It would have been his 75th birthday today as well. (He died on his 57th.)
I’ll never forget that day. It was a Sunday and I, at 29 years old, was still living with my parents. I hadn’t even bothered learning to drive, because of my crippling anxiety, shyness, and laziness. Dad drove me to work; he would do anything for me.
My brother (two years younger than I and not living there any more) and I had put money together to give Dad a George Foreman Grill and I’d woken up keen to see his reaction to his birthday present, as he loved cooking. I rose excitedly and ran to my parents’ room to wish him a happy birthday, but hardly had the words out of my mouth before my mother urged me not to wish him. “Why?”, I asked. And then I saw something was wrong… He was not well. She’d already called the ambulance more than 45 minutes before. I decided to have a shower; then wait with him.
But before I could get into the shower, Dad asked for my help… He needed to get to the toilet, but couldn’t get up. I had to carry him. It was almost impossible, as he didn’t seem to have any strength in his legs. I asked where the pain was, but his reply was a mumble. I couldn’t understand if he said “nowhere” or “everywhere”. I had never seen my father so weak. I also didn’t know those would be his last words to me. If anyone ever asked what his last words were, that’s all I have. Nothing profound, nothing I could even understand, just a muffled mumble as he tried but failed to describe his pain.
I went to shower. When I got out not five minutes later, I found Dad had somehow managed to walk to the lounge by himself, so that he could sit on the couch and wait for the ambulance. And he was just sitting there. Dead.
I tried to administer CPR, but all that did was lead to a horrible wheezing sound as air escaped from his dead lungs. I sat on the floor, in shock. Later my brother showed up. “It’s too late”, I managed, unable to come up with the words to express anything more. I think he tried CPR too, uselessly. Then maybe an hour later the ambulance showed up. The paramedic took one look and said, “Sorry, we don’t take bodies away.”
After that is a blur. I sent an email to work telling them my father had died, and included the lyrics of The Cure’s All Cats are Grey. This:
I never thought that I would find myself
In bed amongst the stones
The columns are all men
Begging to crush me
No ships sail on the dark deep lakes
And no flags wave me home
In the caves
All cats are grey
In the caves
The texture coats my skin
In the death cell
A single note
Rings on and on and on
The Cure – All Cats are Grey
I remember bits of his funeral. I remember my brother’s girlfriend at that time telling me not to look at her “with those dead eyes”, and I remember Father Tom Nicholson reading my eulogy that I could not, even the words where I asserted that it was not his time and there is no god. I don’t remember what else was in that eulogy, except that it was emotive and used repetition of the word “Daddy” in key places throughout for greater impact, and Father Tom read well enough to pause in all the right places as I intended it to be read.
That night I cried myself to sleep over Dad’s words… he had told my mother, who also didn’t drive, not to worry, that he would still take her to work on the Monday… That’s where he was a better man than I. Everything he did was for us, his family. Unlike me who is selfish… I drew strength from his memory when I quit meth, unlike everybody else who said that they did it for themselves as if they had never done anything for themselves before. When I quit meth, I did so despite loving being on that drug. I quit for others, not myself (and you’d be amazed how often people contradict me when I say this out loud, by the way – as if they know my thoughts better than I do), and used the memory of Dad’s selflessness to inspire me.
I don’t think I was ever the same after that day.
I worry about my son… How will he cope with my death one day? He is far closer to me than I was to Dad, especially since his mother is not in the picture. Josh and I are unusually close, and he is affectionate, unlike me. Every day he tells me he loves me, and wants to be hugged two or three times every day. I do talk about death. Just as I have tried to teach him about the dangers of drugs so that he is prepared and doesn’t repeat my mistakes, I have also tried to prepare him for the inevitability of my death, but one can only do so much. There are some things you can never anticipate until you experience it for yourself. Death of a beloved family member is one of those things.