The Long Goodbye
The Bright Side Of Life
I’m 45 years old and I don’t have a lot of experience with death. Miscarriages and the loss of my dear pets – but these stories are for another time.
I never really knew my extended family. I grew up primarily in California. My dad’s family was in the mid-west. My mom’s family was in France. I was very fond of my dad’s sister and was sad when she passed. Aunt Florence was a sweet soul. I couldn’t say we were close.
I now find myself surrounded by death.
My father has stage 4 liver cancer. He was diagnosed last October and given a six month prognosis. This has been devastating for my family. My dad is always the one you can count on. He is the family provider, protector and has lived his life as best he could. It was what was expected of him. Duty and family.
My best friend was diagnosed with AIDS 18 years ago and was supposed to die the year my son was born. My son is now 15. Brad is slowly failing despite medical interventions to extend his life. The hard reality is that he is just about out of time.
My dad is the sixth child of an Illinois farmer and raised with a strong Baptist background. He is the last of the siblings, and has been relatively healthy in comparison to his brothers and sister. He grew up in an era were the man was the head of the household and choices were limited. He went to college. He served his country in the Air Force. He was a computer programmer when a simple computer took up an entire room. He and my mom live in the same Pasadena home they bought over 30 years ago and still doesn’t have air conditioning in spite of 100+ degree summers. He pays cash for almost everything. He loves crossword puzzles, his family, and dotes on his grandson, my son William, his namesake.
One of the few times he bucked the system was in marrying my mother – a Catholic girl from Normandy. To say my mother didn’t quite fit into the small town Illinois life was an understatement. Again, another story.
My dad sacrificed personal comfort to provide for his family. He would take a sack lunch every day to work. He drove almost an hour each way every day in traffic to a job he didn’t like. He maintained and repaired his car rather than take it to a mechanic. His cars were always more sensible than comfortable. My first car was ironically my father’s Oldsmobile – a Super Sport V8 with a passing gear. My friends dubbed the car Das Boot, and I could go from 0 to 60 in 8 seconds flat.
Teenage boys were afraid of my father. He was an intimidating man when he wanted to be. If a boy didn’t meet my father’s expectations, he had no problem slamming the door and leaving the boy on the front porch alone and speechless. Phone calls to our home were dealt with in the same manner.
I remember one of my first luxury purchases as an adult was a Fiat Spyder that I rehabbed. My dad became so enamored that he found one for himself and also rehabbed his. I took mine to a shop and had it completed in days, compared to the years my father took on his. It was a labor of love.
Dad didn’t approve of my first husband. He stopped me just before he walked me down the aisle and told me it wasn’t too late to leave. I should have listened to him. Dad adores my second husband. This didn’t happen overnight because no man was good enough for daddy’s little girl.
Dad enjoys music. My husband and I took him to a Jimmy Buffet concert. Dad became a parrot head. He would drive down Colorado Boulevard in Pasadena with the top down on his Fiat, playing Buffet tunes – including “Why Don’t We Get Drunk And Screw.” You would need to know my father to understand how incredibly funny this is.
Dad retired the year I became pregnant. I had a miserable pregnancy, and was on complete bed rest for months. Dad drove ½ hour one way to pick me up, drove me another 45 minutes to get to my doctor, drove me back home and then back to his home. We did this routine several times a week for months. He was glad to do it as I was carrying precious cargo.
My dad became seriously ill for the first time I can remember last year. My mother took him to the emergency room. My father does not like hospitals – it’s where you go to die. He had a blockage preventing urination, apparently extremely painful. This event lead to a slew of different tests, leading up to a liver biopsy. I flew in from Texas to be with him for the biopsy.
Despite my Dad’s insistence he was fine, my intuition was screaming otherwise. As fate would have it, I flew back home to Texas the day he received the biopsy results. So typical of my father, he called me that night with the news. Even though I was hoping for the best, I expected the worst. When he matter-of-factly told me the prognosis, I couldn’t even talk – my husband had to step in and finish the conversation with my father.
I’ve watched my father deteriorate from a strong, stubborn man to an angry, frightened shell. We flew my parents out for Christmas so we could have a family holiday together, as my brother and I both live in the Dallas area. Time together was limited to about 2 hours per day as Dad couldn’t do much more than that. We strove to make the most of our time together, and keep things as normal as possible.
