It is March 22, 2017.
Today my father almost cried. Again.
If you knew him, you would know this rarely happens. I did not see him cry at his mother’s funeral in Shanghai — despite that being the first time he had seen her since he left China in the ’60s. Nor did he cry or show any emotion when he was handed divorce papers.
I am not sure I can recall ever seeing him cry.
Raise his voice and yell — that was much more common.
And since 2015, after his most recent stroke robbed him of his ability to swallow, stripped him of his speech, and rendered the left side of his body useless, he has said two words to me.
Last year, in January, after practicing mouthing words with his speech therapist and being able to get out low, raspy vowel sounds, my father and I practiced some more upon our return to the skilled nursing facility. Before leaving, I reviewed his next appointment with him, and asked if that was OK, or “good” with him, in Chinese.
“Hao?” I said.
He nodded and opened his mouth.
In a raspy voice, he answered: “Hao.”
I was so excited I shouted, “I could heart that!”
My father began to shake and cry.
Since his stroke in March 2015, he is a different man. I have seen him sob perhaps a dozen times. Sometimes the tears he shed were from joy. Other times, they were from frustration.
Today, after acupuncture in Torrance, where the acupuncturist uses a unique set of tools that help his brain and body reconnect with each other, in addition to needles, my father began to make grunting noises. Almost like he was testing out his vocal cords. This had happened before but he did not attempt any words.
When he did this today, I asked if he could say “ah”.
I called to the acupuncturist who was at the front of the office with the receptionist and shared the news.
Again I asked if he could say “ah.”
The acupuncturist and I both told him what a great step that was to be able to utter a word.
And then I asked him if he could say “hao.”
“Hao,” he answered, in a slightly lower voice.
I told him that he was continuing to make progress, and that his efforts were paying off.
His face began to contort, and I thought he might cry. I thought I might cry. He has not spoken in two years and has made very little vocal sounds, with the exception of the grunt that usually precedes a cough.
Perhaps it is karmic that the tool he often used to inflict pain would be taken from him and that he would not have the ability to speak for himself at a time when he greatly needs it.
I did not think I would miss talking to him — exchanging words with him — since we fought so often. But now I find I want him to talk and answer me, and I often wonder how his voice will sound if he does regain the ability to speak.
In dreams we have often walked and talked together, usually while going somewhere for a meal. I once dreamt he was talking with a doctor and explaining how he was feeling before he gained the ability to speak, and it was only then in the dream that I realized he was talking. Maybe it means nothing. Maybe we are destined to find other ways to communicate. But today’s experience, on the day before the second anniversary of his stroke, definitely felt like something.
In the photo above, cotton balls and the packages that hold acupuncture needles are seen after a recent visit to one of my father’s acupuncturists.