Unrequited Love and 40th Birthdays

Today is Sharon the Hospice Nurse's birthday. She's turning the big 4-0. Last night she looked at my dad and said, "Oh, I hope he doesn't die on my birthday! That would just be so sad!"

I roll my eyes at him but he's unconscious and misses my nonverbal "Another one bites the dust" look.

Even after giving Dad an enema every three days for the past month, this woman who shares "Fleat-ing" moments of what can only be described as a "shitty" relationship, is absolutely besotted.

Sharon the Hospice Nurse is in love with my Dad.

Like that's a surprise.

Women have always fallen in love with my father.

I realized this for the first time when I was seven. I was walking out of church, following the flow of the congregation toward the Parish hall when I spotted them. My father, still in his vestments, had knelt down to take a little red-headed girl up onto his knee.

He was smiling and talking to her...like she was special...as special as me.

I still remember this home movie in my head. I see the bow in her hair, the red and black holiday dress she wore, the way she smiled and giggled with my Daddy.

"Get off!" I yelled, pushing this interloper off of my father. "He's my daddy!"

I vaguely remember Dad intervening, but the shame I feel still burns at the memory. It was Christmas time and my father was comforting a little girl whose own father had just died.

Fortunately, life has a learning curve and by the time I turned eighteen I had learned to share.

Dad would appear, in his clerical collar, at every biker bar and VFW where my band was playing. He'd stroll right in, past some of the roughest characters in town, and take a seat at the table closest to the stage. And he would be immediately surrounded...by my girlfriends.

Dad would sit there, beaming at me and at them. I'd sing and they'd adore him. At this point in my development, it was actually a good thing to have the coolest father in town.

But my friends weren't the only ones who wanted a place in the warm glow of Dad's unconditional positive regard. His congregation demanded his attention. The ladies of the Thrift Shop fought over him with the ladies of the Altar Guild. Friends, colleagues, and the rest of my family...All wanted to be with Dad...So, is it any wonder that now, as he is dying, he manages to engender the affections of yet another woman?

Of course not.

Sharon the Hospice Nurse told me last week that when a patient dies she feels she has to "keep it together for the family." So she won't let herself cry until she's in her car, driving away.

Last night, when she came to see Dad, I could tell she'd been crying...Only nobody on her caseload had "passed." In fact, she'd been having a lovely evening enjoying dinner with her husband.

I know Sharon thought we wouldn't realize she'd been crying, but my sister and I are psychiatric social workers. We are "trained professionals." We knew she was crying and we knew why. It was the same reason she isn't keeping her promise to "all but move in with you those last few days." It's why she hasn't been around very much and has been cutting her visits short.

Sharon is only human and Dad has worked his magic on her.

He knows about her father's death from lung cancer and how she misses him. He knows how tired she is at the end of the day and sends her home to her family, telling her "I'm fine. Now get out of here!" He's taken the time to listen. He knows where she hurts and where she is most vulnerable, because he genuinely cares. That's just his way.

Dad knows Sharon by heart.

Tonight it's almost 1 a.m. when she finally shows. Becky and I have been sniping about her obvious absence all day long. We think she should be here.

"She knows he's dying," we whisper, careful that Dad doesn't overhear us. We remember her promise to be there for Dad and say, "It doesn't matter. By now, we're probably better at taking care of him than she is. We don't need her!"

Of course, we would never say these things to her face because, while we are our father's daughters, we are not as perfect...So we massage our grievances behind her back and even though we do feel guilty- it's not enough to stop us.

When Sharon comes in, Becky is asleep on the floor. I smile at her and say, "Happy Birthday!" because I really do like her.

I have been studying Dad all night and I think he's slipped into a coma. I've looked up "Terminal Sedation" on the internet because I opened the new bottle of morphine sulfate and read "Signs and Symptoms of Toxic Overdose," on the package insert. I have decided Dad has every single sign. I'm worried I'm killing him. But of course I don't tell her that part. I just say, "He's in a coma, isn't he?"

Sharon looks at Dad and nods. I watch her, thinking she has the saddest eyes in the universe.

I am enough my father's daughter to have "learned" Sharon over the past year. She's was tough nut to crack and at first, I didn't even want to like her. But Friday night, after she'd seen Dad, she stood around in the hallway with Marti, Martha and me- listening as we told jokes and cracked ourselves up. When she couldn't help herself- she joined right in, diagnosing Rosemay the med tech, with "HPD" Hemmorrhoidal Personality Disorder. This after I said Rosemary walked like she had hemorrhoids or a stick up her ass and could always come up with a reason not to help me when I needed something for Dad.

She compared tattoos with Marti and said she'd like to have a trail of butterflies tattooed on her thigh "in memory of my father."

That's when I realized Dad reminds Sharon of her father. The father who died two years ago of lung cancer.

