My father and mother's wedding photo
The next morning brought the first shift of hospice workers, who checked my father’s vital signs and quietly attempted to work around my mother’s hindering love. In a quiet conversation at the breakfast table the nurse reported that, although there was no way of telling how many days—or weeks for that matter—he might live on, his organs had mostly closed down. His feeling that he had to urinate arose because his stomach was filled with cancerous tissue. Although he seemed to register little pain, it was only the painkillers, the mix of morphine and other narcotic drugs we administered at regular intervals, that kept him from suffering.
When the hospice people left, I tried to explain to my mother what they had told me, but she seemed more distraught by the fact that the morphine was resulting, once more, in horrible nightmares and visions. “He can’t take that stuff, I told them.”
I realized that with my mother the best way to bring about any change was first simply to suggest it, asking if she might just consider the possibility. Usually a day or two later, she was ready to act. “You know,” I said, “if we don’t get a wheelchair, he’ll never be able to join the family. He’s trapped within this room. Just getting up for a while to be near to us will be far better for him.”
When I wasn’t at his bedside, my mother and I sat at the kitchen table, discussing, for the first time ever, sexual matters. My father had told me many times how much he loved my mother, and my mother, it was clear, adored my father—even though nearly every day of my childhood she had disparaged him. I now reported that once my father had told me how sexual my mother was, that she truly enjoyed sex and eagerly participated in it. My mother, who up that moment I had always imagined as a bit puritanical, now surprisingly responded: “Of course, that all ended with his prostate operation.”
that effect. As he left, I went to the front door to see him out.
I had returned home to California to clear away some issues of business when my father stopped breathing. Thankfully, my sister was there to help my mother, and couple of days later I returned, as planned, for his funeral. I had been outraged over the disgustingly empty sermon preached, when my grandmother died, by a stranger who simply recounted the great events of the 20th century to family members, my several uncles and aunts, the dozens of first cousins, so I determined that I myself would give the eulogy.
I could have said, but failed to, that I loved him inordinately—and he loved me.
Los Angeles, April 23, 2008
*In my essay “The Death of the Mother” [My Year 2004] I briefly recount the other time I played an important role in my family’s existence. Having failed miserably at trying to operate a motel in Minneapolis in the late 1960s, my father was severely depressed and near suicide. I visited my parents for a week, trying to briefly restore sanity to their lives. I attempted to get my father a psychiatrist, but in the first meeting the doctor suggested that that the problem was a financial one. Indeed it was, in part; but he evidently could not see how related that to was my father’s mental health. My mother, still attempting to run the motel, was also under great stress—mostly from her suffering husband. Soon after I left, they packed up and escaped back to Iowa—their only alternative, so it seemed to them. In fact it restored their health, and ultimately, they won a court case, retrieving some of the money which they had invested.
Los Angeles, May 1, 2008