Last year on Sunday, September 16, I walked out of the haunting movie Rape of Europa, to retrieve a far more chilling message on my cell phone. It seemed my 86-year-old father, who had been ailing for a few months, had been taken to the hospital, suddenly, on the presumption of pneumonia.
Then my mother called closer to midnight, that the crisis appeared averted and he was returning to his room at the nursing rehab center. She used her favorite phrase to assure me that my visiting the next day was "not necessary" because she was on top of it.
Although I lived 100 miles away and had seen him just the day before, I vowed to return in the morning. Even pseudo-pneumonia in a frail, elderly person could signal the end. I canceled all my appointments, and took the morning train.
As I entered his room, my father was loudly expressing pain for the first time during his illness. I'm not even sure he realized I was there. My mother called for his first shot of morphine to be administered and he became peaceful. I understood the end was nearing.
I spent that day, largely by his side, encouraging my mom to return home for some rest after what had been a tough night. I decided to stay over in Philadelphia that night, called my husband and cancelled the next day's business appointments.
That evening I slept in the bedroom next to my parents' room. It was an apartment they had moved to and not the home in which I'd been raised. Nonetheless, the bedspread was the one I'd picked out when I was 8 years old, and the furniture emanated from that era as well.
I heard the phone ring. I tried to sleep through it until I realized that the ringing of the phone at that hour could mean but one thing. It did. I stumbled to my parents' room and heard my mother assure the nurse who'd called that she was not alone, her daughter was with her.
My mother, then 84, is nonetheless completely competent at all times and in all situations and so I took her statement as a way to reassure the stranger who had called to give her the worst news of her life.
Later that day, my mother paused to ask me, "How did you know to be here?"
Woody Allen may be famous for saying that " eighty percent of success is showing up."
At that moment, it seemed to me that eighty percent of life is showing up.
June is looming and the displays touting Mother's Day have been replaced by those signs about cards and gifts for Dads and Grads, as the phrase goes. As I approach this excruciating first Father's Day without him, I am given solace by the fact that I was often there if not for him, then for me.