You're never ready
A Different Drum
“You know that death came a knockin’ on my brothers door singin’
“Come on brother, ain’t ya ready to go?”
And my brother stooped down, buckled up his shoes and he moved on down by the Jordan stream.
And then he shout “Hallelujah! I done my duty! Got on my travelin’ shoes.”
I wrote several months ago that for my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary this year, we’d need to get a pretty good gift because we asked them to babysit on their 49th while I had a medical procedure.
It didn’t quite work out that way.
We had the party well planned. The invitations had just gone out and the party was scheduled for Sept. 21. RSVPs were starting to trickle in; some people were coming from across the country.
We’d also begun to put together a slideshow with highlights of our parents’ lives along with a musical background.
But on Monday, Aug. 20, Mom called to tell me she was taking Dad to Veteren’s Hospital in Fresno. He’d slept through most of the weekend and was having trouble staying awake at all.
Things went downhill quickly. By Friday, we were told Dad had cancer. It had spread through much of his body by that point — lungs, spleen, and liver. The cancer in his bones was causing his calcium to spike, which is what kept him from staying awake. It was clearly terminal and his options were limited.
It’s not clear exactly where the cancer started or what caused it. But I’d guess that a half century of smoking didn’t exactly help matters.
I understand why doctors are so reluctant to give timelines to terminal patients. They guessed that Dad might have anywhere from a few weeks to a few months.
A week later, he was gone.
He’d refused treatment because it wasn’t going to help much. He just wanted to be at home. Dad spent his last few days in his own home and died amidst his family.
We’d moved up the party two weeks to Sept. 7, but it was just minutes after midnight on the morning of the 1st that we lost him.
I’d selected two songs for the party slideshow: Kris Kristofferson’s “This Old Road” and Merle Haggard’s version of Lefty Frizell’s “That’s the Way Love Goes”. The events gave the former a new meaning:
They say you tried to chase the sundown
And you let it slip away
And the holy night is falling...
Ain’t you come a long way down
This old road
The pastor — a good friend of my parents who lost his own wife just a couple of years ago — asked if any of us wanted to speak at the service. None of us thought we could manage. So he asked if we wanted to write anything. Here’s a slightly modified version of my thoughts:
The others said nice things, so I guess I should too. But we should also remember Dad as he was. He wasn’t perfect; none of us are.
When we were kids, Dad had something of a temper, but then again, so did I. Dad tried to cure me of mine. If I argued too much, he made me argue with the refrigerator. When I stomped on a toy car, I had to apologize to it. I had to apologize to a garden rake too when I threw it down. He often would threaten to ground us under the bed for a month.
You can probably see that any sense of humor any of us has, we owe to Dad. He could be difficult at times, but the twinkle in his eye told us not to take anything too seriously.
I wasn’t ready for this; none of us were. It all happened way too fast.
But, I think Dad was ready. Ever since his first heart attack in the 1970s, Dad seemed to feel like he was living on borrowed time. He never thought he’d get as long as he did. Dad lived more than half his life after that heart attack and I think the last few years were the best.
Dad was often in excruciating pain. His knees were shot from years of hard work, first for 16 years in the military, then as a mechanic for at least another 15. His back wasn’t much better.
But when my son was born, I saw that twinkle in his eye again. The pain didn’t matter at all as he chased the little one around the room. It was sometimes hard to tell which one was the 4-year-old and which was the septuagenarian.
If there’s a lesson in all this, I guess that’s it. Get your laughs in when you can. Because we’re all living on borrowed time.
Michael Carley is a resident of Porterville. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.