Wow, 2008, you really sucked. Seriously, fuck you ’08, with a hot poker, even. You were on par with 2001 in the level of your suckness. You were actually coming in as okay – not great, but not bad, but then you just had to add that coup de grace there at the end, with my father’s death, huh? Yes, that was a sucktastic grand finale. Awesome. That put you even with ’01.
But there is a bright side – I haven’t made an ass of myself dithering about turning 40 a week ago. And then there is the fact that 2009 cannot suck any worse. Even if the whole Western world continues its meltdown to the point of apocalypse, it still cannot suck worse than 2008; Mom and Dad can’t die again. So good riddance, 2008; you shall not be missed. As for 2009, bring it. Do your worse. I laugh tauntingly and defiantly in the face of your impending adversity from the ramparts of my psychological castle. *in best gravely French accent:* I fart in your general direction.
You know, I’ve tried several times to write about my father’s death here in recent days, but have found I cannot. I’ve tried to recreate what I said at his funeral – he died December 16 – but every time I sit down to do it, my muse has been AFK (she’s pretty smart like that; smarter than I, surely). It is the same issue I had trying to put my mother’s death in perspective through writing; history repeats itself like the cruel mistress she is.
Until today, that is. Real life seems determined to intrude on the self-imposed mental holiday I instituted following my father’s burial December 23, although as far as I’m concerned, it lasts until Monday. But that fucking bastard of a devil is in the details. And my muse has coincidentally decided that her holiday is over. She’s fickle and recalcitrant; her timing rarely proves convenient. But I love her just the same (queue that silly Billy Joel song).
But Mistress Muse doesn’t want me to write about Dad, really, at least not yet; rather she wants me to confront death; specifically, the manner of dieing. The pastor that presided over Dad’s funeral said he was touched by the stories that my siblings and I had told during the ceremony, urging us to record them for posterity. But it’s kind of hard to worry about posterity when you’ve just had the ephemeral nature of existence violently thrust through one’s psyche like a barbed lance. Everything dies; everything fades away eventually, ourselves included. How many sons and daughters have mourned the loss of their parents throughout the ages – how many unique stories have been lost forever with the passage of time? How many will be still, as the years pass? The number is countless.
And why should I worry about posterity and preserving memories of my father and mother when I will be dead myself – in 40 odd years if I’m lucky; sooner if I’m not? I’ll have my memories until then. To lay a claim beyond my years seems kind of silly to me right now. Entropy is the nature of the universe; to try and deny that only seems foolish. Perhaps I’ll write about those memories in the future; perhaps not. But if I do, they will only be for my own edification, nothing more. The older I get, the more Buddhist I get; all that matters is now.
And I wonder how touched the good pastor would be if he knew about the sibling drama that started even before my father was technically dead? But that’s a story I shall not be delving into in this public forum, to be sure. And I’m not pointing any fingers or casting aspersions on anyone; we all react to and deal with death and grieve in our own ways.
Requiem, the Intimate Details of Death, and Death Wishes
In some ways, my father’s death has been much easier to deal with than my mother’s. The small rural hospital he was at let us stay with him in his room in intensive care around the clock, and the nurses were quick to respond to any request or concern we had about his comfort. They would even offer to get us food and coffee. The nurses were first rate, in fact; they made all the difference. Ladies of Rhea County Medical Center, you are the best, and you have my eternal gratitude.
At this point, though, in the waning hours of his life, I believe my father was past caring; at some point between his resuscitation from cardiac arrest a few days before the point that he clinically died, whatever made him Dad had already slipped away; he never really regained consciousness, at least not on this plane of existence. But for those of us left behind, at least for me, it made a huge difference to be able to be there every moment, knowing that he was as comfortable as possible and as dignified as possible, right up until that last heartbeat. Some might think it morbid, but to witness his last breath, the last few pulses of his heart – he was so thin at the end, his pulse in his carotid artery was visible in his neck — the color draining from his face, all this made my father’s death much easier to accept, as difficult and gut wrenching as it was to witness.
Yeah, that beat-up, retread heart of his, the one that we thought for nearly 30 years would be the death of him, held out until the bitter end, the last of his organs to stop functioning. Even in death, even as his spirit fled his dieing, frail body, Dad had to be a smart ass and have the last word.
A twisted part of me wishes I had that heart – I mean that literally; I would carry it with me always as a sort of talisman, a tribute to the kind of spirit that laughs in the face of long odds; the kind of spirit that flips the bird in the face of adversity. The kind of spirit that insists on just one more cast of the fishing rod into the water, even though the light of day is fading, we’re cold and miserable, and we haven’t caught one damn fish the whole damn day. The kind of spirit that taught me that you play every down as hard as you possibly can, no matter if there is less than a minute left in the game and your team is down by 50 points. The kind of spirit that taught me to play like it’s the first play of the game, and there is no score, even when it is the last play and we’ve clearly lost. Win or lose, you play hard; you never play “give-up ball,” for that is the worst sin of all. You play that way every play, or you don’t even walk out on the field; there is no half-assing. I would carry that heart as a testament to the spirit that taught me that, metaphorically, that’s how one should live one’s life.
