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death

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e.s.t.

"Well they blew up the chicken man in philly last night, and they they blew up his house, too..."     BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN    Atlantic City

Over the Christmas/New Year holiday I was introduced to some new music. Music taste is like food taste. And cartoons. Just because two people like everything they ever shared together before, it does not translate that the next thing will be relished equally. So when a friend with which I have no real musical history said "You have to listen to this..." I was skeptical. Until I was hooked. Everything- the trio format, the melancholy meter, the purposefully off-tempo nature of the call and response- in essence the precision unruliness of the whole, made me, in an instant, a life-long fan of Esbjörn Svensson.

Then the punch line-

"yeah; too bad he's dead..."

So, anyway, in one breath I'm given this great music and in the next the weight of the knowledge that they'll never be any more. It makes me sad to love it so much. Really, go out on the googles and search for "Elevation of Love", the live performance from Berghausen, Germany. You'll understand...

Damn kids...

--- --- ---

Death has been the theme of late, this year's black. I've had to experience too much of it, viscerally and peripherally. I'll let you in on a little secret. Both suck. When death comes close you grieve. And grief lingers long after you think it should have known it was time to go. Grief is like a bad house guest who missed the cue that its time to strip the bed, pack the bags, and take your coffee in a travel mug. For cryin' out loud I just want to read the paper...

And when death comes to a friend its just as hard because there is nothing to be done. Be available, be open, be a good listener. But don't try to 'help' because there is no help you can offer that a true friend wouldn't have already extended.

--- --- ---

Everything dies, baby, that's a fact...

 

Its true for people, pets, plants, jazz musicians, even well-intended-but-poorly-conceived-blogs. Everything has a lifespan. My dad's death was sudden but not unexpected. When a body nears ninety years old all bets are off. You say 'he had a good life' and thank the lord the end was quick and relatively painless. But when death comes sooner you begin to question the point of it all. So young, so much left to do, so much- so much...

 

When my brother Skip died I was mad. Mad that he didn't try harder, mad that I try at all. To this day I don't think I've really cried for him. I cried on and off for days after our cat Gabriel died. P and I talked about what a good soul he was, and how he enriched our lives. And we buried him in the garden and placed an angel on his grave. But for my brother there was only anger. No, that wasn't it. There was mad. Concocted from a pound of frustration and seasoned with a healthy pinch of guilt. Mad. That it made no sense.

--- --- ---

But maybe everything that dies some day comes back...

That days are getting longer. Dinner comes at twilight now, and not early evening. Looking out the kitchen window, the sky is streaked pink and purple. A pillow of dusk. It is a time of looking torward, not whence. Gabriel's angel holds a handful of seed for the finches. They do not linger and wonder at the nature of tender cherub cupping her hands for them to feed from. Lingering is careless and fraught with danger. Smart animals...

 

I'm listening to e.s.t. Live from Hamburg. It is such beautiful music. It makes my brain smile whilst I write. And I realize as I listen, it never ends. As long as I listen the music is real. Every time a song ends, the audience applauds. Every time. And then another song begins. Over and over. And so it goes.

 

It occurred to me tonight that when I left Florida, after I said goodbye to my dad, I took only one souvenir- honest to God- a travel mug, full of coffee. How'd I miss that one?

 

Its time-to move forward, or if not forward, at least toward. Toward the coming spring, coming opportunity, toward the future,  And bring a travel mug full of memories, and stories, and good music...

 

--- --- ---

 

"Everything dies, baby, that's a fact. But maybe everything that dies some day comes back. Put your makeup on and fix your hair up pretty, and meet me tonight in Atlantic City..."

 

mark...

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Parachute..

I am afraid I am a very poor example of Buddhist detachment... LAMA NORBU Little Buddha

I knew it would be difficult. And it was.

Difficult.

It wasn't difficult because I didn't want him to go. Going or not going wasn't my decision to make. It was his. And he made his decision. It was his time, he knew it was his time, he made his decision, and he embraced it. It was difficult because I was powerless to do anything.

Anything.

By the time I reached their Florida home he was already very weak. My sisters had been tending to him for a week by then, dutiful and doting daughters, expressing true unabashed love. He had stopped eating, and drank only to lubricate his throat. Twenty-four hours later he was in a dream state. In another twenty-four he was gone. Its forty-eight hours later as I write this.

And I'm in a good place.

It's not that I don't miss him. Every time I think I'm near the end of my list I find new reasons to miss him. I'm in a good place because I found a parachute.

--- --- ---

It felt like jumping from an airplane, like falling. An event uncertain except for the certainty of the pain to come. But it wasn't falling. What I was feeling was actually the sensation of clinging. Of holding on. In short, grief. Grief is the inability to let go of emotion, and the initial emotional freefall that comes thereafter. Thing is- the deed is done, the die cast. And wanting it to be different = Grief. With the capital "G".

