Abraham. Lincoln. (and) Sybil.


Sally Field crumples down into her own hoop skirt, melting into an inconsolable circle on her bedroom floor.  She rides in the presidential carriage, Mrs.Lincoln does, carrying her love and depression in colors that sting; she attends her husband’s fateful death in her home, shattered into fragile pieces.  My father sits next to me in the cinema, his wheelchair nestled into the handicap niche.  I remember, as a child, Carl Sandburg’s huge biographical tome on Abraham Lincoln by my father’s chair; how he followed this fellow Kentuckian’s life and political strategy for its honor, efficacy, leadership.  Now, watching the end of his hero’s life, my father can hardly breathe, he is almost choking on tears.  I wonder if I should be concerned, but he is not.  So, I lean back and move into the story with him – the long marriage, the accomplishments and failures of this man who came from nothing and made something large of it, this heart-wrenching death.  Long after others leave the theater, we remain.  The story holds us there.

Since my father’s words have gone, rather completely now, we must find other ways to weave the day-to-day connection between us.  Conversation is difficult, to say the least, and rather one-sided, with me the loser there.  So, we watch movies together.  We enter a larger story, feel our way down to the nub of it; we steep in its brew.

On my last visit, my father broke his bedtime schedule for the first time I can remember in order to watch the next installment of Downton Abbey with me.  I put him onto the show a year ago; he consumed all the past episodes on his ipad with fancy headphones that make the music swell, the world go away.  Now that he is caught up, we jump into the stream together with Carson and Mrs. Patmore, Mary and Bates and Robert all struggling to face the changes set upon them.  And then, right there in my father’s family room, dear Sybil gives birth to a new little life and, in doing so, gives up her own. I am there for the blame, the oceanic grief, a father’s helplessness.

Conversation with my father was often a heady affair.  So, it surprises us both, I think,  to let story take over.  Story takes us behind another theater curtain, one where we don’t have to understand but simply feel life happening between and among us.  A new and unpredictable conversation of the heart.

On my last phone call, my father asked if I had seen the final episode of Downton Abbey.  Our cable connection had inconveniently gone out that night and we missed the conclusion to the season, I had to report.  Ahhh… he said.  And then, in slow carefully enunciated slurs, It will break your heart.  

This is how it is these days.  We live with a larger world, with an imagination embracing a vivid past and yet hopeful future, seamlessly braiding life and death, the tragic and the fair.  Not many words are needed. Our hearts are broken, and held.


~ by Susan on 03/03/2013.

6 Responses to “Abraham. Lincoln. (and) Sybil.”

  1. Thank you. Your blog provides another set of eyes in which to watch the triumph unfold; without them, and you, it would be a tragedy.

    • Jack, Thank you for your words.
      They mean a great deal to me – for that is exactly what I believe I am attempting to do with these bits of writing over time:
      to craft a set of eyes through which to see what is happening to me and to my father. If that is of consequence to another, then I am happy also.
      The writing is training me to see, though; that is my purpose.
      Thanks for being a part of it.

  2. Dear Susan,

    I am overwhelmed by the resourcefulness of the love between you and your father – the spaces that the two of you find in which you can share your experiences, and the kindness and gentleness therein. You enrich my life with your words and I am blessed.


  3. Susan, This is marvelous to know you and “Billy” are together in these viewings. I think of him often. Give him my thoughts and prayers and memories. Newton

  4. Your beautiful, poignant descriptions of your experiences with your amazing father are very special gifts to me, dear Susan. Thank you! Please give him another hug from me when you are with him.
    Much love, Ann

  5. I did not know how to be a good son to my father. In his latter years, I chose to ignore who he was in my life. Reading your story and relationship with your father brings me to the ‘should haves’ of my life now that my father is no longer with the living. Downtown Abbey? Is that a religious program? Sorry, not familiar. Loved the ‘Lincoln’ movie though. But thank you for sharing.

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