Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Nonfiction: December 9, 2008

Note: This is a departure from my usual satirical rambling, book and movie spotlights, and author interviews. My father passed away on December 9, 2008. This is what I remember about that day and his funeral.


“We did all we could. There is only so much the human body can take.”

The doctor kept talking but I zoned in and out after that. He was a nice guy. Friendly yet professional. At some point as he explained how kidney failure and the resulting toxin buildup in the blood—along with the half-dozen health problems Dad had—eventually caused his heart to just stop. That’s the real life definition of that fancy term “cardiac arrest.” After he said that, he laughed. I think I laughed and nodded, too. The doctor is the fast food chef of health care, and my Dad was a hamburger that couldn’t be salvaged.

I made the two hundred and sixty mile trip to Providence Hospital in a little over three hours when Mom called the night before. I cried the entire time because once I got there I would have to be the rock, and rocks don’t cry.

They let me in to see Pop after hours. His blood pressure was barely registering and he was already on a ventilator. It was the third time that I remembered him being on a ventilator. In the back of my mind I figured he’d wake up and snatch it out of his throat as he had done once before. Or, maybe that never happened. The mind goes to weird places when faced with something it doesn’t want to accept.

We were supposed to go into the intensive care unit and see him early that morning, but they asked us to wait outside for a few minutes. While we waited, a calm voice announced over the intercom that there was a “code blue” in intensive care. That’s more hospital talk for “somebody just died.”

By the time they let us back, the group of nurses and doctors who tried to save him were walking out, joking about what kind of crap they would be serving in the lunchroom. Dad was laying there, hands by his sides and eyes closed. His bed linens were neatly drawn up and tucked under his arms and sides. He would have looked like he was asleep, but nobody lies that still and straight.

Mom cried. I hugged her. She kissed Dad on the forehead and I did the same. I remember thinking he had only died a few minutes earlier but he was already so god damned cold.

We went to a little room by intensive care where they take people when a loved one has just died. A couple of nuns came to sit with us until the priest arrived. When he got there, he asked if he could say a prayer and we said we’d like that.

Some time in there, the rock broke and I cried a little. It didn’t last long. I couldn’t let it. I had to track down my brothers.

I called my older brother. He and Dad had their problems and he and I weren’t that close anymore either. I left a voicemail on his cell phone asking him to call me right away. Then, I called his office. The receptionist would give me no information whatsoever other than to say he was out of the office. In his rather public position there had to be some buffer, so I tried not to get offended, albeit unsuccessfully. I told her I was his brother and asked if she could convey a message. Her tone actually seemed to grow a little colder. Finally, she unenthusiastically decided she could give him a message. “Tell him his brother Mike called and our father just died,” I said. I can’t be sure, but I think I at least ruined her day. I really hope I did.

I called my eldest brother after that at the last cell number I had for him. Either it was out of service or I had the wrong number. We would later find out that he was getting ready to leave the country on a work assignment and coming to Pop’s funeral would have been a real inconvenience. I guess a phone call would have been just as inconvenient. He did send flowers though. Who sends flowers to their own father’s funeral? He does, I guess.

My older brother came as soon as he found out. It was good to see him and he was a big help. We talked like we did years before. We haven’t spoken since after the funeral.

The day before the funeral, we found out that one of the pastors we hoped could speak wouldn’t be able to attend. After a brief discussion, I decided to speak in his place.

I made a bunch of notes but never took them out of my pocket. I talked about how Dad was the most honest person I had ever met. He’d tell it like it was even if the truth wasn’t pretty, which was often the case. He served in the Navy during the Korean War and became a state trooper a few years after he returned home. To the day he died, more people knew him as Lieutenant Murphy than Tom.

I mentioned that he wasn’t fond of drawn out sermons or prayers, noting a funeral we attended when I was a kid. Halfway through a painfully long and sorrowful prayer by the presiding pastor, I heard someone start snoring. A split-second later, I realized it was Pop and elbowed him in the ribs. Those in attendance got a kick out of the story.

I thanked everyone for coming: all our friends and family, my friends and co-workers who shut our company down for the day just to make the trip, the Alabama State Troopers who had never met my dad but still felt compelled to make the trip to salute the fallen brother they had never met, the pastor who had come with my aunt to visit Dad in the hospital numerous times just because that’s what she did.

The Alabama State Honor Guard attended the graveside service. A trumpet player played Amazing Grace and seven troopers gave him a twenty-one gun salute. The local Freemason lodge performed a graveside service as well. Because we live in the digital age, the Honor Guard has a video crew that taped the service. Mom gave me a DVD a few weeks later. I still haven’t watched it.

The last time I spoke to Dad, we got in a fight over politics. We still said our I love you’s before we hung up, but we both were a little exasperated with each other. As was often the case, it eventually turned out that he was right and I was wrong. He wasn’t perfect, but he did the best he could and I loved him for it.

I’m not sure why I wrote this. I made peace with dad’s passing long ago. Maybe I just needed to see it in black and white, or maybe I still have a demon or two to exorcize.

Thanks for reading. 
Now, back to your regularly scheduled leprechaun bashing, booze, and werewolves.

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