This is the latest in a series of essays titled “Man Has Premonition of Own Death”
I reminded a longtime friend that his father died at the place where my first child was born. The irony, of course, is evident – and the cold cruelty, too.
His response: a mournful riff on his father’s death:
“I remember the horrid summer of 1978…traveling every evening to the hospital to be with my father…Most visits lasted about one hour. Then two nights before he died I spent four hours at his bedside, him asking me to soak towels in cold water and place them on his forehead to help cool his fever, me doing so, crying, wailing out my confessions to him…I returned the following evening but he stopped me at the door, moaning ‘Please leave me…’ I protested but he insisted…The next morning….at dawn on my 24th birthday, he died…”
My own father died about twenty-five years later, and I wasn’t there. He’d been in the hospital for a while…the latest in a sporadic series of hospital stays that began when my father – severely obese, nearly triple his normal weight, had a massive heart attack when he was in his late fifties.
I’d gotten a phone call at work, either from my mother or my brother, telling me that my father had been found on the floor of his hospital room, unconscious. He had apparently gotten up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom. He’d had a stroke, and was in a coma from which there could be no waking.
Should I rush over to New York from New Jersey? My family said I shouldn’t bother – “He won’t even know you’re here, and I don’t think there’s much time,” my brother said _ in fact, my father’s doctors were recommending that he be disconnected from life support.
“Even if by some miracle to survived and came out of the coma, they say he has significant brain damage and would just be a vegetable,” my brother said. “I think we should do it.”
I told him I agreed, and then I waited, and I kept working – it was deadline day, appropriately enough, at the weekly newspaper when I was the editor. I closed my office door, focused on the tasks at hand, and waited for the phone call – soon to come, within a few hours, telling me that the machines had been unplugged, the circuits disconnected, the dreaded deed done, and that my father was now adrift, set free, gone but God knows where…
My friend’s story about his father’s death…my own story about my father’s death…it makes me think of Memorial Day ceremonies when one bugler plays taps and another bugler in the distance responds with echo taps.