My father passed away on this day some 13 years ago. We weren't close. I didn't understand him until it was much too late and I don't think he'd ever get me. But that's cool. I'd gotten to see him before he passed, my sister and I drove for three days straight after getting a message from his wife saying, "Your father just went into the hospital. I don't think he's coming out again, so if you plan to come down here you better do it now." Heidi and I got our shit together and hit the road, living on Doritos and Mountain Dew. I did most of the driving, fighting off sleep and listening to crappy Top 40 radio the whole way.
I don't think I've listened to Mariah Carey's "Vision of Love" since.
Anyway, it was shortly after we arrived that I realized how much I hate hospitals. The staff was kind, but their sad smiles told me everything I needed to know. My dad could have all the morphine he wanted by that time. Needless to say he wasn't much for conversation. After 3-4 visits I wanted to leave for home but my sister talked me into staying a couple of days longer. He'd asked to hear my band on one visit. I handed over my Walkman..."Wow," he said. "This is pretty good!" He encouraged me to go to Art School, which pissed me off because he'd always discouraged that ambition when I was a teenager, telling me to get a "Real job-something with computers" instead.
I remember sitting in a chair next to his bed wondering how someone who was so dynamic, fit and alive (he'd been a Seattle firefighter for 12 years) could be turned into a dry, grey husk in such a short time. The chemo had made his skin dark and blotchy. I'll never forget now bright the whites of his eyes seemed or how he seemed to weigh next to nothing when I hugged him goodbye for the last time.
I got angry somewhere around Knoxville, probably more angry than I've ever been in my life. It all seemed so unfair. I'd been looking forward to the day when he and I could have our big falling out, then reconcile, with him finally accepting me as my own man. My own person. I felt cheated and that his fate was unjust. Despite our differences, he'd always been generous with everyone, friends, family-he'd talk to anyone. And in the end, he was back there in a hospital bed, hopped up on opiates and waiting the clock to run out.
I was a zombie by the time I got home, I don't even remember much of the drive, except for hitting pigeon somewhere in eastern Washington. My girlfriend at the time was anxiously waiting for me at my apartment. She'd stolen one of my pillows just so she could sleep. I never got it back.
The next day, I got another phone call.
He wasn't alone when he went. He was surrounded by family. Ellen said he "Just wound down-like a clock." I put in a half-day at work, then I had to buy a suit and head for the airport.
I'd known the day was coming for close to two years, I'd processed it and could deal. Funerals are weird anyway. I pretty much tuned out and kept to myself. I don't remember the funeral. But I do remember my sister, stepsister, stepmother and little brother all hugging each other and crying as they lowered the casket into the ground. Even after the ceremony was over, my uncle Sonny and I watched as the groundskeepers filled in the grave and tamped down the dirt. We didn't leave until they were almost done. Of course, I had no way of knowing that I'd be back at that same site 9 years later to bury my stepmother.
I wish I had something profound to say, or that there was some sort of lesson to be learned from it. I do think about my 'Old Man' almost daily and wonder what life would be like had he not gotten sick. Whatever pain there was has faded into memory, like when I cracked my ankle when I was 12.
If you're lucky enough to still have both yr parents, do let them know you love them.