by Lisa (Boonstra ’83) Burg
The old man comes into our kitchen on a warm fall morning. He’s been out for a run. At nearly 87, he’s still light on his feet but moves a little slower as he settles at the counter for a cup of coffee.
Our three young children greet him. Tessa anticipates her Boppy’s songs and stories and tricks. Sera and Ben have recently arrived from Africa. He embraces them all and asks them some important thing, which is not understood by the two youngest members of this family. I see Ben taking in the smell of his new grandpa’s skin as he touches his lips to the weathered face.
The next day we sit together in the pew at church. Ben sandwiches himself between his Nonny and Boppy, and it occurs to me the distance between their years, their cultures, their continents, has converged.
The old man shuffles into our kitchen on a cool March afternoon. He is aided by his wife of 65 years, who guides him to a chair. They come to our bustling house at least once a week for lunch or a Pepsi, to play with Bailey the dog, catch up on our lives.
At 89 years old, Dad hasn’t been able to walk the few blocks to our house for months, but my husband, Doug, is faithful to pick them up. The children are in school and I’m at work. Nonny feeds Boppy a sandwich, bite by bite. He dozes off in a chair and Bailey brings him a ball, but he doesn’t respond.
Later, Doug tells me it took a very long time to get Dad into the car, into the house, into a chair. He fell asleep with bits of food still in his cheek. He couldn’t make it to the bathroom. This may be the last time he will be able to come over.
The old man sits in a wheelchair at the nursing home. We don’t recognize him at first; his head is drooped in sleep, his feeble hands trembling with Parkinson’s.
But then Tessa takes Bailey up to him and says, warily, “Hi, Boppy.” We put the dog on his lap and gently lay his wrinkled hand on the soft fur, trying to evoke a response. The trembling subsides a bit. His eyes are blurry, searching for our faces.
With Tessa next to me, we talk about Nonny, school, music, the weather. I sing the song he sang to our toddler so many years ago: “Oh birdie, birdie, won’t you come and see little Tessa Mae and me?” “Do you remember that song, Dad?” I ask. Patiently we wait as his eyes fill with tears. He works to forms the words, softly responds, “How can I forget?” then closes his eyes.
The young girl comes into our bedroom after we are asleep. She is crying. We coax her into our bed, ask what is troubling her. “I can’t stop thinking about Nonny and Boppy,” she says. “Does Boppy know where he is? We need to tell him he is there because Nonny’s back hurts and she can’t take care of him anymore. But if he comes home, I could help Nonny take care of him.”
Her hands are trembling as she wipes away her tears with her pink blankie. “Nonny will be 91 when I start college. Will she be in a nursing home? If she is, I will visit her every day.” Tessa finally calms down. She sleeps, sandwiched between Doug and me.
Hers is not the only wet pillow. I pray. For my parents. For my five children. For my husband. For the courage and patience to be there for all of them.
Lisa and Doug Burg were the busy parents of Maria (24), Isaac (22) and Tessa (10) when they adopted Sera (now 9) and Ben (now 6) from Ethiopia two years ago. They are also in the process of adopting Anton (9) from Russia.