[Adapted from an email to myself and my mom, altered only slightly to make more sense.]
I am writing this to myself for memory’s sake and perpetuity, but I am copying you, Mom, for your sake too.
I think often about the last conversation I had with my father before he died. But I started to realize that the details of that conversation are getting fuzzier and fuzzier by the day. I don’t want to forget them, so I’m committing them to electronic diary here.
When I last spoke to my dad before he died, he had just returned back from the hospital with a successful intestinal surgical operation.
After a long time (over a year?) of living with a colostomy bag, he was finally “back to normal.” He was sitting on the toilet and taking real shits out of his own asshole. He was delighted to be back to normal.
That’s the biggest thing I remember us talking about. He was chipper. He was in good spirits. That had not been the norm for years.
He sounded relieved that he had overcome. That he was a survivor. (Not a word he would have used, though — I don’t think.)
He had miserably endured surgeries and operations and hospital time and chemotherapy for the past years.
But he beat bladder cancer — it was all gone, and with a statistically nil likelihood of coming back. He beat blood clots in his lungs — after a long and scary process of balancing blood thinning medications to make sure the clots dissipated before reaching his heart and causing real damage. And, he finally, finally, finally got his colostomy bag removed, and his intestines reconnected — and the operation was a complete success. The lead surgeon couldn’t have been more pleased.
All that, for one man in his early 70s to bear. For the majority of the time, I believe these medical issues overlapped one another, more or less — like some sort of a sick venn diagram of human medical endurance. (Sorry, that was a pretty lousy simile.)
So, emerging from that, with each issue ticked off — bing, bing, bing — he felt whole again. He felt healthy. He knew he still had a recovery process ahead of him (from the surgery), but it (the surgery) had went well and his recovery was continuing to go well.
He had no cancer; he had no clots — and he could poop again!
(Quick side-note: It’s funny or sad or disgusting or all of the above, but think for a minute about what it would be like to not have a regular bowel movement, other than involuntarily through a hole in your abdomen and into a plastic bag which you have to constantly empty and clean by hand yourself. And when the bag breaks — simply because of the nature of the poor plastic adhesive system — you wind up with literal shit all over yourself, whether you’re in public or not. … The humiliation and frustration and anguish it caused him is not easy to comprehend, I don’t think, but a lot of people are living similarly.)
So, here he is, back home — recovered — and happy. That’s all I can really remember about his mood, and I guess that’s the best thing to remember about his then-imminent death.
At the same time, it’s that timing that kicks you on your ass and makes you want to wave your fists into the sky, cursing god or the universe or george carlin’s “big electron" or whatever.
It wasn’t cancer, or blood clots, or the intestinal issue, or surgery that led to his death. It was a massive heart attack and/or stroke. Completely out of the blue. No warning. No history.
His damned mother smoked fucking cigarettes her whole life, and still lived to be 89 or something. Lung cancer killed her, as one would think it would. But still — eighty fucking nine!!
My father died after years of enduring operations and constant hospital visits and colostomy-bag hell — and then he died some three or four days after getting out of the hospital. Due to a freak incident, out of the blue.
I realize now I’ve strayed from the memory of my last conversation with him, which was the impetus of this piece.
I remember that we talked about my relationship with my girlfriend. That things seemed to be going well. He had long worried about my introversion and lack of exploration into social/romantic worlds, so he was really pleased to hear that the relationship was still going well.
Other than that, I don’t really remember anymore what we talked about. I wish I had written it down earlier, but maybe it doesn’t matter.
My mother, however, remembers him talking (during his not-known-to-be “last days”) about the next painting he was envisioning. He hadn’t had the will to paint or been in the studio for years throughout his medical issues. But he was finally feeling it again, and excited to get back into it.
When I say all this, I can’t help but feel — as is probably pretty obvious — that the timing was so completely unfair. He was better, damnit! But perhaps that’s the wrong way to look at it.
I should be happy he didn’t die in a hospital with a miserable tube up his nose and down his throat (as was so often the case during his visits). I should be happy that he didn’t slowly die from some incurable cancer slowly spreading. I should be happy that he didn’t die even more suddenly than he really did — perhaps in the midst of the worst days, with things seeming so shitty and un-winnable — from a blood clot that reached his heart.
He reached a really happy point — the happiest he had been in years — and that’s when he died. That’s neither good nor bad, I guess — that’s “just life”. Right? There isn’t any rhyme or reason to it.
I just miss him so much, and it’s still really hard to think that he’s not around and won’t be around again to talk to. In fact, the start of this whatever-it-is was a thought about my cat that I wished I could share with him. But I can’t.
I miss you, Dad. I love you so much. I’m glad you overcame everything and died at a peaceful point in your life — but I so wish I could talk to you now and hug you again. Tell you about the cat you loved and my girlfriend that you thought was great. …And, man, look how productive Mom is being with the house renovations! She’s kicking ass! Betcha didn’t expect that, huh?! … And maybe we could even talk just one more time about how nice it is to be able to poop again. I wouldn’t mind.
I love you. Rest in peace. I hope your soul or spirit or whatever is a part of the Big Electron and humming along peacefully and euphorically to the infinite pulse of the universe — with actual answers to all the cosmic and quantum questions that fascinated you oh so much — on and on, into eternity.
I love you.
"I think we’re part of a greater wisdom than we will ever understand — a higher order. Call it what you want. Know what I call it? ‘The Big Electron.’ …The Big Electron. It doesn’t punish; it doesn’t reward; it doesn’t judge at all. It just is. And so are we — for a little while." —George Carlin