I went to South Carolina early Monday morning because my brother Gray said he could use some help with Dad, who was in the hospital. I got up at four and was on the road by five, sipping hot coffee from a travel mug and trying to stay alert. I got to the hospital just before Noon, and spent the rest of the day and all of that night in Dad’s room, watching over him and trying to meet his every need.
I was there at 6:00 the next morning when his doctor came by, Dr. Castellone, who sat on the edge of Dad’s bed, patted his hand, and said, “The good news is you’re doing better. Your kidneys were failing; now they’re not. Your liver was failing; now it’s not. Your white blood cells were failing; now they’re not.” I’m not sure I heard anything else he said. I’ve been around hospitals enough to know that when your liver and kidneys fail things have reached a critical stage. Many of those patients don’t recover. But here was my dad, doing better, and smiling as Dr. Castellone continued to pat his hand.
I spent the day with Dad on Tuesday and Wednesday, tending to his needs and visiting with Mom, who refused to leave his side. At one point I asked him if he would like a shave and he said he would. I spent the next thirty minutes applying hot towels to his whiskers, lathering him up, and then stroking his face as gently as possible with the safest safety razor I could find. There was a heartbreaking kind of intimacy about it—me, talking in a soothing voice and trying not to nick my Dad as he looked up at me with me trusting eyes, not saying a word.
I suppose this is how it has always been: that the child becomes the parent becomes the child. I must have looked up at my dad a hundred times when I was a boy with that same trusting expression. Now here he was looking up at me. At the time, I felt equal to the task, almost certain that I could give him a good, close shave. But I don’t know how I will feel in days to come, when his needs become greater and greater, and my skills no longer measure up.
I’ll just have to do the best I can, and look up at my Heavenly Father with trusting eyes.