“Whether it is the best of times or the worst of times, it is only time we have. “

14 Jan

The clock ticks, the wind blows outside, I sit listening to the smoker breathing of my father across the table from me.

He’s 69. I think. He will be 70 years old this year. 70 years on this earth. When he was born, a war was just beginning. The world was changing. He was my age when man walked on the moon. This age I feel so old and worldly at. I look behind me and think “man, where did that time go in such a hurry?” and yet I look at him and the time, seems like it’s spun itself out so long across the decades.

He must think of death now, or perhaps he’s accepted it. Perhaps 19 years ago when he sat at my mother’s deathbed, while he sat and murmured that he loved her, that he cherished her, that he was happy only with her he realized his own mortality. Perhaps he faced death in the corner of that room, near the window facing the brick walls; and he had a conversation, speaking of love, devotion, pain, fear, ache and loss. And maybe, for once, death understood, took it under advisement, let it rattle around the brain pan for a bit. Death, perhaps understanding a little clearer, maybe took a step backwards, felt the utter crap that was our loss that day, and gave my father a break.

I’d like to think that. I’d like to believe that my father’s extra 40 years on this earth, his survival through losing a brother, his parents, another brother, his wife, a good friend, that these things shore a person up, give them some insight into the human condition that I just can’t muster up. I really want to solace myself with the thought that maybe my father fears nothing, that death doesn’t frighten him.

But then I wonder if he worries about my mother, if he dreams of an afterlife so he can dream of her.

I no longer have the comfort of that dream. With the full loss of any faith, with the dropping off of my catholicism went the belief that my mother would find me in the afterlife. I do not believe that there is a better place. I do not believe that she is waiting for me.

But will I hold firm to this when I’m 70? Will I be so adamant in my belief, no my knowledge that nothing is there that I will remain unwavering, shooing away the priest who’ll think I need last rights?

I remember that, with my mother. The priest arriving, in black, always with the black, my mother’s personal friend, Father Paul, young and vibrant and, well, kinda hot, if you were eleven and trying to make sense of things like cancer and mastectomy and chemo. He had a small black bag with him.

The led me out of the room for it. From what I understand, she had her last rites a few times. How many times is too many? How many times until your god says”bah, die already! I’m watching Oprah!”

I was in another room eating Junior Mints, while my mother had the rites of the dead performed on her, while machines pumped out stale false breath from lungs that hadn’t worked for hours. On a corpse, the laid out the last words her body might ever hear, as I chewed on candy, watched mindless TV. As my father likely contemplated the forever alteration of his life, the meaning of his own ending, as the priest droned on and the machines kept their steady rhythm, I curled my feet under my slim child’s body, and pretended there wasn’t a voice echoing in my head, telling me “She’d Dead.”

Death hid in the corner of that room too, the “Family Room”, musty with prior years when smoking in hospitals wasn’t such an oxymoron, coated in that familiar green haze and plastic. He whispered to me that day, no melodrama, just a conversation, an acknowledgement.

I would never fear death. I would fear pain. I would fear a disease that slowly eats me from the inside like acid or venom. I would fear loving people, letting myself be loved. I would fear living. But I would never fear death. I would face him head on. Death had already taken the one thing I loved and needed in the world. What more could it take?

Now that I have children, a family, a husband, I understand my father’s obscure pain even more. What’s losing a parent compared to losing a wife? What’s losing a brother against watching your daughter cry out for her mother, knowing nothing but her mother would still those cries? What’s to living if you cannot soldier on and claim some sort of victory from death’s hands?

70 years. 70 years, full of love, heartache, loss, joy. I hear the clock tick, and I can see in my eyes a moment, a moment in time, a moment in life. The joy in bringing home his long awaited daughter. The sweetness in watching her with her mother. The ache in watching her howl her loss as the machines were switched off. The terror and sadness at realizing that life has come to this. The pure bliss of a granddaughter, then another. The silvery calm of this time, of the now, when everything has finally come to a rest, where the screams have died out, resonating only in our hearts. A place where we can sit, and think of better times, better moments between us.

A soft, sweet spot for all of us after all this time.

8 Responses to ““Whether it is the best of times or the worst of times, it is only time we have. “”

  1. nyjlm January 14, 2008 at 10:44 pm #

    so beautiful, and so heartbreaking.

  2. Mrs. Chicken January 14, 2008 at 10:57 pm #

    this made me weep as I imagined my girl – the you girl, too – crying for her mother. Oh, Theodora. I’m sorry.

  3. bine January 15, 2008 at 9:15 am #

    my father is 73 soon. he seems as far away from death as i. i often wonder if he is preparing for it.

    very beautiful post, thor, made me cry a little again. thank you for writing.

  4. Hannah January 15, 2008 at 9:41 am #

    oh thor, my heart cracks for you. and your father.

  5. bromac January 15, 2008 at 1:13 pm #

    A beautiful and heartbreaking story. Thank you for sharing with us such an intimate moment in time.

  6. Mad Hatter January 15, 2008 at 11:10 pm #

    Long after my father died, my mother told me that on the day of the funeral she had to repress a strong urge to jump into the coffin with him, to demand that she die alongside him. How much of that was love and how much of that was fear of the unknown left to live as she was with 6 kids and no workforce skills.

  7. Granny January 16, 2008 at 5:43 pm #

    I suppose we’re all different. Your dad and I are the same age and I almost never think about my own death. Perhaps I should but most of the time I don’t feel old.

    It was a beautiful post.

  8. Bon January 17, 2008 at 12:30 pm #

    i missed this, Thor. it took my breath.

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