By Arthur H. Gunther III
There is, of course, a cycle to life — a beginning, an end and if the gods are with you, much in between. The beginning begets most of that fill-in-the-blanks, with so many tangents formed, much like the branches of a well-rooted tree. And the apples do not fall far from the tree.
In a wink of an eye, it seems, my father, who is one of the roots of my tree, has aged, sent off to hospital with the ailments of his moment, soon to a try at rehab and then we will see. A man in his 90s, driving up to a week ago, living alone long after my mother passed, independent, cleaning his home, cooking, washing, never a complainer. An hour at OTB, the local news on TV or in the paper, short visits from his sons and my own son — that made him happy enough. Not a hermit, not a recluse, but a man of solitude, of quiet.
Then came “sudden” medical complaints — blood thinner overload, dehydration, an infection. And the worst ailment of all: utter helplessness when you cannot walk. You cannot stand. When you fall and it takes two hours to drag yourself to a phone just across the room and call someone, and that person, once so fearful of his father’s authoritative voice, hears instead a child-like plea.
You get to his home, only four miles away, but it seems to take an hour, and you find your dad wedged behind a chair. He is not hurt — doesn’t yet need medical help, doesn’t want anyone to come anyway — the independence, self-reliance still at work — so you try to get him to bed. But he is dead weight, this father once of strength, and you no longer can lift dead weight. You drag him by the shoulders of his sweatshirt down the hall to his bed, both of you laughing at the absurdity of it all. You have not been this close physically to your father since the two of you, with your brother thrown in, wrestled in the first grade.
Once at bedside, thankfully a low one, you manage to get a leg up and to cantilever your father onto the mattress. He is pleased enough and falls asleep. But the next day, you both realize an ambulance is a must, a hospital stay inevitable. You tell 911 it is not a dire emergency, and the Orangetown police, South Orangetown Ambulance Corps and the paramedics are superb — understanding, so professional.
Later that day, after your dad is settled in the emergency room and is awaiting admission, and you can do nothing for a time, you leave to do your Thursday duty, to walk two grandchildren home from the Upper Nyack Elementary School. Sam and Beatrice sing and skip, and even when you tell them that you had to take great-gramps to the doctor, that does not sink in, as innocent as their time can be and ought to be.
You go to their house, in a beautiful old Hudson River village where so very long ago their great-grandfather at similar age walked with his dad, and you find yourself sitting in a rocking chair, the same one your father’s father bought his wife Maud so that she could comfort infant Arthur Henry Gunther Jr., my dad.
In one day, my elderly father’s roots come full cycle, and though time is now very limited for him, and by relation and relativity for me as well, the laughter, the silliness of my dad’s great-grandchildren playing as I sat in that family chair reaffirmed that the tree continues to grow from its roots, as in the beginning, the end, as in new seasons, as in fresh apples falling not far from the tree.
Arthur H. Gunther II is a retired newspaper editor who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Your beautiful words and thoughts had me in tears, Art. All too familiar memories. It’s so hard to watch someone you love having to lose their independence. How quick our lives can change.
Phyllis, you are always there for me, for so, many others. Thanks.
A beautiful, sad and loving story, Art. It reminded me of my parents’ last days.
Thank you, Win. Means quite a bit coming from a fellow like yourself.
You are such a great writer and a wonderfully caring person. I feel for you in dealing with the sadness your father brings but also with the joy your grandchildren bring into your life. Be well.
Thank you, Nephew Phil. I hope your baby and fine wife are adding great depth to your life!