April 14, 2009

Some Thoughts on My Father-in-law
S.C. Morgan

He shuffles to the opposite end of the yard ever veering to the right, his upper body cantilevered over twisted lower limbs. Like an old horse with one blind eye he steadfastly compensates for the loss of ground and ends up at the irrigation ditch­­ where he wants to close the weir.

I can see translucent skin and bony spine between shirt and jeans as he bends down. The belt has a few new notches punched in it since I saw him last. Some in the family think he may have had a stroke because he drools now and when he sits he slumps to the right.

He would never go see the doctor about it unless coerced, and he sure as hell wouldn't go in for any of "that therapy business."

“I’m as good as I ever was, just a little slower,” he says.

There is no forcing this man to do anything. His jaw is jutted forward the same way it has been his whole life. He closes the weir; the sprinklers give a final spurt and fall silent.

My father-in-law grew up an orphan in North Dakota and came of age during the Great Depression. He was a CCC kid. Most people don't even know what those letters stand for anymore, but they saved his life. He loves Franklin Roosevelt although he has voted as a registered Republican in every election since.

Unasked for, he outlived his wife and having survived that blow fifteen years ago he will not go down easily. Who are we to tell this man how to live out the last years of his life? Would he really be better off if he went into a Home to rest?

The end is only the same as the rest of his existence and although he may complain about it occasionally, he accepts it. There is nothing wrong with his brains, it is simply that the mechanical parts are failing him.

I watch him shuffling back to the house and am reminded that he is only thirty-five years older than I. An eye-blink in time. Recently, on a trip with my adult children, I was looked after as though I might get lost—not remember the way back to the car. It made me angry. Now I understand the evasive answers my own parents and my father-in-law give me when I ask about having someone come in to help around the house. I’m sure they feel suggestions of incompetence are implied.

All of us know who we are. We have lived in our skins for our entire existence and even if we aren't always comfortable with who we are, we are at least familiar with the terrain. We cling to that dignity and carry ourselves to the grave fighting to retain as much of our essence as humanly possible. All the older members of my family seem to be doing that with as much class as they can muster.

There is not that much time left.


S.C. Morgan lives on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica. An American expatriate, her writing has appeared in Escape From America, Real Travel Adventures, and Notre Dame Magazine. She writes about nature and human nature—anything that is interesting.

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