Unbalanced

Sheila Luna

Sheila Luna

He went to the doctor on Friday with a stomachache. Saturday he was on life support. Sunday he was dead. It was Super Bowl Sunday. He had money on the game—a five dollar bet with his buddy. It was their annual ritual, like blowing out candles on a cake. He always lost. That year he won, but he never got to collect.

We stood by his grave. Our tears would fall later and unexpectedly—when we drove past his favorite rib place or when we found his poems. But just then he seemed so close, only a few feet away. I didn’t want to leave him.

“Fifty years,” my mother had repeated several times. “In three days, we would have been married fifty years.” Grief choked her.

“We’ll give you the fifty,” I said.

I took her home. The house smelled like my father. His raggedy shoes sat by the door. I had wanted to buy him new shoes. I used to tell him to get new shoes and he’d always say, “I got shoes.”

She stopped when she saw his shoes.

I stood in her kitchen. The kitchen where she cooked for my father. The kitchen where we colored eggs, stuffed turkeys, and spilled guts. The kitchen of my childhood. My parents had painted the walls with a sponge. It was a place of laughter and comfort – this kitchen. I brought her a peanut butter sandwich and milk, but she was already asleep in my father’s recliner. I hoped she was with him.

I remember her once commenting how lucky she was to have her health. I felt lucky I still had my mother.

Three weeks after we buried my father, she fell and broke her hip. In her kitchen. “It’s the body’s way of grieving,” a nurse had told me. “Losing a spouse disorients the equilibrium.”

My mother recovered, but would fall again, breaking each foot on separate occasions.

Over the next two years, my mother would become increasingly confused. I blamed grief. Once she got lost while driving to church. When she hired someone to chop down the forty-year-old eucalyptus tree in her backyard for no reason, I took her to the doctor.

I grew up with that tree. I miss it terribly.

I remember the doctor asking my mother who was the president. I had to leave the room so the nurse could perform tests. “She probably just needs an antidepressant,” I said. “It’s grief.” The doctor said that could be.

I nearly fell over when the doctor gave me a pamphlet on Alzheimer’s disease. “Educate yourself,” she said. “There are drugs, but things will worsen with time.” I placed my shaking hands on the counter for support.

My mother didn’t want to move out of her house. “There are lots of activities at the new place,” I would tell her. “And, you won’t be alone.” Who was I kidding? I knew it was difficult for her to leave our house with the sponge painted kitchen walls and my father’s raggedy shoes beside the door. I didn’t want to leave it either.

We packed dishes and vases and memories in boxes. I remember finding a charcoal drawing of my father that I had done years ago after he returned from a Colorado River rafting trip. Through the varied shades of gray, I could almost hear him telling stories about the River and the Navy and “did you hear the one about?” He used to sit in his recliner and sing Neil Diamond songs. We would sing Holly Holy together.

I would frame the drawing and hang it in my mother’s new apartment.

“Who is that again?” she asks whenever she looks at the picture.

“That’s Daddy,” I say each time.

The disease would eventually steal my mother’s memories, one by one, like a vacuum sucking cheerios from underneath a sofa.

I wasn’t able to say goodbye to my father. I wasn’t able to tell him how much I loved him or sing Holly Holy with him one last time. I have been saying goodbye to my mother a little bit every day—holding on so I don’t fall.

12 Comments

  1. This made me cry.

  2. In these few words Sheila Luna makes the all-too-common sadnesses of aging touchingly real–“‘Who is that again?'”

  3. So beautiful and painful at the same time. Wonderfully written.

  4. Tears in my eyes & memories in my heart!
    I, too, never got to say “goodbye” to my Father. He was in a
    Hospital in AZ; I was living in our hometown
    in IL. Our last conversation was about his
    beloved Chicago Cubs; plans to come out
    for a visit the following month. As it turned
    out, we came for his funeral.
    Bravo, Sheila! Your touching words are
    “Spot on”.❤️❤️

  5. Poignant and beautifully written, Sheila. I can relate to very much of the joy and heartbreak of what you’ve written here.

  6. I love that, Sheila! It’s beautifully written and inspiring. I get strength in your strength. These are stories that need to be told so that the others coming behind can be more prepared to face similar challenges. Thanks, Sheila!

  7. Hardly husband and wife die together.
    The test is for one who survives, specially after a long happy married life.
    And between daughter and son , daughter understands the feeling of the parent who has survived.
    All these emotions brought out well in this small storey.

  8. Hardly husband and wife die together.
    The test is for one who survives, specially after a long happy married life.
    And between daughter and son , daughter understands the feeling of the parent who has survived.
    All these emotions brought out well in this small storey.
    If the comment appears duplicated, then it emphasise the point I have made.
    My daughter might have said something similar.

  9. I believe if anyone can make it through these the most terrible of times it would be you. Keep that infectious smile. It warms more than you know. Thank you for sharing in your elegant breath taking style.

  10. Beautifully written, Beautiful memories my Dear Friend.

  11. I knew this would touch me just as your previous writings have. It touches me more because of my own mother who also has this disease and now you have me pondering about the “trigger” that brought it on full blown in such a short amount of time for her. Thank you for sharing a piece of yourself and showing your deep commitment to your family with such a beautiful eloquence. Another masterpiece!

  12. What a beautiful article you have written, Sheila! I remember your dad…he was alway kind and had a great sense of humor. This touches me deeply as well…as I never got to say goodbye to my dad…in the hospital, never thinking he would die, never knowing what it meant to not have my dad in my life anymore…I was 17.

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