My father - the "Master Chief" for those of you longtime readers - is in his late eighties and has been slowly fading into the sort of twilight lands that we often wander into late in our lives. Forgetful, querulous, diffused...all the early signs of a mind that is dwindling towards that last goodnight.
He had lost much of his coherence and almost all of his intellectual function. Over the past weekend into Monday he appeared weak but physically healthier than mentally; the medical opinion was that whatever had happened inside his head had suddenly moved him into the "late stage" of Alzheimer's Syndrome. Monday he was moved into the Alzheimer/hospice care wing of the place where he and my mother now live out the ends of their lives. I and my sister were preparing for a part of our lives that now included the body but not the mind or soul of the man who was our father.
But Nature or my father, who was ever a masterful man, intended otherwise. My sister called again last evening to tell me that my father had fallen yet further into the wilderlands of brain death. He was lingering now like a cat in a doorway, motionless, at the very furthest borderlands of death. My sister called this morning to inform me that our father is still sleeping if you consider the consciousless twilight at the edge of life "sleep".
But the blades of the scissors are very near his thread. The hospice nurse told her "Hours. Days. But not weeks."
So I'm taking the wretched day-long cross country flight this afternoon not knowing whether I will arrive before he departs.
But in a very real sense he has already gone on ahead of me. The shell that breathes in the bed in the anonymous room in the industrial warehouse for the old is not my father, not the man who raised me or stood beside me through my childhood and young adulthood and manhood, who helped me become who I am and what I am.
That man is already gone. What remains for me is to honor the bargain that we all make, parent and child, father and son, mother and daughter, from the moment we begin our lives together; that we as parents will bring our children into the world and we as children will see our parents out of it.
Catullus said it better than I ever can, and so I will depart and leave him speak for me:
"Traveling through many lands and over many seas I have come, brother, for these wretched funeral rites, to give you the last dues of the dead and to speak, though in vain, to your silent ashes."