Animals when they’re hurt or dying tend to hunker down finding a quiet and safe place to either heal or let go of life. That’s always made sense to me and it feels right in my bones. I’m not one to discuss my ailments whether physical or emotional. Pain is a private matter. Certainly there are times when it can’t be contained, but when I have a choice, I’d much rather crawl into a safe burrow and lick my wounds in private. My safe place is generally my bed. If I’m sick, hurt, overwhelmed, or just plain blue I want to be alone. Peace, quiet, warm blankets, and possibly sleep are all healing. Dropping out of the noise and clutter of everyday life even for a few hours is sometimes all it takes to mend – or at least to summon the strength to go back into battle.
During one of the worst periods of my life, when my heart was shattered and my trust trampled, I was able to curl up in bed and tell myself over and over “you are safe, you are warm” until a feeling of stillness and astoundingly a sense of well-being enveloped me. And I slept.
I shared that strategy with my dad last year when my mother died, leaving him alone after seventy years of marriage. It didn’t seem particularly helpful given the depth of his grief, however, on a subsequent visit he asked me to repeat what I had told him and I did. Last week I crossed the country to be with him on his 94th birthday. It was cold and raw in the small northeastern town where he lives and we spent a few quiet days together mostly in the house. He naps a lot these days and who could blame him. I look at him on the couch wrapped in a blanket with the tv on in the background (no sound just pictures) and wonder where his dreams take him. We don’t talk much. On this last trip I spent most of my time in the kitchen making him hearty meals that he can defrost and microwave in the cold months ahead. We ate dinner together each evening starting with a cocktail just like old times. His Scotch is mostly water now and his hand shakes when he raises the glass to his lips but the routine is comforting. We sip our drinks, eat peanuts out of the can, and chat. It extends the meal a few minutes and relaxes us both a bit. Then after the kitchen is clean we watch the news or read in silence. I bought him a Kindle a couple of years ago when his failing eyesight made reading difficult. He’s able to read by using a super large font and he’s told me that he’s read more books since he got the Kindle than in his previous ninety years. I’m grateful that it works for him.
I can tell that by the end of the day he wants to go to bed, to be alone with his thoughts and emotions. He reminds me to turn off the lights, turn down the heat, etc. I kiss him goodnight and watch him head down the hall into his bedroom. The house is silent except for the sounds of the old oil furnace. I open the shades and look out into the snow-covered yard. So still, so cold. And I hope that my dad feels safe and warm.