Syncing to a Slower Clock
I got a call three weeks ago telling me that my father was in the hospital with pneumonia. He is 92 years old, so a bout of pneumonia is no small matter. I changed my vacation plans, got on a plane, and flew to Southern California. Dad pulled through and is back to his old self: moving slowly but without a cane, and doing the things he has always done, including enjoying a freshly-brewed pot of coffee in the morning.
When I first arrived, I expected to do battle with the medical staff. Not necessary. The antibiotics had done their job, and I’m told he received excellent care in the hospital. All Dad really wanted to do now was stay home, get back into his routine, and be out of the clutches of the medical system and back on his own.
So, after one follow-up visit with his family doctor, we did just that. He wanted to water his back yard. This involved meticulously moving the hose and sprinkler every fifteen minutes. While the water rained down upon the small patch of parched, summertime grass, we sat on the top edge of a low, concrete block wall. We didn’t say much. Just sat, watched the water, and let time tick by. Then, he would slowly rise and rearrange the sprinkler while I hovered anxiously, praying he wouldn’t fall as I knew he was still weak from his stint in the hospital. He moved very deliberately, careful to keep his balance. He did all the work which was important to him, and I knew it.
I spent a lot of time over the next four days just sitting with him. . . My inner clock changed on this trip.
That task completed, we went inside and watched some television. Godfather I was on (the uncut version), so we sat in the living room as Coppola’s genius played out onscreen. I hadn’t seen it since its first release and was astounded anew at the brilliance of the entire cast: Pacino, DeNiro, Caan, Duvall, and Keaton — all still so young. And Brando, who was always in a class of his own.
My father is hearing-impaired, even with his VA-issued hearing aids, so I have no idea how much of the dialogue he could actually grasp, but we sat there for the entire length of the movie, contentedly munching on take-out pizza.
We looked at old scrap books full of sepia-toned photographs. I saw photos of my mother as a teenager just after they were married, and of my brother taken well before I arrived on the scene.
The substance of a father's authority is often revealed in the speed at which he moves in the presence of his kin. [o]
I spent a lot of time over the next four days just sitting with my father. At night, I slept in the other twin bed in his bedroom, a few feet away from where he slept. I awakened at every sound, wondering: Does he need help to get up or go into the bathroom? Will he fall? He didn’t need help nor did he fall, thank goodness.
I lay there and thought about the last time I slept this close to my father. We were on a family camping trip in the High Sierras. I was ten years old, and my Dad, Mom, brother, and me were all in the same tent. That is a long, long time ago and a world away now.
My inner clock changed on this trip. The pace of a much older person, or a very ill person, ticks at a different speed. We are lucky if we can slow down enough to sync with it. There is much to be learned, and much to be felt, if we can do so. Theirs is not a world of rush-rush and goal-setting, but a world of simply being, of enjoying the simplest of pleasures like sleeping in their own bed again or sitting in their favorite, well-worn easy chair. Or simply sharing memories with someone they love who also remembers the stories they so love to tell. ≈ç
SUSANNE SEVEREID is an author and actor/presenter with an extensive background in journalism, television and radio, including hosting an EMMY award-winning PBS-TV documentary about Auschwitz and as co-producer/host of "Courageous Grief Talk." Her other books include When Someone You Love Is Dying: Some Thoughts to Help You Through and the award-winning murder mystery, The Death of Milly Mahoney. This essay is an excerpt from Severeid's latest book, Mocha Musings: Reflections on life, love, and chance encounters. Susanne lives in Ashland, Oregon. www.susannesevereid.com
Read Susanne's related article, 'The Original Aim of Mother's Day'.