Saturday, December 26, 2009

At Big John's house

There were so many people at my father-in-law's house at the beach today, people I didn't know, some I did, far-flung family from my great grandmother-in-law's family, teenagers and aunts and uncles and all kinds of people related by blood. And people from work -- Zoya, the Russian mathematician (CFO of Big John's company) and her husband Effim whom the Maharishi gave two pints of blood to ("This is Pappa's blood brother," I said to Minks as I introduced them), Patti and her husband Dave ("I worked for your father-in-law for 38 years" she said "never a dull moment"), the lovely Carmen taking pictures (it was ridiculously gorgeous at the beach today -- glassy sea, sailboats, pink-blue sky).  Our immediate family -- the Maharishi, his brother, the beautiful girl cousins Amanda and Vanessa, their mother, Big John's brothers Ray, Paul, Walter.  And neighbors -- Greg and Christian, young guys I'd never met.  And the Roxanal liquid drip under the tongue does its job. We're in a scene from Magnolia, you know the one where Jason Robards is dying -- a scene directly pulled from Paul Thomas Anderson's life. We're living Magnolia. But my stepmother-in-law (Sandy) is not an addict.  She is grace incarnate. I am not exaggerating. She has no need for pills; I have to force her to eat turkey sandwiches that the Maharishi is cooking upstairs. We have bread and ham from a Boxing Day party that didn't happen, and turkey because it makes my husband happy to cook for people. He makes gravy too and cranberry sauce and we have Hawaiian rolls.  My children sit with their grandfather and hold his hand and talk to him. Between the liquid morphine he has lucid moments, moment where he recognizes people, expresses love (this is so easy for him: "I love you baby" he says -- the guy couldn't be more loving) and then he is out again breathing deeply, loudly, waiting for scary minutes between breath. But he's alive and he breathes again, and the children breathe. I watch this, the people coming in and out.  Some crying (it's a Lebanese thing I'm sure, the sobbing at the bedside). I try the English thing, the dirty jokes he's always loved from me. And Sandy is there, tiny, blonde in unusually festive black plaid pants -- for Christmas maybe -- and she sits with him. And this is what she says. Everytime. Without fail. "Hey baby, I love you." That's it. Pure, un-mottled love. The angel of grace in the house, amidst the wailing. The clear blue sky. The sunset. The man in the hospital bed in diapers and sheets, losing his dignity by the minute. But for her, a knight on a white horse. Always. Dying. But hers, and great, and grand, and there.  And he turns on his side, and three people move the pillows, and two people pull him up the bed. Upstairs, there is turkey and cranberry sauce and salad, and children playing Connect 4.

This is not easy. But this has grace. I've never seen it  before this way.

And an amusing note:
The Maronite priest came today. A lovely man with a shaved head.  He sat by Big John's bed and pulled out his prayer book. Sandy tells me that they don't call it "Last Rites" any more. They call it "Prayers for the Sick".  Makes sense, right?  The priest went through the blessings of the saints, in English and Aramaic. His speech lasted 30 minutes. Big John's attention span is about three minutes (thanks to the morphine). "And the blessing of St. Peter and St. Paul and St. Frances and St. Ignatius and Saint Joseph ..." said the lovely young Maronite priest. He listed hundreds of saints who would lead John into another life.  "Yeah, yeah...." said John..."enough with the saints already. I got it." He waved his hand at the priest.  My stepmother-in-law was appalled.

God bless the saints.  Right ?


Wzzy said...

Big John sounds like a hoot whom the saints will welcome, regardless. xx

Wildernesschic said...

I have to say I found this hard to read as I have been there with my father .. he was also content with his situation he was mentally prepared .. but it is a surreal time and so sad ....I feel for you and for later xxx
Love to Big John x

Tania Kindersley said...

Dearest Miss W - this is so beautifully and hauntingly written, and so evocative of twenty different things: family, love, loss, hope, mystery, the whole damn thing. The idea of grace is especially moving.

I am very glad you are keeping the Union flag flying with the jokes. Nothing more British than that.

I send you love and thoughts from snowy Scotland.

Mrs L. said...

God bless the saints - and you dearest B. xo

CampusLady said...

You write so beautifully without any pretentiousness; succinct and straightforward, yet poetic in your spot-on observations. Recording these moments now will be a source of comfort in the future I'm sure - especially for Sandy. My love to you through my tears...
J xxx

Miss Whistle said...

Thank you for all these lovely comments. It feels trite to say that your support is bolstering, but it's true. I'm very grateful for my dear readers and my dear friends.

Much love,

Miss W

sas said...

I just found you through a twitter link. This is such a beautiful, funny post. When my mother died, the humour was a lifesaver for the rest of us.
Sending you strength and energy from Blighty.

metteg said...

so happy to find these words. Happy to see all the love you were surrounded with. Smile when I hear your laugh in my memory. Miss you big brother.
with so much love.