I am beset by mortality on all sides
My cousin Jim’s wife, Mary, died tonight after a long, brutal battle with liver cancer. I’ll spare you what few details I know and just assure you, she’s got to be in a better place tonight than she’s been since the cancer diagnosis first came in. Since they are young (in their 40s I would guess, Jim’s a few years younger than I am) and have a bunch of kids, they fought it tooth and nail. All to no avail.
And a childhood pal’s dad just succumbed to Alzheimer’s, after what was also a horrific last few years for he and his family. Now I never met my cousin’s wife, but I knew my friend’s dad. My memories of him are from back in the ’70s, when he was all swagger and Brylcream and too-tight-fitting swimming trunks. I can see him in his back yard, Hawaiian shirt unbuttoned, spatula in his hand, assuring company that if they went away hungry they wouldn’t have him to blame for it.
I’m unfamiliar with the details of either case because in both cases, I came onto the story late. I’m only close to a couple of my many cousins, and Jim isn’t one of them. I knew his wife had cancer, but not much more than that. And when I realized last weekend that my friend had been sitting on the information that his father was dying by degrees in terrible indignity, I couldn’t blame him. But both stories kinda jumped into my life at the same time and together, pretty much overwhelmed me.
On the one hand, a deadly cancer striking someone who was by all accounts a sunny, radiant woman and selfless mother, that’s stinking rotten on its face. I was talking to my Mom about it—she of the born-again Christian persuasion—and she tried to convince me that God must have needed Mary. Needed her. “More than her kids?” I snapped. It’s pretty hard taking in God’s big-picture game plan when faced with such an obvious injustice. I don’t know what God’s Plan is, but I do know what the family’s is, and that’s to try to find some way to reboot their lives without its central figure.
How can that not make a reasonable person angry? With God or fate or whatever you call it. The capricious maliciousness of the universe.
Fortunately, Jim and his family have the faith to lean upon that I lack.
On the other hand is my friend’s dad. His death drove home the reality that, the whimsy of the universe notwithstanding, I’m at the age where my peers’ parents are expected to begin to expire.
I lost my own Dad over 10 years ago… again, after a long, debilitating illness. It was at that time that I decided old age and decrepitude had its function: to help us embrace, rather than dread, the end when it came. I know that seems to imply some sort of celestial designer and I’m not here to argue the proposition, pro or con. I’m just saying, form always follows function in nature and what better way to stave off our horror at slipping away from this life than by making it a god-awful living nightmare at the end?
The Boy is under the weather and we are poor and I don’t think I’ll be making it to either service. We are inconveniently located for quick, cheap plane trips.
But Mary and Bill have both been on my mind and in my heart for the last week, and now frankly, so is my own mortality. Whereas it used to just be the subject of some of my favorite music in the world (thank you, Johnny Cash), issues of death and dying have taken on a more tangible urgency since last week. Like, what’s my situation? I know I’ve told The Missus to pack me off early-on if my mind starts to go—I don’t want to be remembered as the guy in his long, twilight decline, the way I remember my Granddad. I’d much rather be remembered as the fun-loving drunk I was or the diligent, faithful husband and father I’ve become.
And if my body is in such hopeless disrepair that machines are required to keep me alive, for pity’s sake, pull the plug and let me go exploring the other side. (Boy, will I feel like an asshole if all that stuff my Mom told me about heaven and hell turns out to be true!)
But I don’t know if it’s down on paper and now I think that might be kind of important. 47 is looking closer to the grave than the cradle every day.
I want to have at least enough time left to see my son off to college with some dignity… dignity which is already being denied me, come to think of it. The other night, The Last Boy Scout was over for a good old-fashioned guitar-pull. We were sitting on the floor torturing our acoustic guitars and I had to get up to go get something. I consciously suppressed the grunt of lower-back pain that accompanies such movements these days, and The Boy filled in an audible groan for me. The Missus thought it was hilarious.
So much for dignity.
Anyhow, this post wasn’t supposed to be about me. But without a good editor, all my work circles back to navel-gazing. Sorry...
Kris Kristofferson has a new record out. The title cut is called “Closer To The Bone.” I’ll close tonight with a few lines from that song in memory of Mary and Bill. Hell, I’ll even try to play it for them. I hope they’re in a better place tonight and can’t hear the terrible things I’m about to do to this lovely song.
Ain’t it kinda funny
Ain’t it just the way though
Ain’t ‘cha getting’ better
Runnin’ out of time…