When you’re a kid, the certainty your parent can do the impossible is unwavering. This was true in my childhood, too—except when my dad and I sat suspended 300 feet above the ground.
I warily watched him struggle to remove his bulky snow gloves and twist sideways in our chairlift seat, straining to reach into the back pocket of his snow pants.
The stalled chairlift was bouncing and swaying with his efforts, and that complete certainty I had developed in my seven short years was wavering.
I was acutely aware of the amount of empty air around us, and my breath quickly derailed as I watched Dad continue to dig in his pockets.
He’s not holding on.
This thought intensified my trepidation, and my purple mittens tightened around the frigid bar in front of us that was intended to keep us from falling. As long as we held onto it with both hands. At all times.
Keeping a firm grip, I snuck a peek up at the metal hook holding the lift chair to its cable, strung 300 feet above the unforgiving snowpack below. An impending sense of icy doom settled into the pit of my little belly.
This memory passed through my mind as I sat in traffic at a snowy intersection last week. It’s one of the hundreds of ski-trip memories I have of my dad—back when he was still Dad. When his mind was sound, his memory wasn’t wavering, when I didn’t feel like he was suspended 300 feet apart from me—and drifting further every day.
Times for these childhood memories are few and far between these days, with the doctor appointments, the testing, the constant medication dilemmas, and the complete reshuffling of family roles. I tell myself I simply haven’t had a free moment to reflect on the good times, the years before he became ill, before my relationship shifted from daughter to caretaker, driver, finder of lost items and carrier of insurmountable burdens.
But I know it’s not busyness that’s been keeping me from my memories. It’s been fear. Fear that remembering him as he once was will emotionally gut me and I won’t survive the pain. I’m barely surviving as it is—I simply cannot shoulder any more pain and grief.
My eyes begin to sting, and my mittened hands tighten on the steering wheel as my mind floats back to that sunny day on the ski lift.
I slowly drop my gaze from the cable above and see my warped reflection in the lenses of Dad’s ski goggles. My blue eyes are impossibly huge. I look completely terrified. I watch several ice crystals shake loose from his beard as a huge grin spreads across his face. He holds up the item he had finally excavated from his pocket.
A yellow packet of peanut M&M’s. My favorite.
He carefully takes my purple mittens, tucking them into his coat for safekeeping. My fear immediately begins to ease as I pop the first M&M into my mouth. The lift begins to move again, and I sit back and begin to chat about which ski runs I want to do next.
Just me, Dad and our M&Ms.
Traffic begins to move, and I slowly accelerate along with it. It occurs to me that maybe my dad and I are simply on different stalled chairlifts—this one suspended in time, instead of above ski slopes. Maybe if I try to loosen my grip on my need to fix him and control the inevitable devastating outcome, I can find relief from my fear and grief, and simply enjoy the sweet moments we still have together.
Just like sharing peanut M&Ms.