My father died this morning at Lutheran Medical Center at 7:30 a.m.
The new year is one week old and with the passing of Little Christmas on Saturday, he died right after the holidays officially ended.
He had been in failing health for a long time, slowly falling apart after my mother's death.
The last few months have been especially bad, as he had suffered a TIA--a kind of preliminary stroke--over the summer, followed by a real stroke in October, and then the terrible fall in his bedroom last month that caused a seizure.
He went into the hospital for the last time shortly before Christmas and never came out.
My sister and I went to see him on Saturday night. My aunt had come over to Brooklyn so we could have our annual Little Christmas celebration, but then Edith, my dad's aide, called from the hospital to say he had taken a turn for the worse.
We went down there and saw the tubes coming of his mouth, his shallow breathing. The doctors told us he was critical but stable and that the next 48 hours would be very important.
My sister called the hospital later that evening and was told he was "holding his own," whatever the hell that means. The next morning a doctor called her to say that our father was dead.
We were back there this morning to view his body. They had to unzip the plastic bag and I felt my knees buckle as I looked as his colorless face.
God, it feels like just a few weeks ago he was carrying me around on his shoulders, and now, here he is a body bag, old, withered, lifeless. What happened to the last 45 years?
"He fought for his country," I blurted," for some odd reason, "which is more than that cocksucker in the White House ever did!"
I actually gave him a salute then because I felt somebody had to. You say and do rather strange things when your grieving. I called Mary, my father's daytime aide, to tell her the news. She expressed her sympathies and tried to comfort me.
"He's with your mother now," she said. "I don't know how your mother feels about that..."
We both laughed at that one. My father could bring great joy and great pain to those he loved. It was a very strange relationship being close to him--like taking a walk through a mine field that's covered in beautiful flowers. It's really a great place to be, but tread carefully.
I'd like to think that the good parts of my father are with my mom and that the bad parts of him, the parts that caused him so much pain, have been taken away so that she'll be with the man she first fell in love with for all eternity.
My sister and I began the funeral preparations, like we did five years ago for my mother. It seems all so painfully familiar.
We start making and receiving phone calls as news of my father's death spread. My phone rang late Sunday afternoon and I thought it was a relative or friend calling to offer sympathy.
It turns out I just won 20 free tickers to some comedy club after apparently filling out some contest form. So on the day my father died, I finally win something.
After coming out of the funeral parlor, my sister got a call from some stupid sow at the Medical Examiner's Officer. It seems that since my father's death was apparently caused by a fall, they had taken his body and now we have to go to a morgue in a godawful section of Brooklyn and ID him, like an episode of Law and Order.
I'm having a hard time dealing with this since the fall happened on my watch, so to speak. My shrink, my friends and family all say it wasn't my fault, that my father was going to fall or hurt himself sooner or later. And the logical side of me knows this is true.
Still, there is this nagging feeling in the back of my mind that I failed pretty seriously. And that call from the Medical Examiner only makes me feel worse.
Show Me The Way
I have this terrible emptiness inside me. It is not the same heartache and pain I felt when my mother died, but I am hurting nonetheless. With both of them gone now, I feel something very precious has been wiped away.
I was looking through the family photos tonight looking for a photo to run with this post and seeing all these happy memories from so long ago made me so sad.
So our parents bring us into this world, love us and nuture us, give us direction and comfort, and then we lose them? It doesn't seem right somehow.
Things were so complicated with my father. He was a very difficult man, to put it mildly. I wish we hadn't fought as much as we did, but there's no undoing any of that. Let's just say for now that he could have been a better father and I could have been a better son and leave it at that.
I think my father and I had our best time when I moved to Pennsylvania to work for the Pocono Record. I was so nervous, so convinced I would fail, that he would call me every morning to see how I was doing.
When I came home on the weekends, I was treated like an honored guest. And on Sunday mornings, when I had to return to Stroudsburg for the afternoon shift, my father would always guide me as I backed my car down the alleyway.
I like to think I had the driving skills to navigate down our alley by myself, but it felt good seeing him in the rearview mirror, guiding me to the street like he was bringing in jumbo jet and then pointing forward, as if to say "you're good to go."
I remember on time on Father's Day, I was driving back to Stroudsburg and I was feeling guilty--what else is new, right?
I was angry because I had this stupid job that required me to work on a Sunday. If I had been a normal person, I thought, I would be living in New York and working a normal schedule so I could spend Father's Day with my dad.
As I was crossing the Verrazano, I heard this song called "Put it There" by Paul McCartney:
Put It There If It Weighs A Ton,
That's What The Father Said To His Younger Son.
I Don't Care If It Weighs A Ton,
As Long As You And I Are Here, Put It There.
Oh, God, I just started weeping and wailing to beat the band. I guess that was the best way to love my father--from a distance, because living under the same roof could be very stressful.
So now I'm alone in the family house. I've said before that I feel like a ghost in this place and now that feeling has intensified. Tonight I threw out the Christmas tree--the one my father didn't live to see--and I was so proud of myself for taking care of this unpleasant task.
Then I turned around and saw this empty space in the living room, the heart of this house, and my blood ran cold. Another life had been snuffed out.
I know I can't live here forever. My siblings want to sell the house and it makes sense. But I'm frightened of change, I don't have the safety net that I had most of my life when I screwed up job after job, or when I became so ill with Epstein-Barr that I could barely move. I'm really on my own now. I'm an orphan.
This isn't a time for decisions. We have to take care of my father's funeral and then we'll get to the business side of death.
My advice to anyone reading this is to tell you loved ones just how much you love them as often as you can. Don't waste a minute on anger or resentment because people grow old and die faster than you ever thought possible.
And I want to say thanks to that man in the mirror for guiding me all these years. Even though you're gone, it's nice to think that you're behind me, still giving me directions, still pointing the way.
Put it there...