Friday, February 25, 2011

Not like the movies ...

As my 19-year-old daughter and I were driving to Iowa City the other night, she played me a song she liked: "Not Like the Movies" by Katy Perry. I liked it, too. And the last couple of days, I've thought about just how weirdly appropriate its lyrics are at this point in my life. I can guarantee you, though, the way I'm interpreting them is not the way Ms. Perry intended.

My dad, at 91, is nearing the end of his life. How soon he'll get there, we don't know, but things haven't been looking too great this week. He's bounced back before, and could again. But he's ill and he's weak and he's tired, and I'm trying to look reality square in the face and digest that one of these times is really going to be the end.

I guess I've always had it in my head that as death nears, it's sure to promise at least a few "Terms of Endearment"-type moments for the person involved and his or her loved ones: professions of love, confessions of regret, maybe even a secret or two revealed. But so far, it's nothing like that. It's numbing and sad and just really, really hard.

I hope it goes without saying that I'm not looking for sympathy here. My dad has lived a really, really long life.  I know at least two 40-year-olds who are seriously ill; at least one acquaintance has dealt with the death of a child. In Dad's case, the life cycle is working the way it's supposed to, and there's no way any of us could be angry or resentful.

Dad has faced tragedy in his life; he lost a little sister at 7, his mother at 16, and his first wife, my mother, when he was in his mid-40s. But he's also enjoyed some very happy times: He remarried, traveled, saved and invested his money well, bought a new car every two years and new houses every five or so. He was active and healthy until a few years ago, and he lives his life on his terms.

But now, not a lot is on his terms -- or anyone's, really.  This may be my blog, but it's his story, so I'm not going to go into detail; suffice it to say that if he were aware enough to realize how things are looking and sounding and feeling, he would be devastated, and he would just want out.

My sister was 24 when our mother died, while I was 4 and oblivious -- a good thing for me, because Teresa says Mom's death was far more difficult than anything we're experiencing here. But she is somehow of sturdier stock than I, and I sometimes feel I'm not holding up my end of things. While Teresa is a rock and handles all of the heavy lifting practically and capably, I sit in a corner, huddled and shivering into my pea coat, muted and stunned into submission by the reality of it all.

It's not even remotely like the movies. Instead, it's just the way Dylan Thomas advised that it should be.  Naively, that's not what I bargained for. But there's no clearer illustration of the storm that's enveloping us right now.

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rage at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

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