The Head of the Table
Saving this Spot for Daddy
Once again, my dad fell ill. My parents were in Seattle visiting a childhood friend of my father’s and within a few days, my father collapsed. He was taken to the hospital by ambulance and my brother, Mark, was on a plane to Seattle within hours. We thought Daddy was having another stroke as it presented in a very similar way as the stroke he had a year and a half ago.
It was challenging. We (my siblings and I) were all here other than Mark and the communication was frustrating. They were dealing with a crisis and although intellectually I knew that, my heart needed more.
Half my family is part of the medical profession so the communication becomes very sterile and number based. Quantitative data has never resonated with me as much as qualitative and in this case, not at all. I wanted to know how he was feeling, talking, acting. Was he himself or not? Was his spirit still there or not? Blood pressure and oxygen levels don’t tell me any of that. I wanted to know how my mom was. Was she crying a lot? How was her stress level? Was she eating? Was she sleeping?
I don’t know how anyone lives apart from their parents, particularly as they are aging. I am so grateful that I don’t have to know that.
Last night, after a week and a half of being away, stress, worry, frustration, disconnection, fear my parents came home. My older sister, Carolyn and my older brother, Michael and his wife, Lara were here to help the transition. I am so incredibly grateful to have the siblings and in-laws that I do. My sister’s husband, Phil, got a walker for my dad. Everyone was working to get care, groceries, whatever was needed. So many people tell me of their struggles when their parents are ill — that they are left alone to deal with the complexities of that moment. Not me. I have four siblings, two brothers-in-law and a sister- in-law, who all bring something different and my amazing husband who always picks up everything needed at home. Having dealt with his fair share of crises, we have learned that when our families need us, we (he and I) take care of everything for each other in our home. As a family, we all work together to ensure everything is in place. This time, although we tried to help from home, the responsibility rested on my younger brother, Mark, alone, on the other side of the continent.
So today, bright and early, waiting for the text back from my mom to know she was awake, I waited until it was okay to be here. To see them. To hug them. To know, for certain, at least for the time being, that both of my parents are okay and I can get at least one more day with them to tell them how much I love them. How grateful I am for everything they have brought to me, my siblings, my children, my friends and my whole entire life. And for that one day, I am so incredibly grateful. To see them home, in our home, the home where they lived since two weeks before I was born.
My sister-in-law found a nurse to support my parents this weekend. A woman named Judith. She got to the house in the morning and the first thing she says is, “It is you!” She knew him as Dr Donsky — the allergist. She knew where all of his offices were. She knew him before they took away his medical license after his stroke. She knew him before he told me that he wasn’t a doctor anymore. It made me so happy to know that she saw him not as a sick old man but as an intelligent, caring, skilled physician. I loved her in that moment.
As the morning progressed and the calls came in one after the other from all of the friends and family who love my parents, I moved into the dining room to find a quieter place to work. I sat at the head of the table. I have never sat here, until this moment. This is my father’s seat. The place where he has led prayers on Passover, told jokes at family dinners and laughed so hard that his face would turn red and couldn’t catch his breath. As the years have gone by it turned into a place where he got frustrated because he couldn’t hear — with all of us and our spouses and our children — we are a tribe on our own — and not a quiet one.
It was different sitting here, looking out at this empty table, with the folding table at the end as my mom, despite the chaos of the last two weeks, still plans to have Rosh Hashanah dinner. This is not my spot. This is Daddy’s spot. I am so grateful that he is here, back home, and can take his seat at the head of the table as we get ready to celebrate the new year.