Monday, September 6, 2010

The Wisdom Of Rex
















I spent the last week at my hometown in West Virginia with my parents and in particular with my father as his health is rapidly declining. Rex is 90 years old and as I've written about multiple times in the past year, he is struggling mightily to remain here on the planet with us.

I had daily visits with my folks in their new digs. The Inn at Marietta is an assisted living facility and a very nice one, to boot. I've been thankfully impressed with the Inn...they are gentle yet firm and the facility is exceptionally clean and well-run. Of course, my parents would rather be at home and frankly, I wish they could have remained there as well. In fact, it was quite emotional to be in their very empty-looking house without them. They are however, in need of 24-hour professional health care and I get that, if somewhat guiltily. The first time on this trip that I laid eyes on my father, it nearly took my breath away...he'd plummeted physically and mentally so much. I'd expected the worst and was still gobsmacked. I left for a moment, fell apart for a second, took a deep breath and returned to start preparing for the week. I shared meals with them and realized Dad is pretty much in need of being fed now. He seems to struggle just to stay awake. He doesn't recognize me as much anymore and has largely lost grip with reality. Most of the time, I just wanted to lay my head on his shoulder and sob with abandon....but that wouldn't really do anything to ease the situation.

In the course of the week, I comforted my Mother, read to Dad, helped him in and out of the bathroom, put him into bed and tucked him in, and frequently reminded him of who I was. I replaced wheelchairs and batteries and cleaned up their room. My most personal moments, however, involved a couple of tomatoes. My Aunt Bonnie told me Dad had mentioned craving a good tomato. By that, we knew he meant....fresh from the garden, just how he grew them and ate them himself. The timing was perfect...Uncle Andy showed up the next day with some of the tomatoes he'd grown. I cut up a couple of the tomatoes and over the course of the next few days, I fed him them, very slowly and deliberately and with each bite, he would light up as if he'd just tasted liquid gold. His eyes would flutter and his lips, finally, would stretch into a weaker version of that ornery grin of his. Then, he'd open his mouth again...more, please. Not a word would pass between us during this....I knew he wouldn't hear me, so I would just smile back. I knew, that for whatever his addled mind would allow, the sensory power of those tomatoes would flood him with memories of the tomatoes he'd always loved. The tomatoes grown by his parents and grandparents. The tomatoes he'd grown himself and brought to Mom so she would cut some up and soak them in vinegar with homemade cucumbers and then slice one immediately for she and Dad to share with a touch of salt. The tomatoes he'd feed his family and then bag up the remainder of to drop off "anonymously" on neighbor's porches. It could have, though, quite simply been the fresh, delicious taste of that tomato....sometimes, that's all it needs to be.

As the week wore down, I feared that last Saturday, as it truly felt as if it would be the last time I would see him. I approached his room with great trepidation and upon entering saw that he had been bathed and was dressed in my favorite shirt....the one with the West Coast Choppers logo. I'd fed him some more tomatoes, shared some stories and memories and of course, some tears with Mom. I'd decided I needed to carefully measure what could be my last words, so I sat close to him and held his hand. I asked," Do you know I love you very much?' He said, "Yes, I know and I love you too." I said, " Do you know I think you are the best Dad in the world?" He thanked me. I said, " Do you know how much you've impressed me over the years?" He thanked me again. I sat holding his hand for a minute, tears rolling down mine and Mom's faces and then he said,

"Are you done?"

A tad stunned, I said, "Well, I guess.."

He then said, "Good. Who is that playing football on TV?"

Mom and I looked at each other and then I completely cracked up. If this was the last moment I would have with Dad, it was a perfect Rex Haught moment. A few seconds of an ornery grin, fresh tomato juice trickling down his chin, rockin' the West Coast Choppers shirt and anticipating the WVU football game...and of course, that he had saved the best zinger as one of his last ones. Classic Rex.














When I finally left and drove from Marietta back to St. Marys, the weather seemed to crystallize the moment, as we were experiencing the first cool, crisp air of the fall season. The clouds hung, sunlit and heavy in the sky....the season was changing. He may be on his last days but he was still teaching me how to put things in perspective. The simple taste of a fresh tomato. The autumn air mixed in with the anticipation of the WVU football season. The saving grace of laughter that has carried my family through the worst times. Having wordless but lovely moments with loved ones. No drama...just quiet joy.

I left early the following morning, after taking one last look at the fog settling on the lake at Abicht's Landing and felt the chill of change on my bones...my Pop occupying my thoughts.

I love you, Dad.

13 comments:

Robin said...

Thanks, Gregory. I needed to cry...lol That was beautiful, hun. Thank you for being so kind as to share such a precious moment.

Cindi said...

Beautifully written. Lovely. Sniff.

Uncle T. said...

Thanks Greg. I mean this quite earnestly; that was one of the most beautiful things I have ever read. Literally and metaphorically it hits very close to home. I hope that I can be as eloquent when facing a difficult situation. Today you are a teacher- thanks for the lesson.

Lisa Mandina said...

Brought tears to my eyes. You are so strong to deal with this and be able to write about it so eloquently. Thank you for sharing this with us.

Kristy said...

Hauntingly beautiful. I love you.

Kate (Cathy Johnson) said...

Oh, Greg. Such a sweet, tender, insightful post...you made me cry.

Ali said...

My heart breaks for you, dear friend. What an amazing piece to celebrate the relationship that you and Rex have. I wish I could give you a hug.

Anonymous said...

I, too, feel the tears rolling down my cheeks right now. So, so, so well said. When you shared this story with us in person, it was spectacular. And then you write it with such eloquence and magnificence.....ahhh.....Greggus. What a truly life-altering post about a truly life-altering moment. And I must say that I love, love, love the picture of his hands. Such fine hands.

Lydia Donnelly said...

What a beautiful and touching moment with your dad, and an incredible memory to share. Hang in there dear friend, love you.

Linda C said...

Greg, thank you so much for the beautiful post. Of course, I have tears in my eyes, but mostly I feel the joy you must have shared with your folks over the years. Just know that you were meant to be there and that your growth as a human just increased leaps and bounds. It was so special to be included in this experience by way of your wonderful writing. Thanks again, I love you.

Anonymous said...

Greg, this post touched my heart soooo much. Made me cry and laugh and then cry a little more. I actually spent the whole evening after reading it in a melancholy mood. Made me appreciate the days I have left with my own mother who is getting along in years. You are such a gifted writer and wonderful person. Thank you. Michelle

Kitten said...

Your best post yet. As Dolly Pardon says via Truvy "Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion." Love you, baby doll.

Confounded Cook said...

Thank you all...I am humbled and honored by your words. My strength to get through these tough moments comes from Keith and all of you...my most marvelous friends.

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