Dad would get angry when asked what he wanted for Christmas, understandable under the circumstances. When he got angry in front of my son, however, that’s something else. My son is very close to his grandfather, and this is his first experience with death. I don’t want his final memories of his grandfather to be this shell. I want him to remember the great man that loved him so well. Dad said to get him a movie DVD or a music CD, but what’s the point since he’s dying. After seeing the look on my son’s face, I spoke without thinking, a common problem with me, and retorted “Fine, we’ll just rent them for you then.” Dad finally laughed. My son thinks I’m crazy.
The pain is so great that I’ve heard my dad say under his breath he wished he would just die. It breaks my heart to see him like this. I know how important it is to him for his family to be around him. I want him to know what he has meant to me, and have his final moments be about more than just pain and sorrow. His life deserves to be celebrated.
I met Brad in high school. I was a junior and running with the anti-social crowd. Brad was a freshman complete with a sugar bowl hair cut, puka-shell necklace and Vans. He was going to get the crap beat out of him. My group of friends took him under our wing and a great friendship began.
Most people assumed we were brother and sister. I am closer to Brad than I am with my own brother. We have an uncanny knack of intuitively knowing when the other needs us. It didn’t matter if we lived across town or half way across the country from each other.
We shared typical, and not so typical, teenage adventures together. Proms, relationships, breakups. Many Friday nights were spent at the Roxy watching The Rocky Horror Picture Show. After all, it’s just a jump to the left!
Brad came to me one day shortly after high school and told me he was gay. I was not the most open minded person in my youth. I realized he was the same person today than he was yesterday and decided that although I didn’t necessarily approve of his life style, nothing else had changed and he was still my best friend.
I watched Brad’s family react in a very different way. His mother, rest her soul, was my 2nd mother. She was convinced that Brad was broke and needed fixing. He spent time with a psychiatrist to appease Maureen. He wasn’t broken and therefore was never fixed.
One year I took Brad and Maureen to get Brad tested for HIV. Brad’s diagnosis was not a shock. Again, intuition that I cannot explain prepared me for the test results. We began plans to make Brad comfortable and prepare for the inevitable.
Due to the miracle of medical interventions, Brad’s life has been extended more than we could have dreamed for. He has lead a relatively normal life by most standards, still living on his own in a 2 bedroom condo in Pasadena. My husband and I help him out financially as able, a little here and a little there.
One of Brad’s more serious relationships resulted in their wanting to make a public commitment to one another. I remember preparing to fly out to California for the commitment ceremony. My young son, probably around six at the time, was puzzled. He knew I was going to Brad’s wedding. He asked quietly “Don’t boys marry girls?” What a question from an innocent! How in the world do you answer that? I’ve always strove to answer my child honestly. I told him “Usually boys marry girls, like mommy and daddy. Sometimes girls marry girls. Sometimes boys marry boys.” I paused and waited for him to process this. William said “OK. What’s for dinner?” Whew! Got past that one! Note to self: I should write a book on Williamisms.
One of the great moments of our relationship was when I took Brad to France. He remarked how much he wanted to see the Eiffel Tower, not a request, merely a wish. After a discussion with my husband, budget review and calendar tweaking, I made Brad’s dream come true. We spent a glorious week in Paris.
We’ve flown him to Texas a couple of times also. A few stolen days here and there, as his medical condition did not allow for prolonged stays. We live a life time in these few days and they are always filled with laughter.
Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life
So, here I am, watching two very important people in my life slowly fade away. I’ve often heard people say after losing loved ones unexpectedly that they wish they had more time to say the important things - I love you. You were important in my life. And so on.
I can honestly say having enough time isn’t always a good thing. It’s so much better to live your life everyday and tell the important people in your life you love them. Being the vocal and demonstrative person I am, I have few regrets with this.
My loved ones are dying, and taking a small piece of me with them every day. It’s not a complaint, merely an observation. I am fortunate enough to be well loved in my life and this sadness is but a small price to pay for a lifetime of happy memories. I can only hope that I will have lived my life well enough my loved ones will feel the same when my time comes.