No one should lose both their parents before they turn 30, but here I am. My father’s old, silver watch just died, and soon he will too. Perhaps the cancer has spread to his accessories. We sit around his hospital bed, and we wait for his last gasp, and I feel shame for wishing it would come soon.
It’s not like I had been hoping my father would get cancer and die. It’s that he has told us he’s ready to go, and he is in pain, and so are we. We frantically got him emergency health insurance, because he had let his insurance lapse, and he never told us how sick he was.
We were terrified he might not get treatment at all. We imagined him dying alone in his tiny bedroom in the stale apartment he shared with another older gentleman.
The ambiguity of the timing of his coming demise is always present. It’s impossible to describe the savage purgatory you live in when someone close to you is on their last leg. Every text message or phone call becomes a death certificate. You’re constantly on high alert. Yet my father, forever an optimist, shows no fear whatsoever. He is already at peace, while we are all in turmoil.
Throughout this process there has been a persistent feeling in my sister and I that his pain and ours would be less lasting if he expired sooner. It’s hard to grapple with that. What kind of person wishes death upon someone they care about? At that, the person who gave them life?
I’ve recently learned this feeling is not unique. Friends have reached out and timidly confirmed their own experiences with this reality. No one can fully explain why they felt it. Familial relationships are complex, and the fatal end of those relationships are filled with even more intricacies.
Something that brings me concern when I consider my emotional state is my sincere grievances with my father. I hold a lot of resentment toward him over how he may have contributed to my mother’s death and more. My mother was told by her doctor that she’d die if she didn’t stop drinking, so she quit for some time, but he didn’t. Eventually, she joined him again in the nightly vodka-soaked revelry. She died in the bottle. I tend to wonder if this kind of bitterness causes this reaction.
If my resentment isn’t the key to my current mental state, it could be my acceptance of his perspective. My dad said he did not fear death because he got to spend 25 years with the love of his life. She died seven years ago. He has taken the end of his life so nonchalantly that we can’t help but laugh at times.
When he was diagnosed with cancer, he didn’t wait long to celebrate not having to go back to work. He soon also celebrated not having to pay back his debts.
He is a man who has struggled financially for as long as I can remember, and he seems quite pleased he won’t have to struggle much longer. When the doctors told us to have him sign forms saying what kind of resuscitation efforts and life-extending procedures he’d be OK with after he can’t communicate his wishes any longer, he said to wait to ask him those questions during commercial breaks while he watched Pawn Stars on the History channel. He couldn’t have been less interested.
My father’s difficult life also comes to mind when I consider his situation. I drive the BMW that he can’t afford while he’s in the hospice facility, because I’ve never had a car of my own.
It is an artifact that precisely represents his identity. He’s always been a poor man in an affluent man’s suit. The American Dream he strove for died well before he will, and he never touched it, but he always postured as if he was living it. Our impoverished family was ejected from many middle class rentals throughout my childhood. It was all a carefully assembled facade. Perhaps I am simply hoping his constant struggle will finally end.
His sister, his best friend, came to visit with her new husband the other day. One of the reasons I have such a troublesome relationship with my father is he was always asking those close to him, or even my friends’ parents when I was a kid, for money.
My aunt got the most calls by far. I picked a less than lucrative career that put me in a similar position at a young age, but I was young, and you ask for money when you’re young. Anyone I ever asked for help in a time of need had just received a call from him the day before, and I watched them draw the lines between us. I eventually developed something of a complex. I’m always trying to escape his shadow.
I can see in my aunt’s eyes that she believes I’m following in his stumbling foot steps. She confirmed it when she warned me I could end up in a shit kicker hospice like the one he’s been forced to call a home if I didn’t get my act together.
The place is full of penniless people with vacant eyes. The stench of death consumes the building. It’s uniformly stained. It’s an American hospice fit for the third world. I fear I could be put to rest in a similar place, and it angers me.
Things only got harder for us when he stopped making sense. He seems to be a roulette table of disparate memories. “I need to buy airplane stock,” he said out of nowhere one day. “It’s either 5602 or 5603,” he’ll say.
It was easier to fight back the despair when he was acting like everything was alright and nothing mattered. He is now a shell of his former self, and though he smiles just the same, there is a hollowness behind it. It seems to be nothing but muscle memory. Is that why I think his time should come? There is no worse fate than losing your memories and your ability to understand your surroundings.
I watched my aunt break down into tears after saying goodbye to her brother for the last time, and we embraced. The final words of a 64-year relationship. If I made her sound like a callous woman, then I misrepresented her. She is one of the gentlest women I’ve ever met, which perhaps made her disparaging comments more penetrating.
After the goodbye, we went to dinner, and she stunned me with her admission that even she felt he’d be better off if it all ended soon. She can’t find the words to explain it, either. It seems no one is immune to wishing death would just skip the parts that feel like torture.