Wednesday, October 08, 2008


The other night Tess and I were chatting. It was bedtime and she was unwinding slowly. It's always interesting to feel her go through this process of calming down. Physically she shifts about a lot. Restless, she kicks off covers; she waves her hands in the dark as if tracing figures in the air. Mentally she is just as active. Her eyes are wide, as if scanning some invisible screen hung from the ceiling. For me there is always a sense of anticipation, but it is a delicate matter. I'm tempted to ask her what she's thinking, how her day went, what she did at school, but experience has taught me that often it's best just to lie there with her and wait for words to come. They almost always do come.
"Yeah sweetie?"
"Why do people in those chairs have tubes in their noses?"
"What people?"
"In that place where we play in the front yard."
"The nursing home? Where the old people are?"
"Yeah, they are in chairs..."
"...and they have tubes in their noses. Why?"
"Well, those tubes carry oxygen into their lungs. They need them to breathe."
"They can't breathe or they'll die?"
"Their lungs maybe sick. Maybe the smoked too many cigarettes or something and now their lungs don't work anymore."
There's a pause. I think of my grandfather who died of emphysema. I tell Tess about how he too used to have tubes in his nose.
"Did he die?"
"Did the tubes fall out?"
"Then why did he die?"
"He just got sicker and weaker until he finally died."
"Is your grandma dead?"
"Yes. All of my grandparents are dead."
Another pause.
Then Tess says softly, "I'm afraid of dying."
"You're going to live a long time sweetie. Don't worry."
"I don't want to die."
"Everybody dies, but only after a time. You have lots of time."
"What were their names?"
"Whose names?"
"Your grandparents names."
"Jack and Betty, and Charlie and Merle." Tess is intrigued by the names. She repeats each one and asks me to explain whose side of the family each comes from.
"I like the name Betty."
"You would have liked Betty, and she would have loved you."
"But she died."
"She had a good life. She was happy that her children were grown up and happy and that her grandchildren were growing up too."
The unwinding seems finally to have occurred. Tess rests still beside me. She is quiet. Then I hear the intake of her breath as she yawns. As usually happens, I yawn too. We are on our way to sleep, each of us privy only to our own vagrant thoughts and encroaching dreams. A few moments later I lean over and kiss her head and say goodnight.
"Goodnight Daddy," she mumbles.
Last night, in the aftermath of Sugar's death, Tess is once again wrestling with the challenge of going to sleep. I've allowed our puppy to sleep on her bed instead of in his kennel just to give Tess some additional company. Sammy is more than happy with the arrangement. So is Tess who keeps one hand down where her fingers can twirl the hair on Sammy's ears.
Suddenly she says urgently, "Georgia doesn't know that Sugar died, and she liked Sugar."
Georgia is the daughter of friends from New York who visited us over a year ago. It was during their visit that Sugar first showed up on our back doorstep and sort of adopted us. Both families had fawned over him and began to brainstorm possible names.
"She will be sad," says Tess.
I stroke Sammy's head silently amazed at the range of Tess's musings.
"Sammy's going to miss Sugar too. They played together all the time."
Tess looks at me smiling. "Sammy? He doesn't know Sugar is dead. He doesn't even know what dead is."
"You think?"
"Yes. He's just thinking. I'm breathing. I'm alive." She giggles and ruffles his ears and coos his name. Sammy's tail flips a couple of times.
I lie there and breathe. It's good. It's good.


Blogger Sharri said...

Beth and Kevin, Tess and Colm: We're so sorry that Sugar died. We loved being there when Sugar came into your lives and it's such a sad ending to a fleeting but rich life. Tess, Georgia said she's very sad about Sugar and is very sorry for you. We lost Blackie a while back, and we remember how much we loved him. It was good that Sugar and Blackie, who were strays, found our loving families to adopt.

xoxoxo Sharri, Doug, Emily and Georgia

5:53 PM  

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