Saturday, November 27, 2010


Perhaps, if this makes you uncomfortable, you can blame the two glasses of wine. They made the words easier for me.

I've my iPod plugged in and am enjoying some golden oldies. The Skyliners are singing right now, but all I can think of is how Janet Vogel decided to turn start her car one day and leave the garage door closed. They lived just up the street from us, her youngest son is just a year older than me.

Morbid, no doubt. I'm good for that. My mind invariably goes to the process of dying, of what it's like to know your life is ebbing away. I think, too, of how I told my girl friend not to envy me the time had with my father. When Dad was first diagnosed, we were thankful for the time given. By the time he died, it was a curse. We didn't need that much time. We didn't want that much time. No one does. Twenty-odd months are too expensive, too high a price to pay for the chance to say good-bye.

We had time, in those long months, not to talk about the old days and say what needed said. We had time instead to smell death and hear its rattle. In the last month, I couldn't bear to walk into the same room, though I did, holding my breath, because he was already a corpse. But he just happened to be breathing. If that's what you wanted to call the gasp and hiss of air passing in and out of his lungs.

When you sit in the same room with the dying, it's a peaceful hell. There's a simplicity of the moment, for your task is just to be there. Helpless, but there nonetheless. I read, I wrote, sometimes I napped. At regular intervals, my mother or I would put on rubber gloves and rub morphine into the soft skin of his inner arm. We like to think it helped. And, though we each privately thought of it, we were never brave enough to give him more than the prescribed amount at the prescribed time.

The smell of dying goes away after you're in the same room for a few minutes. Olfactory fatigue, it's called. Your nose gets used to it and you begin to ignore it. So by the end of the chapter of the book you think you're reading, you can no longer scent the dying man.

You can still hear him, though. There's no fatigue of the ear strong enough to block out the inhaling gasp and the exhaling hiss, because, in the back of your mind, you're wondering if that gasp will be the last one you hear.


There's a box on my dresser. An antique copper box, probably a good 60 or 70 years old. In it are obituaries from the last 50 years. The fallen leaves from our family tree. My mother gave it to me some time ago. Her "Box o' Death," I jokingly called it. It's mine now, and my job is to keep the family obits in there. Someday, I suppose, it will be handed down to Gavin.

But that's a blog for another day.

Must I be so melancholy at the holidays? Yes. No. Perhaps. This Thanksgiving marked six years for my grandfather's death. This Christmas will mark five for Dad. As I said once before, any holiday without a trip to the funeral parlor or hospital is a good holiday.

It was a good holiday.

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