

Christmas Day was a supreme challenge. I tried to be cheery as a mom and a wife, watching my kids unwrap their gifts and graze on the ham we had planned to take to my dad’s later that day, but it was difficult. To say that I was preoccupied was an understatement. I felt impossibly torn, wanting to spend time with my family making holiday memories, wanting to be there for my dad should he rouse from his slumber-like state, somehow benefitting from my presence at his bedside.

He died the next morning, removing from my plate the awful choices I would have had to make, erasing from my mind the all-consuming worry and torment over what the future held, opening the door for me to grieve his passing and to celebrate a life well lived—which is how he would’ve wanted it, I’m sure. Looking back, I wish I could’ve been there for him at the moment of death, but it was not to be.

I never thought I’d be glad that I chose to view his broken body, but I am. His face clearly revealed that he was at peace. There were no more wires or tubes, no more struggles to swallow or to speak. No more frantic searches for the life and people he once knew. At the very least, I could be comforted by that—knowing he had made it out of the darkened woods and was finally home with those he sought for so very long.

Copyright 2016 Melinda L. Wentzel

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