The thing with living distant from your family, whether it be in another state or another country, is that, if you have a loving relationship, you will always be traveling back and forth. Thanksgiving, Christmas, weddings and funerals all draw me south, back to California. in the last 17 years, I have made at least 40 trips.
The airport is so far it’s not worth the trouble to fly, and it’s not an easy drive. Hot in summer, snow, rain and wind in winter, traffic year-round in the Bay Area. Last Thanksgiving, I drove through intense rain and wind that left trees, signs and roofs scattered all over western Oregon while I struggled to keep my car on the road. When I thought the hard part was over, I ran over a bicycle in the middle of the 680 freeway, shredding my tire. When I arrived at Dad’s house, I declared “never again.”
Not only was the drive horrendous, but I was missing work, had to leave Annie at the kennel and generally turned my life upside down. But as long as I live in Oregon, and my family lives in California, I will do it again and again. I love my family, and most of them are not free to come to Oregon.
When my mother was dying, I wore out the I-5 freeway driving back and forth. Now my father is ill. I always knew that someday I’d need to rush down to help Dad. That time has come. I’m into my third week in the house where I grew up. I’m cooking, cleaning, washing clothes, taking out the garbage, buying the groceries and driving Dad back and forth to Kaiser hospital. He’s 91 and facing open heart surgery. We talk for hours and he keeps showing me things I’ll need to know if the worst happens. He keeps saying things like “when I conk out . . .” But we have spent magical hours going over old photos and sharing memories. We have laughed together. This time is a gift in many ways.
It’s not all fun. I miss my work, my dog, my WiFi, but none of that really matters right now. My father may die soon. Every time he falls asleep in front of the TV, I check to make sure he’s still breathing. He was sick in bed all day yesterday while I tiptoed around and prayed a lot. He’s a strong man, but nobody lives forever.
Meanwhile, I’m loving the California sunshine and easy access to the rest of the family. Between crises, I’m sleeping soundly in my old bedroom. This house is warm and cozy, not dependent on woodstoves to heat it. As I sit in my mother’s chair by the living room window writing in the glow of a pink and blue sunrise while my father sleeps, for the first time in years I don’t feel divided between two states. But I can’t stay here. I live in Oregon now.
I don’t know what the next few weeks will bring. We hope for a successful surgery and strong recovery that will allow Dad to live on his own again. Whether or not that happens, when my father doesn’t need me anymore, Oregon waits for me like a patient lover who will never give up on me, even though I leave it again and again.