‘We must be still and still moving …’


     Home is where one starts from. As we grow older
The world becomes stranger, the pattern more complicated
Of dead and living. Not the intense moment
Isolated, with no before and after,
But a lifetime burning in every moment
And not the lifetime of one man only
But of old stones that cannot be deciphered.
There is a time for the evening under starlight,
A time for the evening under lamplight
(The evening with the photograph album).
Love is most nearly itself
When here and now cease to matter.

 
Old men ought to be explorers
Here and there does not matter
We must be still and still moving
Into another intensity
For a further union, a deeper communion
Through the dark cold and empty desolation,
The wave cry, the wind cry, the vast waters
Of the petrel and the porpoise. In my end is my beginning
.
—T.S. Eliot, the conclusion of “East Coker”

Just a few weeks ago, he and I were talking about his daughter, my girlfriend. I do not remember every syllable of the conversation, and I wish I did remember each syllable right now, but I declared, “All I know is that it took me an awful long time to find The One for me, and I’m lucky I waited for someone so …”

“Passionate.” He finished the sentence. He chose that word. “She’s full of life,” he added. It was a happy surprise to hear Jen’s father say it himself. He was smiling.

This anecdote is supposed to conclude with me telling you that I asked him for her hand in marriage, but it does not end that way, sadly. Jen’s father, John Dellova, died during the night of February 13, died in his sleep, in his own bed. Two years ago when I needed a new residence, he stepped up and offered a room in his house. This brought me into the family and gave Jen and me our current closeness. (Where I had been living is a one-way 45-minute drive away.)

The above conversation was one more talk in what I thought was going to be an ongoing series of evening conversations between two housemates: my “future-father-in-law” and me. Instead, it was one of our last ones. For the sake of completeness, our actual last conversation, a day or two before he died, concerned telephone books. “Why do I have all these phone books,” he asked me and gestured at the half-dozen yellow covers lined up on one kitchen counter, “If no one is in any of them?”

He was 62, worked hard, tried to be available for his two children as much as possible, quietly made every holiday surprisingly festive. My presence in the house brought Jen into his day-to-day life more than she had been for some time.

She and I had plans for Valentine’s Day weekend: she took a house/pet-sitting commitment and I was staying with her there. On February 13, I needed something from the house, and we stopped by to get it. At what moment does one become aware of the “something is not right” feeling? It is not at the moment one first feels it. His car was in the driveway. (He was supposed to be at work, so my brain supplied the excuse: something is wrong with the car and someone picked him up.) The things he leaves for himself overnight on the kitchen counter—his glasses, his cell phone—were all still downstairs, as if he had not yet gotten up for the day. (It was 3:00 p.m., however, so my brain offered the excuse: he must have called in sick, even though he never does that.) Jen started upstairs and I became aware that I had been aware of that “something is not right” feeling for quite a few minutes already.

She called me upstairs before she reached his open bedroom door. He looked like he was asleep. His sound machine was still running. An empty plate of food sat ready to be put in the dishwasher, like every other morning. His face did not record any expression other than sleep; it did not look like even a moment of pain had crossed his dreams while the heart attack silenced them. Jen said a prayer and I called 9-1-1.

The memorial service will be March 5, in Middletown, NY.

I will miss my housemate who more and more frequently surprised me with a grunted single-syllable compliment about my writing and then questions about how many readers I had, my future-father-in-law, my friend.

I wrote online yesterday: “Thank you, John Dellova, for your daughter. We agreed just a couple weeks ago that I found a special, passionate woman. You will be proud of your daughter for the rest of her life. Every second I hold her hand is one more second I spend amazed. And you helped make her amazing.”

Love is most nearly itself
When here and now cease to matter.

Our tentative plans are for Jen to move in with me and for us to live together here. We went to a Chinese restaurant for dinner yesterday. I opened one of the fortune cookies and read, “A recent misfortune begins a streak of good luck.” At first I hid it from Jen, because it seemed too real for our usual chuckle at how close or far these tiny slips of paper can be from real life, but she looked at it and she said, “I’m keeping that one.” She thanked me outside for my quiet attempt at trying to hide it from her but for allowing her to see it anyway.

In every end there is a beginning.

____________________________________________
The WordPress Daily Prompt for October 14 asks us to reflect on the word, “Candle.”

The WordPress Daily Prompt for March 4 asks us to reflect on the word, “Inevitable.”

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20 comments

  1. LRose · February 22, 2016

    Oh Mark, this is so well realized and well written. So very full of the love you obviously hold. Condolences. And congratulations.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. loisajay · February 22, 2016

    Mark and Jen–words are inadequate. I am so sorry and send my love in the hopes that you can both find peace. XOXO

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Relax... · February 22, 2016

    My condolences to you both as well. He was so young! I do wish you both had had more time with him.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. abodyofhope · February 23, 2016

    Oh Mark, I’m so sorry for your loss. This was such a sweet and loving tribute to him and also to Jen. How wonderful that you were able to share how much you loved his daughter with him in time. Praying for you and Jen during this difficult time of loss. God be with you.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Leigh W. Smith · February 23, 2016

    I’m so sorry, Mark. I hope Jen and you find some healing–together, and individually–as time progresses. I’ll also paraphrase Eliot (it so happens I got my degree, at least partly, in thanks to Mr. Eliot): the end of all our exploring will be to arrive at the beginning and to know the place for the first time. Seems to me like you two have arrived at just such a ‘new’ start (Eliot never said beginnings were pain-free and completely joyous), and you’ve got a lot of well-wishes and love to send you forward. I think a “Godspeed” is probably in order, even if one is not religious.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Po' Girl Shines · March 10, 2016

    Very touching. Thank you for sharing. God bless.

    Like

  7. Susanne Leist · March 21, 2016

    So sad and beautiful. I wish you the best of luck. He stayed in this life just long enough for you to meet and to bring his daughter closer to you. Maybe life has a plan for us.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mark Aldrich · March 21, 2016

      Thank you very much, Susanne, from Jen and me. I appreciate your kind words and ongoing support of this website and my projects.

      Like

  8. Roberta Webber · August 26

    I was shocked to hear of your dad’s passing. I spoke to him right before Valentine’s Day. Your dad loved you so much. Please send me copies of the pictures of us in Hawaii. Your dad will never be forgotten.

    Like

  9. Southern by Design · October 14

    Oh my gosh this made me tear up. I lost my mother-in-law suddenly years ago and it was devastating, we were very close. This is a beautiful piece and such a great last memory!

    Liked by 1 person

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