Two Paths

My father is in an ambulance on the way to the emergency room.  He fell yesterday while trying to walk into his house.  My mother tried to break his fall with her tiny body.  Miraculously, she’s fine, just a bump on her nose.  He’s not.  He fell because he has another infection and does not have the body awareness to know something’s wrong.  His body finally takes over; he has no choice but to notice something is wrong when his legs give out.  Usually he falls well, but this time, he landed wrong and hurt his ankle.  A neighbor managed to help him inside, and the two of them, my mother and father, decide not to call 911.  They decided to wait until morning and see how he felt before getting medical assistance.

I am on a trail in the woods with Sue.  We have planned a long run, and I know there’s no point in going to my parents until they are settled at the hospital.  I will stay overnight with my mother.  We will go back and forth to the hospital, eat salad in the cafeteria there while we wait and wonder if my father will be kept overnight or longer, and how he will maneuver himself back into their house if they send him home.  We will fret over his going to a rehab facility, and whether insurance will cover it.  Part of me wants to skip the run and part of me knows it doesn’t matter either way.  If my parents waited overnight to decide if  the fall merited a visit to the hospital, I won’t let myself feel guilty for waiting to meet them there.  I take the selfish route and Sue and I cover about eight miles before we call it quits and head home.

We run in Hamilton, starting off in a woodland preserve.  The trail is packed dirt and gravel; we merge onto a lovely country road lined with trees.  The whole time I am running, I’m thinking about my dad, wondering how many more times this will happen.  He’s not that old.  His health issues stem primarily from his weight and sedentary lifestyle.  He’s a great person— a loving husband and father, a talented painter, a loyal friend— but has never been kind to himself.  As my feet pound the pavement, I have a flashback to when I was a kid.

We lived on a main street in a country town.  On weekends, for a short while, my dad  jogged a mile or two along the side of the road, just like I am doing today.  He let me go along with him once.  I rode my bike and pedaled slowly beside him, listening to him huff and puff with each step.  I agonized over the speed, or lack of it, but didn’t want to leave him behind or get into trouble for zooming ahead.  We didn’t go very far, maybe a little more than two miles. I remember he wore old tennis sneakers and nylon shorts.  His big belly pressed against his tee shirt, spotted with sweat  before we even left the driveway.  It was completely drenched by the time we returned home.   Even though I was pretty young, I was old enough to wonder if he would have a heart attack because he was so out of breath.  I remember chanting over and over under my breath, “Please, God, let us make it back home.”  Moving his body took so much effort! I guess that’s why his jogging phase did not last very long.

He tried (and still uses) a recumbent stationary bike but was never able to actually burn enough calories to help him lose any weight.  He yo-yo dieted most of his life until he became a diabetic; my mom is finally able to help manage his food, but the weight stays on him, slowly taking his life away.  It is breaking my heart.  And my mother’s heart.  And my sister’s, and our kids’.

Sue and I pass old farmhouses nestled back from the road; horses meander across fields golden with last season’s dormant grass.  Ponds and streams dot the countryside, swollen from the past two weeks of heavy rains.  We merge onto Route 1A and run along the side of the road.  The sidewalks are lumpy and in some places nonexistent; we hug the soft shoulder as cars whiz by.  Sue motions to a long dirt and gravel roadway and we turn, taking a short walk break.  We chat and drink some water, find our pace again and  continue the loop back to where we are parked.  On the drive home we talk about day trips, summer, our parents.

In the back of my mind, I surrender to the rest of the weekend, and despite my dad’s condition, look forward to seeing my mom and spending a little time with her, just the two of us.  I know my dad will be glad I am there.  He will goof around with me, despite the throbbing pain of his ankle.  He will tease the nurses, doze in between meals, and get better, at least this time.  But I’m scared that next time might be different, and there’s not one thing I can do to change that.

And so I run.  I love to run.  It makes me strong, fit, and powerful.  But I also I secretly worry that I might wind up like my dad, unable to run, barely able to walk.  If I didn’t run, I’d be doing some other activity just as vigorously.  Some days I am tired, and think I should take a break.  Then my dad goes down again, and I jettison that thought from my head.  It’s hard for our family to watch.  It’s hard for my mom to take care of him, counting out all of his pills, reminding him what he can and cannot eat.  It’s hard because I found a way to help myself and it is too late to take his hand and guide him down my path.

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3 Comments on “Two Paths”

  1. Pat Says:

    Oh Elizabeth ! I know..I know…It is SO hard..but it sounds as if you are doing the best thing for all concerned…Let me know if I can help

  2. Alex Reed Says:

    Mom it seems like every time i read your blog your writing style becomes more and more powerful. The last paragraph in this entry put a lump in my throat.


    • Thanks for reading my blog, Alex, and for your kind words about my writing. I love that you take the time to comment! Sometimes the stories are hard to write, but I think those ones are the most worth doing.


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