It’s quite normal that the kids wake up at 5:30 – 6 am. It’s also quite normal that they are wild and energetic from the moment they open their eyes. Today as well. We have a morning routine for getting everyone ready, oatmeal, fresh clothes, boxed lunches and teeth brushing, then out the door, an extra count of gloves and hats, lunches and boots. I wave bye-bye to the family, then return to the house to clean up, sort out, empty the dishwasher, check laundry, all everyday business.
Today was slightly different, though, as I had decided to spend all day cleaning the house thoroughly. It’s quite nice, actually, cleaning when you’re home alone. Spotify, headphones, volume up. Off we go … The dog, however, didn’t like it to much, running from one end of the house to the other all day to avoid vacuum cleaner, wet cloths and floor scrubs. She had a rough day.
A little after midday, as I was taking a break for a quick lunch, I called my dad. That’s quite normal, too. We talk every second or third day; if I fail to call first, he calls me up and complains that he’s lonely and no one cares about him (all for fun, of course, he’s quite busy and never lonely.) We talked as usual, and it was about time for me to go and pick up the kids, and we still talked, so I leashed the dog and brought dad along with me on the headset.
As I walked, dad turned to a different subject. As if he had forgotten, he suddenly said: But you haven’t heard all the news! We had talked quite a lot, and I was a bit surprised that it hadn’t included the news so far as we had touched upon many different subjects. Our talks always contain everything from philosophy across politics to life learning as well as kids, family, memories, hobbies, etc. Well, the news …
The other day, he told me, several different people had called him several times, all on top of each other. As he was busy, taking a class in stone jewelry crafting, he hadn’t been able to call back until hours later.
First, a good friend of the family announced his divorce. After a move to a foreign country, years of marriage and building up an entirely new life and a good business, the marriage couldn’t last any longer. I had to pause in my walk, pretend to be deeply interested in the patch of grass, which the dog was sniffing, to conceal my tears from people walking by. A divorce might sound quite ordinary, but it never is when it’s someone you care about. Someone whom you want to be happy and live a life of ease and joy. My dad gave me all the details, he couldn’t conceal the hurt in his voice anymore than I could. And then his voice grew even more raw. His cousin also called. A cousin, whom he grew up with in their grandparents’ house, someone who colored his early life, but also someone who hurt both himself and everyone else by turning to the bottle when life became too hard.
I remember him clearly from my childhood, a talented painter, the one who would always liven up the family parties, but also someone, who was always talked about in hushed voices at the same parties; only as an adult did I understand why. The bottles only grew deeper, and he turned into what many people would call a tragedy.
Tragedy or not, my dad’s cousin was recently told that he has cancer. He went into treatment and got better. But now, it got worse. Lung cancer, and badly so. I guess you can say it isn’t surprising seeing that he smoked two packs of cigarettes a day to accompany the booze. What surprised everyone was his reaction to the news. He went home, drank every ounce of alcohol in his apartment and emptied every pill glass he could find. My guess is that would be quite a lot.
Somehow he survived. I don’t know who found him or how he was rescued, but this was last week, and now he told my dad. He’s in a recovery home, and just wanted my dad to know. My dad’s reaction was quite understandable; when told, he yelled: Why the hell didn’t you call me first?
Well, yes .. Why didn’t he? Why didn’t he choose differently than suicide? Why didn’t he reach out? Why didn’t our family friend seek help to save his marriage, a counselor, a therapist, someone? Why didn’t he call before it all went bad? Why not half a year ago to say things were unsteady? Why didn’t someone get my dad’s cousin some help to stop him drinking and smoking 50 years ago? Why couldn’t he change? Why?
And this is what it all comes down to. When I finished the call, I felt empty at first. So close, all this hurt. And then came the why, why this, why that. Why all of it? My own thoughts from the day and a busy day up ahead became distant and irrelevant. It was spring warm today, no need for hat, gloves or scarf, the sun was bright and eager to reheat everything, flowers breaking through the ground everywhere, such a beautiful day, and there I was, a head full of tragedy.
It’s strange, life, you just never know what’s up ahead. You can plan, structure, control, think all you want, but you just never know. And maybe it’s easier, better even, to try not to, just let go, and let things happen. “I can’t do anything,” I told my dad, as I felt I should do something, ought to do something, but how in the world can I save a marriage or cure lung cancer, how can I talk someone out of suicide or make them believe there’s more to life when they just don’t see it? This is out of my league.
I can be there, make myself available for a talk, a hug, a presence. And sometimes, that might be all we need.