Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Last Drive

It must be hard to give up driving. In my experience, men often find it more difficult than women do. More than one male nursing home resident with whom I worked has thought he was in his car or truck when, in fact, he was lying in his bed. I'm talking about dementia, of course, but I've never seen a woman's confusion take that same route.

Prior to Christmas my dad, age ninety, still drove every day. He met friends for coffee on most mornings and then drove to my house for coffee with me, all of this happening before 9:00 A.M.. And he still came over for dinner at least once or twice a week.

Shortly after the holidays he experienced a series of seemingly minor medical problems. Test after test revealed nothing major, but-- long story short-- he now uses a walker and is frailer than he was last year. His car has sat for weeks in the parking lot. He admitted driving to the dry cleaner's several weeks ago but otherwise hasn't seemed motivated to drive. This is not a problem for me. It's a relief. I've been able to take him for appointment and errands.

Recently he mentioned selling his car "because I probably won't use it anymore." Without sounding too eager, I tried to be encouraging as I casually mentioned the good reasons to give up driving. When a family member mentioned buying his car, my dad seemed interested.

When I called him early Sunday afternoon and he didn't answer, I wasn't too concerned. I left a message. When he didn't return my call within 30 minutes, I called again. No answer. I began to consider making a trip to his apartment to check on him.

Finally the phone rang. He was trying to sound jovial.

"Well, you probably won't believe where I've been."

I thought I knew but played dumb. "No, I really don't know."

"I drove to the cemetery." This would be the cemetery where my mother is buried.

"Oh? And you felt up to doing that?" I tried not to sound irritable. But this is a man who usually notifies me when he's going to be in the bathroom for longer than five minutes.

"Well, I did all right. I can drive fine. It's just getting in and out of the car that's hard."

We continued our conversation for a few more seconds. Sensing my concern, he finally said, "The bluebonnets are blooming there."

"They are? Are they pretty?"

"They're beautiful." He said it softly. A long pause, then, "I guess I needed to take a last drive."

I don't know for sure whether that was his last drive. I'm praying that it was and that he received some comfort, as I did, that his last drive was to visit my mom.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Mistakes Were Made, Maybe By Me

I've been trying to avoid becoming obsessed with the sentence "Mistakes were made." It's such an easy target, the passive voice, and all day columnists and bloggers have been hammering Attorney General Alberto Gonzales for using it. Bad, bad, bad Alberto!

We've become accustomed to hearing public figures, politicians especially, "apologize" without admitting anything. Bill Clinton probably wished later that he'd stuck with mistakes were made rather than uttering his famous denial of not having "sex with that woman, Ms. Lewinsky." See what happens when you slip into the active voice?

As indignant as I am when someone owes me an apology and just won't give it, I have to admit that at times I have avoided reeeeally taking responsibility myself. In the interest of honesty and personal growth, I would like to make amends. I intend to demonstrate that I can indeed take responsibility, even when employing the passive voice. Here goes:

Mistakes were made on my Trigonometry final exam in 1968. Lots of them, and probably by me, since it was my grade that dropped from a B to a D.

Mistakes were made when a kitten was smuggled into our no-pets-allowed university housing. Yeah, okay, I made the mistake when I smuggled the kitten. Also, my husband was the apartment manager. He worked for the university. Awkward.

Mistakes were made when I tried to speak German to Germans in Germany 1987-1990. I must be talking about me, because the Germans seemed to speak pretty good German.

Mistakes were made by not getting a flu shot this season. My mistake, my flu.

See what I mean? It's not so hard. Give it a try, Alberto.

Friday, March 9, 2007

Along for the Ride

You are going forward toward something great. I am on the way with you and therefore I love you. --Carl Sandburg, "I Love You"

Though Thanksgiving can get swallowed up into a pre-Christmas frenzy of shopping and partying, three other days during the calendar year are, for me, mini-Thanksgivings. My children's birthdays are occasions for remembering my first glimpses of their newborn faces and how each of them greeted the world in a style all their own. I relive the exhaustion and the ecstasy of that birth day, and I intentionally spend time breathing my thanks for the amazing life that began at that particular moment.

Life with our son has never been dull. He's funny and smart and his mind works in mysterious ways. One of our friends called him "a tender tough-guy." And he is. But more than that, he is an affectionate uncle whose antics make his nephew squeal with delight; a compassionate soul who held his "dog-brother" close as life ended; an attentive and patient grandson; and an irresistible son who lights up his mom's world by just passing through the room. From the moment I saw his furious little face in the delivery room and heard his not-so-little roar of outrage (he was probably hungry-- hunger, to this day, puts him in a really bad mood), I was captured. As the actress Helen Hayes put it, "That was the end of my heart. I never got it back."

I don't think many of us parents want our hearts back. We want to be along for the ride. Sometimes we forget who's supposed to be driving or holding the reins, a common parental amnesia, but the journey is nevertheless as exquisitely exhilarating as it is unsettling.

And on this day, my Thanksgiving in March, I am so grateful-- and humbled-- to be along for the ride. Happy birthday, favorite son!