Well, my father died in...well, it'd be wrong to call it "his sleep"; it was the "sleep" of the hinterlands of life, that gray taiga where the living world meets the dead. He was alive only in the sense that his heart still beat and his lungs still drew breath.
Early on the morning of Sunday May 3, 2015, however, that ended.
He died hard, my father, his body refusing to cease its function days after his mind had ceased to direct it. It was...painful...to watch. As a living man he was inordinately proud of his intellect. He was an engineer, a Cornell Chem-E from the postwar crop, and if there ever was a term that described him "engineer" was a good one. He was convinced that there was no problem that he couldn't out-think or solution that he couldn't design, whether to physical or personal matters.
He was in several ways a difficult man, but for all his cussedness he was also a decent, honorable man in a fashion that made his stubborn irreconcilability as much a quirk as a curse.
So to see his husk a mindless, twitching thing lying helpless in a bed was very hard. My mother and sister both told him that they were content with him, that he had finished his time here and they were willing to release him. I sat with him, talked to him, told him that he had done his job, raised his family and cared for his wife, and now that great work was ended.
But in his contrary fashion he refused to die until he was ready. And then, in the half-light of predawn, he was gone.
I don't want to be maudlin about his death. In many, many ways it was a great mercy. His mind was failing, the intellectual acuity that defined him in life leaving him apace. I believe that the part of him that was still lucid hated and raged against that decerebration, that loss of self, and both hated and feared what he was becoming, the gormless vacancy of mindless existence, the parody of his life that would have been not life but un-death. The death of his body spared him that, at least.
But that mercy is only for the dead. As his living remainder I still feel as if I'm floating, weightlessly untethered, beside him. As if our conversation simply halted, forever unfinished, as he stood up and left without a word. He is no longer and yet will always be my father, the man who raised me, whose manhood was my measure as I grew to manhood myself. I find myself turning to talk of some daily commonplace with him only to find emptiness there, and the understanding that the emptiness will be there until I find myself where he has gone.
I am in several senses my father's son. One of those is that I, too, am vain of my intelligence. As such I understand that it is the nature of life and death that sons are born to bury their fathers, that a man who dies before his children is in that way a blessed man and that the child who buries his father will find nepenthe for the grief and loss of that parting.
But that does not make me feel particularly blessed or peaceful today.
The son is a part of the father, and now that part of me is dust and ashes.
John L. "Jack" Lawes Jr. 1927-2015