My mother was remarkably strong when faced with her final days. She was more concerned with those she was leaving behind than herself, a gift of the great faith which resided in the center of her soul.
My dear, sweet father, was not so sweet near the end. He fought the inevitable with anger and then some silent depression. But there was a meridian he passed in the nick of time; a place of acceptance and peace.
“Navy Blue Blazer’, were the words my father used to indicate to me that his fight was over. He pronounced it roughly, as aspiration pneumonia gripped him in his final days.
“Yes, Dad”, I moved to his hospital bed and leaned over him to hear every struggling word.
“Rotary Pin”, he went on, as he tapped the side of his hospital Johnnie.
“Dad, you want your Rotary Pin on your Navy Blue Blazer?”, I whispered in return.
He nodded with a slight smile, encouraging me to stay with the translation.
He cleared his raspy throat as his baby blue eyes held my gaze,
“For the funeral, Dad? You want your nephews to be Pallbearers?”
He smiled at the idea that I was getting his gist. Broaching the subject of his funeral must have frightened him, as he had clearly been in a private wrestling match with acceptance for weeks. Somehow, the ease of my understanding his simple requests relieved him. Hyperbole was unnecessary, overwrought emotion held at bay on both sides. We had an understanding, my Dad and me.
Finally, with little voice left and whatever stored up bluster he had,
“Of course, Dad.” I said, “A big party, at the TK Club, with Clam chowder and an open bar”
This suited my inexhaustibly social, Irish Catholic father well.
He gave me a weak thumbs up and soon after fell asleep. He would not speak much again, and four days later he passed at three o’clock on the morning of January 6, 2009.
Those who have read my blog, know that I love American idiom. In a nod to that, I tell you, this is not my first time at the rodeo.
Uncle Bobby has failed exponentially since we first heard that whisper of a word, Hospice. The dwindles have been fast, and today his rather regular, queen size bed was replaced by a hospital bed to better help his aides and the hospice staff relieve the pain he has from bed sores, and to help them shift his weakened body. It strikes me that it is the first real signal of “Uncle” in the way we use it to announce that we concede.
I read to him from time to time from his favorite novel, “Moby Dick”. That dark, drizzly November in Herman Melville’s soul takes on significant meaning for me now. For Uncle Bobby, the beauty of Melville’s words, the paragraphs he builds with delightful precision, sweep him away for a bit from the drumbeat of anxiety that grips him in the face of death.
Uncle Bobby shared a dream with me just the other day. He is too private a man to share dreams as habit. This place of unsureness urges him to more intimacy.
“I had a dream last night. I was moving.”, he said.
“I moved to a shanty town, and the apartment was small, but the price was right.”
He adds a landlord who needs to make some money. So, while the place wasn’t luxurious, for $8.00 per night, it was good enough.
“Can’t begrudge the guy to make a living. I didn’t mind paying, and there was a nice place around the corner to have a meal.”
Moby Dick begins in New Bedford, Massachusetts, the quintessential Shanty Town. It is no surprise to me that Uncle Bobby now dreams of the sea, imagines that his next move might be near the ocean that he loves so very much.
When the dying begin to dream of moving we somehow know that they are approaching the meridian of acceptance. It is the great blessing of life that while we spend an unimaginable amount of time fearing death, when the time actually comes to engage it, somehow our dreams usher us to a meridian which offers some peace.
This weekend, I will take an invitation to spend 48 hours by the sea. I will trust that Uncle Bobby will follow his path of slow acceptance. I will hope that he will wait for me to return.
When I go to the sea, I will ask it to help me be strong in this journey I am on with my last, great underpinning. I will ask it to give me grace in the final leg of the journey. I want so very much to be the measure of Uncle Bobby. I am his person now, as he has been mine in this extraordinary year.