Still round the corner there may wait
A new road or a secret gate
And though I oft have passed them by
A day will come at last when I
Shall take the hidden paths that run
West of the Moon, East of the Sun.
– J.R.R. Tolkien
I went to visit my father in Jacksonville last week. He was in the hospital with aspirated pneumonia, brought on by his advanced Parkinson’s disease.
If you have been following my posts here, you know that he has been completely bed-ridden since last November, after falling and breaking his left arm and hip. Since then, there have been good days, where he could eat and drink and speak fairly well, but many more bad days when he could not. But for the most part, he was still there with us – engaged, lucid, enjoying his soft-baked cookies and ice cream, and following the conversations around him.
But this visit was different. Five days of intensive care, intravenous antibiotics and morphine for the pain had taken their toll. He was no longer speaking, and barely conscious. He moaned constantly, despite shaking his head NO, to the question of whether he was in pain. The moaning continued both when he was awake, as well as when he appeared to be sleeping. My brother says it is just his attempt to talk while awake, or dreaming while sleeping. Whatever the reason, it was hard to listen to for any length of time.
With the pneumonia abated, he’s now back at his assisted living facility, but on hospice care. He mostly sleeps, and is no longer taking fluids. He has retreated into his own world.
He could either perk back up, as he has done in the past after these types of setbacks, or this could be the beginning of the end.
This morning I woke up thinking about him. I’d had a dream where he and I were at a play in a theatre, where the intermission was stretching on interminably. I was impatient for the play to resume, worrying about the lateness of the evening, and his comfort on the hard theatre seats. But he waited patiently, smiling at me with calm and peaceful eyes.
As I came out of sleep and into waking, I lay there and continued to think about the dream and him. Where was he these days? What was going on inside his mind? What was he trying to say?
When I was young, my father would take us on drives. We would pass an unusual sight or a hidden road, and Dad would say – “let’s check it out.” I would often protest – “Dad, the sign says “Private – No Trespassing!”. He would say,” What are they going to do to us? We’re just looking.” We’d take the road and find something wonderful to explore – an old house, or a path to the river, or a mansion. We never got thrown out or arrested, despite my worries.
He was a loner, and after we left for college, he sometimes went on ‘walk-a-bouts’, taking off without warning on a trip by himself. It would make my mother absolutely nuts. He would show up unannounced in Mississippi, where my brother lived at the time. He once went out west, all the way to South Dakota to see Mount Rushmore.
His visit in my dream and the morning musings on his true nature helped to ground me for whatever is next to come.
Lots of things can happen in what may seem to be an intermission.
Death – and life – take their own sweet time, and shouldn’t be hurried.
I like to think that right now my Dad is on another one of his loner walk-a-bouts, happy to be exploring new roads and secret gates.
He’s just taking those hidden paths now from the comfort of his bed, going west of the moon and east of the sun.
When the path ignites a soul,
there’s no remaining in place.
The foot touches ground,
but not for long.