I suppose I carry that heart metaphorically, if not literally, huh Dad?
My mother, on the other hand, died alone in an intensive care unit. We were only allowed to see her for 10 minutes an hour every hour, and then, only if there was no other activity in the ICU. If someone were being admitted or discharged, or getting their respiratory therapy, too bad; you can wait until next time. And frequently when we visited her, she seemed cold; I remember finding her shivering on more than one occasion, in spite of repeated requests to keep her warm with blankets. And on the rare occasions when she seemed aware of her surroundings, she seemed scared. She couldn’t really communicate, but you don’t need to words to see fear in a loved one’s eyes.
With a few exceptions, the staff just didn’t seem to give a shit about her or us; everyone seemed more concerned about their own personal jurisdictions and covering their own ass. She was a job, and the job was to keep her flesh alive in the clinical sense for as long as possible. I’ll never forget her admitting physician telling us that her oxygen levels were improving, only to learn later from the respiratory therapist that he was giving her a maximum amount of oxygen possible to sustain those levels. That was just one example of several. No one would outright lie, but the truth was often distorted, giving us false hope.
In the end she suffered needlessly for days, and that is the simple, awful truth of the matter. It is something that haunts me still, and I’m sure will continue to, to the end of my own life. I guess there are some things that endure, at least for the span of one’s life, in spite of the passage of time.
Ah, Death, you’ve taken the two people I’ve loved most; you took one of two constants in my life in the beginning of 2001; the other just a few weeks ago. Some might think it odd and morbid, but to me it seems only natural now to contemplate my own mortality. It’s only natural to be lurking in my thoughts throughout New Years revelry and that other nearby holiday that I now refuse to acknowledge henceforth (Mom’s death killed any joy left over in Xmas; Dad’s death dumped the dirt on its coffin). What will the circumstances of my death be?
Just when I think I can’t be any more preoccupied with death, someone ups and dies …
Ashes to (Meteor Pulverized) Ashes …
If the Grim Reaper and/or any Supreme Being(s) are reading this, I have some requests: there is to be absolutely no lingering – let me “die with my boots on,” as the saying goes. Do not let the medical establishment get its clutches on me, no matter how good-intentioned those clutches might be. Unless I can be upright and walking around for it, there should be no delays of the inevitable.
And above all, even if I must linger in pain and torment, please let it be alone. For God’s/Goddess’ sake, let it be alone. No family drama or intrigue (again, not pointing any fingers). No one around to intrude on the intimate details of my body shutting down for good. No bedside vigils. No nurses, aids, doctors, etc., even if they have the best of intentions and are completely sympathetic. Please, let me die alone.
Of course, given my own personal beliefs, I suppose most of these details are up to me; I’m not one to believe in fate or predestination; life is what we make of it (do what makes you happy, as long as you don’t hurt someone else in the process – it’s actually pretty simple). Time to get my Living Will in order. I hope I won’t have to deal with it for a long, long time, naturally, and if I’m lucky, never. My preferred mode of demise at the moment is to be done in by a meteor falling from the sky, just big enough to take me out on my 100th birthday – seriously, how cool of a way to go would that be? Instantaneous, no mess to deal with (other than a small, smoking crater) for those left behind, no funeral bills, and if not eternity, I would at least have a footnote in recorded history for some time to come.
And no, the irony here isn’t lost on me. I eternally regret not being at my mother’s side when she died, and not doing whatever was necessary to make her more comfortable, intensive-care-unit rules and the medical establishment be dammed. And it made it much easier to deal with and accept my father’s death, being there for every intimate, awful detail of his death – that, and the fact that I knew what I was in for, psychologically and emotionally, thanks to Mom. And yet, for myself, I do not want to have anyone present. Seriously G-man/woman, grant me that one request, huh? Yeah? Sooner or later, quick and painless or long, lingering, and agonizing, let me do it alone.
Of course if you’re honoring requests, let’s not let it be for some time to come. I may be a morbid bastard and whatnot, but I haven’t fetishized death to the point that I don’t like being above ground – I do, in-spite of it all. And if you could swing that meteor thing, that would be so totally rad.
As for Dad, I’ll just say this, the words that I used to conclude what I said at his funeral.
If, at the end of my days, I can say that I was half the man my father was – just half – my spirit will be able to rest easy, for I will know that by anyone’s measure, I will have done well with my time here. Just half – for my father, William Blackburn Chappell, was that much of a man.