A few weeks ago C, my 9 year-old, wrote in his weekend journal that his grandfather was not his usual self, not being able to go on long walks with him or talk to him for hours on end. "It's all right," he wrote. "He is growing old after all."
For a couple of months before we were able to go to India to visit with my parents, C had known that my father was not keeping well. So when we finally got there C was prepared to see him in bed, tired. For two people who revelled in each other's voices and words, whose days were planned around myriad activities undertaken together, the comfort came this time by just being in each other's presence, some times in the same room, at other times being in the same house was comfort enough.
I fully expected C's adjustment to his grandfather's newly muted abilities to be less smooth and less understanding than it actually was. I know I had a difficult time processing my father's weakness and his passage from a strong, active man to an exhausted soul. Test after test, hospital visit after hospital visit had taken their toll on him physically and emotionally. My father had always been strong. The only time I remember him crying as long as I lived with him was when his oldest brother passed away when I was about five or six and when I had to be hospitalized for some minor illness when I was about thirteen. He was always a no-nonsense person, never shrinking from having to face anything, although in recent years, he has been quicker to show his emotions.
So there I was, worried about what C would be feeling, prepared to hold him up, to tell him that his grandfather would bounce back, to tell him not to worry, that he would be back to his old self in short order, and not at all prepared to have to cajole and berate my father into agreeing to just that one more test and one more doctor's visit and to that one more morsel of food or to just smile a little bit more. I did not have to do any of the former and had to do all of the latter.
C's birthday was coming up a few days after we were to leave India to come back home, but "let's not have a birthday party this year," he said. It has been three weeks since we got back and whenever C's been around when I talk to my husband about my father or talk to my brother or mother about how my dad is doing (with the inevitable tearing up), C quietly sidles in, listens and is there to give me a hug and say, "I love you, Mom" at the end.
I am a mother and a daughter. But the roles, at least with respect to this one aspect in our lives at this time, seem to have undergone a subtle shift.
P.S. Thank you for your comments and your e-mails. My father is doing much better now and the doctors have given him a good prognosis.