Thursday, July 05, 2007

News We Hate to Hear

I learned today that my mother (She appears in the back row in this picture. Grandmother McKimm, her father's mother, the woman who raised my mom after my mom's mother died from TB, appears on the right on the front row.) was rushed to the hospital and had to have emergency surgery to have her spleen and colon removed. She’s 80. From what I’ve been able to piece together, my mother started bleeding internally and externally during the night and at some time called for my father to come help. He is nearly completely deaf and didn’t hear her for the longest time. When he finally realized what was happening, he got their friends from across the street to help. My mother only had fifteen minutes to live when she either was found or when she reached the hospital, according to what I’ve learned. The next seventy-two hours are critical.

I’m reporting these things secondhand because I wasn’t there. My mother and father live in Northern Ireland. It had been their dream, after my dad retired from the Navy, to return to where my mother was born and where my mother and father first met. They left this country in 1973 and haven’t returned. As I was growing up and began hearing about my parents’ future ambition, it was always assumed that my sister and I would live nearby.

Actually, we created lives for ourselves in this country: My sister lives in Connecticut with her husband. I live in Kansas with my wife and son. Finding the time and the money to take a trip to Northern Ireland hasn’t always been possible. There has, in fact, been long lapses between visits—especially for me.

My mother and father choosing to live overseas has often been a sore spot with me, one that became most acute when my son was a baby. I would have loved for my parents to see their grandson when he was first born. At the time, both my wife and I were working toward our PhD’s and certainly didn’t have any extra money. As it was, we were living off student loans, credit cards, and our teaching assistantship salaries.

When I graduated from college each time, I invited my folks to graduation. My mother’s excuse was usually that my dad couldn’t travel because of his colostomy. Without my family present, there didn’t seem to be a reason to walk across the stage when I earned my BA. MA, and PhD. All of my wife’s family came down from Kansas to attend her graduation when she graduated with the PhD. None of my family came.

Even this past year, when my son was playing his alto saxophone in the middle school band, I thought to myself how wonderful it could have been to have his grandparents attend the school concerts. I looked around the gymnasium and saw what looked like grandparents and aunts and uncles. It’s true that some of the kids were there by themselves and ended up walking home alone afterwards. Some of the parents probably had to work the evening shift and couldn’t get the time off. That sense of absence, that loss, or what Lacan would call a lack, contributes to our personal pain. My son wrote in his journal at school this past year how much he would like to see his grandparents before they die.

Recently, when I was driving through Leavenworth, I noticed that one family was having a cookout on the front porch and had a yard full of family and friends mingling around, talking and laughing. That’s the kind of life I would like to have on holidays—father’s day, mother’s day, Memorial day, 4th of July. When I was single, I used to hate Christmas so much that I usually made a point of sleeping through much of it, having stayed up late watching movies on TV the night before, thus ensuring I wouldn’t have to face the day. When I was smoking marijuana, I made sure that I was fully supplied for the holiday so that it would largely pass in a haze. Maybe I should have volunteered at the Salvation Army, but I don’t know that I could have handled being sociable. This year on father’s day, I spent some time with Gregory Peck, the actor who most reminds me of my dad, particularly in On the Beach. His intonations and speech patterns are similar to my dad’s.

As I wait to hear about my mom, I’m reminded of the song Kilkelly , which appears on the CD recorded in Matt Molloy’s pub in Roscommon. So typical of my life would be discovering that my mother passed away from hearing a message left on the answering machine or from reading an e-mail message sent by my dad since he can’t hear well enough to talk to me over the phone.