A word to the regular Dadwagon readers: I almost died a week ago. Here’s how: As is typical for me, I was riding my bike to work one Monday morning, from Brooklyn to Manhattan. Less typically, I was struck by a taxicab (I think; I have no memory of the accident whatsoever). Broke my arm, much of my face, earned myself a severe, memory-obliterating concussion. Fun!
Now I’m home, after several days in the hospital, resting, trying to get my body and mind back together. I’ll say a few things:
First, I was going into surgery on my arm, and what I wanted to know was who was going to pick my son up from school. That’s what you do. You think of your children. I’m very lucky to have children. They are what you think of before you die. Cliche and boring (except for me) but true. I love my wife, who is caring for me. I don’t deserve her. I’m lucky to be here. I feel great gratitude at my continued existence, which spared my wife and children a large measure of pain.
Mostly, though, I’m tired. Too tired to write. My head hurts and I still can’t remember everything and thinking is an exercise and a chore. I need more sleep and time. So, instead what I will do is publish this, which my father, Steven Ross, wrote while I was in the hospital. I haven’t read it through–my attention span is short right now and it was pretty disturbing for me. But he’s a good writer, and someone has to say something. Nature of the blog biz, or so Nathan says.
Shock and Awwww
It’s pretty dramatic to tell people, “My son was hit by a car”. The fact that it is a true statement doesn’t make it seem any less than that you’re trying to milk the sympathies of whomever you say it to. Now, the son in question looks as though he will escape the incident without lasting effects. I don’t want to write about him – he can do that perfectly well himself – but about me, about how a parent of a grown child feels in times of crisis. It is not only the young who can ride the Dad Wagon.
My first reaction on learning that Ted had been hit was denial. Of course, my daughter-in-law downplayed the damage in her phone call to me, but I should have jumped up immediately and run to the hospital. I didn’t. I stayed at work for a little more than an hour, had my lunch, and then left. Looking back on my reaction, I realize that I was simply putting aside feelings that I couldn’t quite handle yet and organizing my emotions. I can’t tell what I would have done if the news had been more dire and I hope I never have to find out, but remembering how I was when my dad died suddenly (my God, 40 years ago!) I think I would have just fallen to pieces.
When I finally did see my boy – yes, my boy – in the emergency room, I was so shocked by his scrapes, sutures and lack of comprehension that I did what I’ve found I do with grief: I focused on all the peripheral matters in order not to give full rein to my feelings just yet. So I focused on the lawyers that would be needed, insurance, my grandkids’ reactions and the police investigation of the incident, if there was one. I used my BlackBerry to send updates to my other son, my ex-wife and my brothers; it gave me something to do other than thinking.
I told myself that I was helping Tomoko, my daughter-in-law, by taking some of the burdens off her shoulders. She’s strong enough not to have needed my help but grant me some credit for thoughtfulness. I’m not sure I get much credit for gabbing away the afternoon and evening in various waiting rooms. Whatever came to my mind I said, again telling myself it was all for Tomoko’s sake but it was really for myself. I think my wife, Lucie, saw through me but was kind enough to let me rattle on.
Here is what I was really thinking: He’s going to die. Even though it was clear from the outset that he wasn’t going to, racial heritage takes over quickly.
All his organs were where they ought to be and the breaks and scrapes were in places that could be fixed, so I worried about other things. As we read in the sports pages these days, concussions are not good things to have and Ted had had a humdinger, emphasis on the ding. So he was incoherent, forgetting what had happened a few minutes before and oblivious to what had landed him in a hospital bed. I feared more than anything that my brilliant, witty son wouldn’t be himself anymore and I worried how I would ever be able to deal with that. I’m not as egotistical as I may make myself sound; I was deeply concerned for his welfare and that of his family. But the emotional impact comes from how you feel not how you think.
I realize now, nearly a week later, that clichés exist because there is a kernel of truth to them. You never do stop being a parent; no matter how old they get, you still worry. You really should tell your kids you love them more often. (At least I did remember to do that while Ted was lying in the emergency room, although I don’t know whether my words got through.) Blood is thicker than water and a lot stickier at that. Never run with scissors or ride without a helmet. Look on the bright side of life. The child is father to the man.
Ted, I love you.