Last night she told us that when she'd come in two nights ago and found us crying, "I had to go. It was too sad. It brought me down and I was afraid I was going to bust out crying, too."

Sharon, Becky and I sat around for a while, talking about life and dying. Somehow this led to the continuing debate I have going with my sister about whether angels look like they do on Christmas cards, as Becky thinks or whether they are more wispy and translucent.

"When my father was dying, his hospice nurse told me to open a window when he died so his spirit could leave the house. Then she had me light a candle," Sharon said. "She said 'When the flame goes out, it means your father's soul has passed through the gates and into Heaven."

I figure Sharon's more the Becky-type angel believer.

Which Becky must pick up on, because she smirks triumphantly and says, "See?" As if Sharon's just proven her theory true.

I ignore Becky and focus my attention on Sharon. "My sister is the same woman who dragged the cook in from the kitchen and now believes Dad will live at least until Tuesday because the Shirley's psychic!"

"I had my palm read one time," Sharon says, looking at Becky. "I was in Boston. This woman told me things she couldn't have known. She said 'You've already had the worst day of your life.'" Sharon's expression is somber and her eyes well up. "She told me exactly how I lost my child. She said she saw me walking in the rain, about to cross the street and I was pregnant and holding my little boy's hand..."

Sharon stops. For a long moment the only sound in the room is my dad's labored breathing and the low hum of the oxygen machine.

"She told me a dark man would come into my life and he would be my husband. She said I would live in a house by a creek."

Sharon looks from my face to my sister's, studying our expressions. I can tell she's deciding whether to take the next step.

"Now I'm married to an African-American man and my house is exactly as she described. And a creek runs right behind our house."

Becky and I beam at her like we're proud parents and she's our potty-training toddler. We try to telegraph our total coolness and acceptance of every facet of Sharon's life - As if it's even our right to judge someone else's lifestyle. Inside I mark my sadness that Sharon has to fear the bigotry of others.

Tonight, when Sharon confirms my suspicion that Dad has fallen into a coma, Becky is elated. "Great! He'll just stay like this until he dies, right?" Becky has gotten up off the air mattress and is now invading Sharon's personal space. She shoves her face right up within inches of Sharon's, her brows furrowed, squinting. "My scooty daddy's never going to wake up again, right?"

I make a mental note: Becky should get glasses, ASAP. If she can't make out the features on Sharon's face from two feet away, she needs help.

Becky's demanding to know when exactly her "Scooty" is going to die. Tonight? Tomorrow? "Hey, Shirley was right," she crows and gives me one of her "Told you so!" smirks. "And Dad didn't die on your birthday!"

I am not sure what I am feeling, but it is not elation. It is at least sadness.

"He's a fighter," Sharon says softly.

"Becky told him he couldn't die yet because I was still writing about him," I said.

"He's so proud of you and that blog," Sharon says. "He said, 'She's doing so well with it and it's serious, too, not just funny.' He was so proud when he told me."

"He said that to you?" I think maybe she's repeating something Becky or I told her but she shakes her head. "No, he told me last week. You weren't here. It was just me and him."

Now I am certain of what I am feeling. I am grieving.

"Did you have a nice birthday dinner with your husband?" I ask, attempting to divert her onto anything but this.

Unmistakable sadness clouds Sharon's expression and she looks away.

"No, we were just heading out when the family of my little guy in Arapaho called. His wife said, 'He's throwing up blood!'" She tries to smile and shrug it off, but can't quite manage an offhanded attitude. "I thought, uh-oh, this can't be good. So, I went to Arapaho instead of out to dinner."

"Oh, no," Becky and I say in unison.

"Was his wife right? Was he really throwing up blood?" I ask.

"Is he all right?" Becky says.

The birthday girl slowly shakes her head. "No," she murmurs. "We lost him."

Not "I lost him," like a nurse losing a patient she expected to save, but "We lost him." As if she lost a family member.

Sharon stands up and walks away from Dad's side but only reaches the foot of the bed before turning to look back at him.

"He's a cutie," she whispers.


Kim said...

I'll bet your father would shake his head a time or two at me, lol, but I'm quite sure we would make good friends easily. See... It's always about me.

He really is an amazing man Nancy. I am loving your angst regarding your sister. I have the same sister. She makes me crazy with her fairy tale realities, as if standing here in the real world is so freaking hard. Siblings. To the uninitiated, what I'm about to say here may sound terribly cruel, but I'm glad your father is in what approximates a coma. I'll keep my fingers crossed that it remains that way and he doesn't suffer over much.

I saw a psychic once. She said I would have more money than I'd know what to do with, that I'd go on to be something great- famous even - and that my life would be carefree and peaceful. Obviously, she was full of shit.

I.M. Dedd said...

very nice, indeed.

kim sent me.

please don't hold that against her.

Nancy said...

Oh, I. M...you's my kind of wacko!