Last Tuesday I had an urge to see Daddy. So I broke my fast and fired up the Mini Cooper before I could talk myself out of the 100 mile round trip between here and Seminole.
It was one of those needs that make no earthly sense. I had just seen Dad on Father’s Day two days before. And I’d already made plans to see Dad two days later. Earlier in life, with these facts in either hand, I would have dismissed this mysterious urge out of hand, convincing myself it would keep for a couple of days. But no more. These days I find life simpler to attend to needs as they arise –even those nagging thoughts that wake me in the middle of the night–rather than let my heart and mind do battle over that which defies reasonable explanation.
I arrived in time for supper, though no food had yet been served. As I walked into the dining room and over to the far corner to the only U-shaped feeding table in the room, I found four familiar wheel-chaired occupants waiting patiently for their supper. All were looking down, until I put my hand on Daddy’s shoulder and leaned down to kiss his cheek. As his face broke into a smile, so did a few others around the table.
Daddy shares this table with three women. Audrey and Marie, in better and younger days, were LPNs. Miss Alpha, sittng on Daddy’s right, was once the proprietor of a women’s dress shop in Seminole. Dad sat at his assigned spot, between Marie and Miss Alpha. The inside of the U was still vacant. But later, an aide would be there to spoon feed, cut up food and otherwise assist those sitting on the outside of the U.
I’ve learned that the aide is not the only caregiver in permanent residence at the table. Marie, the former LPN that sits to Daddy’s left, does her best to watch over Daddy. She and the rest of her dining companions may be people of few words, but still waters do have a way of running deep. And out of a deep caring for others, Marie misses very little. Marie surprised me a week ago by telling me that Daddy always eats better when I’m there to help. I don’t think she shared this to make me feel guilty for the times I’m not there. It was just her way of letting me know the nitty gritty truth of Daddy’s life.
But last night, Daddy ate with such relish and nary a strangle that it caused Marie and I to wonder at the miracle of it all, as a mere week ago it had been just the opposite. Unbeknownst to Daddy, who was so engrossed in the task of feeding himself, Marie and I caught each others eye and shared this moment of pure joy together. There was plenty of joy worth sharing, though Miss Alpha wasn’t in the mood to partake. Being the newest member of this quiet supper club, Miss Alpha is the most withdrawn, and in more ways that just her drawn-in posture. Her spine is so curved that her head is always bent toward her chest, like a little bird tucked into her feather bed for the night.
Last Tuesday I wondered if Miss Alpha was grieving a way of life that no longer is. And I felt a strong desire to let her know that she was welcomed into this quiet supper club. So I asked Miss Alpha how she was doing–and as best as she could, Miss Alpha raised her head to acknowledge my polite interest–and without any fanfare, said, “I can’t complain.”
I realized in a moment that all the members of the quiet supper club shared a similar bond and sentiment. None of them complain. Instead, they bear their diminished bodies and minds with quiet dignity. And without need for words, they support one another through thick and thin, perhaps with a look of concern across the table or by a quick grasp of two hands waiting to be held by my daddy.
It strikes me that while these four sit on the outside of the U, it’s the rest of us — the aides and visitors like me–who are the true outsiders. And I feel honored to be welcomed at their table; which in part, may be be why I whispered a sweet nothing into Daddy’s ear last week when he was strangling on every bite, to let him know that there was no place in the world I’d rather be than there with him.
With the benefit of hindsight, I see that my urge that made no earthly sense had very little to do with earthly notions. And though I hadn’t taken a bite, my spur-of-the-moment Tuesday visit left me with the sweetest, lingering sense and foretaste of heaven.