I can still see his eyes: the brilliant color of a luminous blue sky that settles in after the rain has swept away. Some people say that “the eyes are windows to the soul.” For me, my father’s eyes were a hallway to his humanness. They were wide with hope, squinted with laughter, and glazed with concern. Although his eyes were covered by gold-rimmed glasses much of the time, he knew they were a handsome feature, as evidenced by the numerous pictures he had sans glasses. Unfortunately, I didn’t inherit his blue beauties. What I did inherit was his abundant mass of dark, his love of dogs, and his keen sense of humor.
It is impossible to sum up the life of an 84-year-old man, let alone your own father. What I can say is that my dad was both simple and complicated. He was a straightforward man, whose life was influenced by the Depression era. He didn’t require materialistic objects; yet he couldn’t get rid of anything on paper, as he viewed it to be valuable. His work as an electrician literally broke his back, and was the impetus for his desire to have each of his three children graduate with a higher education. While his loyalty and dependability made for lifelong friendships.
Certainly, the most significant aspect of my father’s life was his overriding love for my mother. They were married on Christmas Eve in 1955 – a Jewish couple who found a great price on a room! Their endearing love spanned nearly six decades. As a child, I didn’t always see it. They weren’t demonstrative the way I am with my adoring husband. My teenage years were marked by my father’s premature back disability. He was frustrated with pain, in and out of the hospital, and concerned with growing bills. With his own aging parents, my father found himself a new job as “protector and caretaker” of the family. He would accompany his parents, my mother’s uncle, and his own blind sister on regular doctor visits and weekly shopping trips. All the while, Mom worked a minimum wage job at JC Penney, did all of the cooking, cleaning, and other housework. When Dad’s quick temper rose, Mom was quick to point out that he loved us.
I spent the first 38 years of my life loving my mother. She was pure kindness, whose principal fault was her emotional oversensitivity. Seven years ago we received devastating news: Mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. They sold their home, moved to an assisted living community, and Dad assumed his responsibility as protector and caretaker. He learned to do EVERYTHING for Mom. His primary concern was protecting her dignity, and he never once complained. Dad always maintained hope, even as Mom’s mind and body deteriorated in front of him. When Mom could no longer recognize Dad, it was enough for him to sit next to her, gently holding her hand in his lap.
I spent the past 7 years of my life loving my father. Could it be that my father’s love for my mother grew stronger over the past 7 years? Or was it that my own love for my father grew exponentially, just observing his undying devotion? I’m not sure which is true, but I do know that there wasn’t a daily conversation with Dad that did not end with a mutual and heartfelt “I love you.”
Last month, we laid Dad to rest on what would have been his 85th birthday. With end stage Alzheimer’s, we could not bring Mom to the funeral. Yesterday I trekked out in the pouring rain to visit Mom in her new one-bedroom apartment. She looked up from her wheelchair, and in a very rare lucid moment said, “He’s not here with me.” I pointed to my heart and said, “He’s here with all of us.” Then I looked out the window, and saw the dazzling blue sky. It had stopped raining.