Sixteen years ago, yesterday, I had an unusual conversation with my father. Dementia may have been showing early signs in him at this time; though we wouldn’t recognize it until three years later.
“Brenda, how are you? I hope I’m not interrupting anything. I’m calling to let you know Ma died.”
WHAT? Is this real? I quickly weigh a couple thoughts. First, my father never calls me—too expensive to talk long distance—so I phone him every month. Second, is he kidding me? This is April Fools’ Day—a day when people play practical jokes on each other. I decide not to be a victim of his joke.
“You’ve got to be kidding!” I exclaim.
“No,” comes his somber reply.
“C’mon, it’s April Fools’ Day. Whad’ ya tryin’ to pull?”
“I couldn’t believe it myself when the nurse called only one hour after I left her,” he says with an awkward chuckle.
“In fact, I thought the nurse was kidding me and I told her so! But she assured me that when she came back into Ma’s room Ma had passed away.”
“Wow.”Do I feel like a fool!“Mardig, how are you doing?” (We called my father by his first name, Martin. In Armenian, it is pronounced MAR-deeg, with the emphasis on the first syllable.)
“Well, under the circumstances, I’m doing all right. I’m just a bit surprised.”
My father, the diplomat, the gentleman, and master of controlling his emotions.“Well, I’ll fly back to visit you then. What do you need?”
“Oh, no. Don’t come. You’re working. Don’t take time off from work.”
My father worked at General Electric for thirty-two years without a single day of absence. He received special recognition for this rare achievement.
“Mardig, I will come. This is not a decision for you to make. I will help you with Ma. Besides, our family must be together during this time.”
“No, that’s not necessary. I have taken care of everything.”
“Oh yeah? What have you done?”
We go back and forth, playfully quarreling, until he finally agrees to let me return to help him and to spend time with him.
How time flies. Sixteen years ago, today. And what a coincidence; a massive stroke caused by Alzheimer’s took my father eight years and a day before that phone call, on March 31, 2001. And here’s the other amazing detail. During my childhood, my father always said that my mother would live eight years longer than he, recalling actuarial data at the time. And despite his being ten years older than my mother, she died eight years before he!
Having lost each, first, when I was 33 and then at 41, as I move months from the eve of my life’s half-century mark, I feel their lives paralleling mine. I wish they were here so I could ask them questions or laugh with them about growing older. One morning while jumping on the bed and trying to get my father to get up and start our weekend adventures, he asked what time it was. I was amazed: You mean you can’t see that clock. C’mon, I can see it really easily! He warned me: Now listen Little Girl, someday, you too will not be able to see as well, and your children will tease you. Well, I escaped teasing from children (all we had were cats); but the memory still brings a smile to my face.