I write that knowing it makes it sound as if this comes as a surprise to us, as if we haven't known it for years. But it doesn't, and we have. We've known for a long time now (too long, I want to say) that Parkinson's is taking him away bit by bit, a little more every year. We know the prognosis is dismal. We know there's no miracle cure--scratch that, there's no cure period, miraculous or otherwise.
But maybe we've been fooled--or, more realistically, have allowed ourselves to be fooled--by his 'good' days (i.e., those in which he's at least somewhat lucid, or can open his eyes for 30 minutes at a stretch, or when he comes out with things we can't believe he has stored away in his brain, like the name of a couple who came to his and Gommy's wedding). They make us think that there's still a glimmer of a chance that he might pull through. I think we all know, though, whether or not we say it, that we're trying to pull him back to us with gossamer threads; we can't stop his leaving.
Dad writes, in his most recent letter, words that cause my breath to catch in my throat:
'I visited Poppa Wed. and Thurs. and found him in an even more weakened state than even a month ago. He spends almost all the time with his eyes closed, whether sleeping or not is hard to tell. He did show a glimmer of recognition when I showed him an old woodworking tool and [he] made a very faint gesture with it to indicate he knew how to use it. I suspect we are witnessing Poppa's twilight days that will soon bring an end to his long and productive life. As a man of great native intelligence, tho not always so cultured, I know he looked up to you as a kindred spirit who better than most understands the workings of the world and never ceases to add to your quest for knowledge. To be curious is a good thing, he would admit.'
There are losses far worse, I know, than an 87-year-old man who has lived, by all accounts, an explosively full life. If he had the words, I imagine Poppa would acknowledge that he's had the chance to cover most of life's bases. But what loss is ever easy, however long in the making or inevitable? I can't help ruing the coming end of a life that has so profoundly shaped my own.
In Seattle, as we're getting dressed one morning, Sarah and I chat about Poppa. She leans forward toward the mirror and, as she brushes on mascara, says, 'I dream of him a lot these days, and always--really, every time--he's his old self.' This stops me. 'God, I have those dreams, too. He's always up and about, laughing and talking like he used to. It feels' --and here I am trying not to cry--'almost as if he's trying to reach me now the only way he can.'
And that's the truth: when I dream of him it's as if we're communing. As if the things he wants to tell me, the things he's got stored in his brilliant mind that can no longer reach his lips or his fingers, can pour out in my dreams.
I'm not a big believer in the mystical, and there are definite limits to what I find plausible as far as human communication goes, but I do cling to my dreams of Poppa. And I wonder whether he doesn't have his own dreams, coming to him in all those hours of closed eyes and half-consciousness, dreams in which we speak to him. Dreams in which the 3000 miles between us, and his disease-racked body, and the limits of the flesh--dreams in which none of that matters. And he can hear me say, 'I love you, just impossibly love you.' And, 'I always loved making you proud.' And, 'Know what I miss? Your big, callused hand around mine as we walked into the fields in Brewster; the way we rode the waves in Lake Worth; how you used to bolster my spirits throughout my gawky adolescence by reassuring me that someday I'd find a partner who would both love me and be worthy of my love; the tilt of your smile.'
And, 'Whenever you're ready, you can let go.'