Well, the call finally came. My brother in law, Elliott, who rarely calls, said dad (the 98 year old Cohanan) went in for a back check up and they found his heart rate very high and he went to ER immediately and is now in a rehab facility on Verrick St., Manhattan, New York.
Last June when I was in New York dad seemed a bit more fragile, did not use buses anymore, and did not follow through on many things he said he would. The latter was nothing new but more noticeable. Still, he was able to present himself well and was enthusiastic about pushing the book on my mom I put together. He still got around but he did rest a lot. He had a mucus problem and after I left a skin rash problem which made him more reluctant to mingle with certain people and hence avoid any presentation for the book. Although he thought he ate well, too many breakfasts at the diner added too much bad food to his system in my opinion. His body was just trying to get rid of the greases and processed junk he couldn't use. As we get older we can afford fewer mistakes. He was strong so he got away with a lot.
In the following months we had some nice phone conversations but I noticed I was the one usually to call. If I waited over a week usually I still would not receive a call. It somewhat hurt that I wasn't part of his reaching out. Probably he felt a pull from me to still be certain things he hadn't. He also felt some of my fears and didn't want to deal with them. We often spoke of health concerns and doing positive things about it, but perhaps this pressured him. He would always say “I'll do what I can.” Part of this is father son dynamics. A son always holds a father accountable and always wants to look up to him, which in a shortsighted sense can be a burden . His dad had left him at 13 and I'm sure the give and take of father and son was not experienced.
Later there were multitudes of doctor visits for the eyes, the hearing, the mucus, the skin and so on. My sister, Gail, accompanied him for most. If the same energy had been used on serious juicing I think that would have helped. It becomes clearer certain configurations are very hard to change. It is sometimes difficult for me to see because I have to do so much to maintain my health at a functional level and even then fall short, and my father would have to do so much less to maintain his stronger constitution. And worse, my lessons served no larger purpose or were benefited from. He did respond and make certain efforts. He read a daily health newsletter I sent but changing his daily routine was another matter. Habits were not easy to alter.
About a month ago I received on Sunday a short email from my sister saying dad burnt a sneaker he was trying to dry off in the oven. Hmmmmm. Quite a bit open ended. No explanation was given. So implied was at any point he could start a fire and burn himself and all the belongings in the apartment, including many of my paintings. Mid week I decided to call and find out somewhat aggressively what was behind this. He deflected my probing and talked about the book and plans to promote it. When I persisted, he became defensive and made it clear his thinking was okay and that he just made a bad mistake and that he usually is careful. We always spoke about the danger of falling and avoiding household accidents. I said once you're in the hospital there's little I can do. Crossing first avenue was always a real challenge for anyone. I ended the conversation saying “it sounds as if your are in control but just made a bad mistake.' I'm not sure if I believed that. Maybe I wanted to.
I called him back minutes after we hung up as I sometimes do. It was an excuse to speak to him. At times I felt emotionally incomplete after a conversation and would fish for what was missing. Sometimes I found it, sometimes not. This time there was a void. He seemed tired and not willing to converse. Often, and it is hard to admit this, there is simply not enough energy in the pot for a full fledged give and take. Yesterday, after I spoke to him briefly via phone when he was in rehab, my brother in law got on the phone and I said dad did all the talking, or 90% percent of it, so I still didn't know if his hearing aids were working. Elliott said that's true, but it also had to do with the energy it took from him to have a simple conversation. Perhaps all along, at least for a time, this had been the reality. He simply did not have the physical strength. He covered it up well, and I believed it and maybe didn't want to admit that.
Before being in rehab, dad's status was less certain. It was day by day knowing how he would be. I went through a myriad of feelings. I recall reading that when mourning most people have pity on themselves, not for the person gone or sick. This was the case with me. Although we did not always get along, he was my dad, my dreams and history were tied to him, my early family memories the same and he was still a presence to whom my existence mattered. I feared I would be alone in the world. Everyone was out for themselves in a way. I was concerned with home care using up whatever might come my way. My father wanted control and did not plan ahead for this. I would miss our weekly calls. He kept alive the memory of mom, the history of our lives, the house and the entire growing up experience.
Even so, part of me had begun to build a small wall around myself not wanting any more hurt. I could not fully be my father's son. I had to define myself independently of that. Family did not fully define me, like it or not. Modern life and it's existential twist did not make special allowances for me. I had to pursue my own fate. The tribe did not fully act as one. What a lonely feeling.
With him gone my world would get smaller. He might have been pollyanna at times, but he was my pollyanna father. If I accomplished something, he would not be there to see. With him gone he would not witness my 'saving' the family. Plus, I planned to get more done and established at this point. Tons of stuff would have to be gone through, and this would take mounds of time. Yes, getting things done before any loss was important. Not much of my empathy went for his suffering or trials. I mentioned this to a friend and they said this is natural. Our own fears and doubts are forefront and we can't pretend they are not. We are self involved creatures, at least in this landscape.
Saturday my brother law called from the rehab center and put dad on the phone. It was the first time we spoke. I said 'hi' and t hen listened. His voice was higher for some unknown reason. He said he loved me very much and that he was very proud of me. He said I did a remarkable job on mom's book. He said Gail and Elliott would be in touch with me. Again he said he loved me very much and was so proud of me. Then he got off. What he said in an aging voice was sweet, very sweet.
My sister sent a couple of pics of him, sleeping and sipping a drink. He was dressed neatly. He had done upper chest stretching before. His voice to me sounded weak, very weak. He is on medications, something we used to talk about avoiding.
For most this happens to them when younger. Because I am somewhat alone, perhaps the maker has kept him around for longer. I had told him a few times 'we still need you.' Anyhow, sometimes today I'll receive a call from Elliott and he'll put dad on. Dad telling me 'he loves me' means a lot. I can hear it many times. I'll wait and hope for the best and try to get things done while I can.