Monday, December 28, 2015

The tortuous route to not-being...

My father’s gone now, too. According to recent family lore, he was aiming for All Saints Day, and almost made it. He died late on Halloween night. When I saw him at the hospital, his eyes were rolled back and his mouth was open, and he was breathing irregularly. I don’t know if he could hear me telling him I loved him, or if he could feel my hand on his, or feel my hand stroking his head with its sparse white hairs. My gestures were sincere, and I vaguely hoped he would pick up the feeling and take it with him into wherever, but then I remembered that I don’t believe in any wherever, and neither did he. If he wasn’t even conscious at that moment, what would be the difference a few hours later when he was dead?
My sister had driven me back to the cluttered homestead around 8 pm, and I was on my second or third beer when my brother called with the news of my father’s passing. I immediately called my high-school friend in Maine, Janet. I was still under the decades-long illusion that she cared about me and my family, and she seemed suitably sympathetic. I had called her a year-and-a-half earlier, when my mother died. She said she felt “privileged” that she was the one I called, but I couldn’t tell if she said it with irony or not. She hasn’t written to me in the last few years except for one postcard. I know she’s retired, and spends a lot of time with her brother and sister and their families. Her parents are both gone; that happened some years ago. She had said then that she felt like an orphan. I was so sorry for her at the time; I didn’t know that was something everyone says. My overseas sister later told me not to say that about myself, though. My overseas sister feels she contains the best of what both our parents taught (or inadvertantly gave) her, and therefore, she will never be an orphan. I am urged to feel the same way. But all I feel is a bit angry.
My bedridden father had only gone to the hospital for oxygen. He knew he needed oxygen because he was hallucinating, he’d said. While there, they discovered he had pneumonia in one lung and his heart was failing. After oxygen, antibiotics and a few other things, they put something in his mouth, maybe nitroglycerine. It caused a bad reaction, and things got worse. I wish I knew more about this incident, which occurred the day before I got there. My brother had been by his side most of the time, but had been away when this thing happened. After this thing happened my father was unconscious, and that’s the condition he was in when I saw him. I am angry that this happened, and angry that death hasn’t been “peaceful” for either of my parents. My mother died as she was being cleaned by the hospice nurse. She yelled in pain, my sister said, as she was rolled onto her recently operated-on hip to facilitate the nurse’s actions. Then suddenly, she, uh, ceased to exist.
Why couldn’t my parents have died peacefully and painlessly in their sleep? The whole process, so long-drawn-out and pain-filled, is not a good conclusion to a life, however that life was lived. It isn’t fair. I am angry. I am not looking forward to my own demise. I used to think that being dead would be fine, since it would be the end of obligations and responsibilities. No more worries! However, if the last part of life is just a horrible mess, regardless of how long or how well you lived, then it’s just a destructive sensory weight crushing any pleasant memories or thoughts that might be drifting through one’s mind. In fact, it seems “designed” to cancel out everything good about life. I am angry. And I suppose I have been naive.
About two months after my father's death, a good friend died of ovarian cancer that she’d “battled” for two years. She was in her fifties. I saw her two weeks before it happened, on Thanksgiving weekend (a time I’d already planned to visit my family, thinking my father would still be alive). I drove to upstate New York from Massachusetts to see her for half an hour. She was skeletal, weary, unable to swallow, teary. And yet she was putting on a brave (British; she grew up in the UK) face, trying to be sociable. We stared at each other. I almost cried, but the tears remained behind my eyes. I haven’t cried for years. Something is wrong with me, I guess.
This is all very depressing. I strongly feel I need to concoct a new approach to life, a new attitude to take me through my remaining 20 (maybe) years. But I don’t know what notions to pursue, or what resources to gather from within myself. Spirituality is not working for me. But neither is materialism (that is, science). I think I need some good experiences, but right now I’m just trudging through the same old daily experiences. Where could I possibly find the energy (let alone funds) for any new experiences when I can’t even cope with the usual ones?
Happy New Year!

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