I sat by the pool and watched Connor navigate his way over to the small playground. He fearlessly attempted to join a group of other children who had been playing together. He tried to take charge and asked them all if they wanted to play Mine Craft, which is actually a video game. He proceeded to assign roles, and he began to make the sound effects and respond to imaginary creepers and swords. For a while, the other children tried to join him, but quickly you could tell by their stares between one another that they were not quite sure how to play this game that was clearly only vivid in Connor’s mind. They couldn’t see the blocks and towers and fire that Connor so clearly could; they saw slides, swings, and monkey bars. They may have been able to imagine with Connor for a bit, but in time Connor was so immersed in his Mine Craft world that the others were really blocked out. They could no longer access or imagine Connor’s private world, and he no longer made the effort to let them in. Connor was okay with himself in his own head.
I couldn’t help but think of my father, forced to be alone and in his own head, and him really being anything but okay without my mother. I couldn’t help but to think it must feel so strange for him to not have to think of her in a physical sense anymore. As partners for over 40 years they were a part of each other’s private world, so much so that they were intertwined, part of the other. After four decades of marriage and making every decision with my mother in mind, how does my father start making decisions only for himself? After sharing in all the roles and responsibilities of their household and family, how does he carry it all alone? After her finishing his sentences, interrupting his thoughts, and questioning his ideas, how does he handle the silence? How could he untangle the “we” and the “us” that he had lived for so long, so he could just think “me”? How could he be a little more okay with himself, a little bit more like Connor?
Connor, like most children, is focused on his wants and needs, not anyone else’s. As he grows and matures he will have to negotiate his desires in order to develop relationships. Eventually, I hope Connor gets married, and then he will need to consider an “us” versus just a “me” mentality. However, I hope that he will never completely lose his “me.” Connor likes being physical, rough and tumble play, rolling down the grassy hill in our yard, or chasing his brother wildly in circles in the basement. He loves to drive with the windows down and his face hanging out with loud thumping music playing on the radio. He loves anything hot, hot pavement on his skin when he gets out of the pool, hot sand, or being curled up under the covers against my hot skin. He cannot get enough of water, whether at the pool or jumping waves at the ocean. Like most children, Connor knows what he likes. He taps into his senses and clearly understands what feels good. As adults, I think we often lose sight of life’s simple pleasures, especially the ones that are unique only to ourselves.
When my mother found out that she had terminal cancer, everyone wanted to know what was on her bucket list. What did she want to do? She didn’t really have a list like that; she just wanted to be with her family, eat a good meal, enjoy a glass of wine on the porch, and finish some art projects. Unfortunately, the only pleasure she could really enjoy was being with us. Little by little she lost even the most basic pleasures. She ultimately chose to go into hospice because she could no longer savor in any of her senses. The pain she felt took away her ability to eat, drink, smell, taste, and even feel anything but physical pain. Our presence was not enough to sustain her. We still have what she didn’t; we have the ability to relish in all of our senses. We can pair any of our favorite things into a day to make it more bearable.
In the past I have watched Connor on the playground with a twinge of sadness and worry, wondering if he felt sad, left out, alone. I watched him playing and wondered if he would ever be able to negotiate his feelings for others in order to develop meaningful relationships. But, when I watched Connor on the playground at the pool on that day, I realized he had something that we all didn’t. He knew very clearly what made him happy, and he was enjoying the sound of his own voice, the sun on his back, and the ability to run, climb, and slide on the playground. I feel grateful that Connor is okay being alone, and my hope is that my father will find that, too. I know that my father relished in the life he shared with my mother, and I hope that Connor will find that as well. But, for both my father and for my son, I hope that they can enjoy simple mundane things that are unique to only them. I hope that they will remember Mom and learn from each other.