And grieve I did. With the capital "G". It began almost as soon as I arrived, and never really stopped until I had said my goodbye and headed home.

I had to go partly because it was time for me to go. I had to get back home to my life, to my family. And partly because there was nothing I could do, except continue to grieve. Worse, my grief was beginning to feed on itself, and was becoming destructive. It was time to go. And let go. But what I didn't know was that hidden inside letting go was a parachute- a big gossamer veil to slow the fall. And within that veil of letting go was the comfort and healing.

I wrote about this not too long ago, about letting go, although it reads now like ancient text. What I wrote about then was slightly different. I wrote about letting go in one's personal life, of not being driven by goals or decisions. Of being the water, and not the rock in the water. Of giving over to inevitability. This is different. And the same.

One immediate acknowledgement was in the needs of mine own family. Life goes on whether we are prepared to go on with it. Or not. But normalcy made me feel normal again. People in the supermarket laughed and discussed weekend plans. The cats at the feed store gave their usual disinterested greeting. Gasoline still cost too much.  Normal. It felt "let go."

--- --- ---

From this point forward it will always be "after dad died." And yet life goes on. And will go on. In the way that life must. And I will miss him, like my brothers and sisters will, and like my mother will, though none of us as deeply as my mother will. And I will cry, at unexpected times, for unexpected reasons. And I will carry with me the memories, of his smile, his amazing piercing whistle, his mechanical genius, and his love- his unending, inexhaustible love. And from these I will build my parachute, and keep it tucked firmly under my arm in case of emergency.

because

I am afraid I am a very poor example of Buddhist detachment...

peace-

mark

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Vigil

Go rest high on that mountainSon, your work on earth is done Go to heaven ashouting Love for the Father and the Son

VINCE GILL Go Rest High on that Mountain

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(Thursday)

Phyllis amd Kathleen have been singing to him since 4am. He sleeps, wakes and looks around, and seems to be in little pain. We kept a quiet and tearful vigil ovenight, stirring everyone at 3:30 when the end appeared close at hand. It's 6:20 now.

A few are back to sleep, quietly snuffling in uncomfortable chairs. After twelve hours any chair is uncomfortable.

Kathleen found some of Grandma's holy cards. We talked about Skip. Before dinner last night the son of old dear friends stopped to visit. Dad woke and mouthed "Oh- Larry!" He's been quiet since then. We had a brief moment later in the evening during the window of time when the morphine blocks pain but doesn't rob lucidity. We talked- well, more I talked and imagined his answers. I said goodbye, and so did he.

...8 am

Nothing has changed. Phyllis is still singing her lullabyes. Everyone else is sound asleep.

It seems wrong that the television isn't on...

...11 am

Hospice nurse is here. She tied off the drainage tube which hadn't drained anything in over a day. Dad is a bit more comfortable, but the disease process is making his blood toxic. I'm beginning to understand how tentative a word like comfort is.

Kathleen and Phyllis have been tireless attendants. Kathleen has the uneviable task of trying to balance a career in nursing with being a daughter. Phyllis pets and coos and reassures. Kathleen is a saint, Phyllis an angel. Its really a question of semantics...

My mother is prepared to let him go, as are we all. Her only concern is that he feel no pain. She prays to take it on herself.

Everyone is fed, a thousand cups of coffee poured and left undrunk. Mother is praying to Saint Anthony to ease the pain.

...12 pm

The hospital bed has just arrived...

Dad is more comfortable in the bed, but he's completely unresponsive now. The hospice nurse told mom she could get into bed with him. You should warn people before you say things like that....

Throughout this entire process my dad made only a single demand- he made it clear that he wants someone to hold his hand.

... 6 pm

It was a good aftenoon. It turns out that food and sleep are essentials, and brownies and coffee. regardless of their virtues, arent enough. Karl, Kevin, Phyllis, and I went to the store in search of a three-way lightbulb. It took an hour. And a half. I finally realized that I'm in Florida. They have palm trees here.

The end will come when it comes, whether I'm here or not. So tomorrow I head home. I miss Paula so much it aches. I've said my goodnight. Dad is gone. Only this breathing machine remains. It looks just like my dad.

Karl is cooking again tonite. Pork. Cooked in pork. I love German food.

I think we're done. Kathleen is holding his hand...

(Friday)

Death will come, and will end life as I imagine most life begins. With some small complaint but no real objection. And never according to any schedule other than its own. My mother will kiss her lover on the forehead and whisper something to him that no one else will hear. Nor was meant to hear.

I will not argue with inevitability...

 

(addendum)

death did come, at 1:53 pm.  Good night Dad...

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