I decided to pay a respectful visit. I promised myself to arrive at a certain near future time,
when the family agreed, the caregivers permitted,
wanting not to disturb those angels, who, by now, in their
role-functioning of bed-sore salves and diaper removals and soothing words
of comfort , now said low and slow--
presaging his last gurgle soon to come.
(After all, I too will one day die; I therefore needed to see
for selfish reasons death's stark and silly face.)
"We'll meet at T's apartment
on Sunday," I suggested to the ill man's truest friend (outside of daughter)
of course. A combined visit semed more logical (easy?).
While the clocks ticked away our waiting time to visit, I imagined: that
sweet daughter laboring mightily in a fog of fury;
Her Daddy, who was abandoned/divorced by Mommy years before, and
who was raised by Step-Daddy and Mommy in a far away state
But he was still her blood, her fantasy-factual Dad to love,
dying now, in a cold distant apartment town, needing her help,
to offer up her final serving of daughterly faith.
I knew him best years before, thirty to be exact.
We were not close. He didn't like me much, as I perceived it then.
Never nasty, but rather aloofly, wittily, condescendingly arch,
a joke (a laugh to cover) and snide remark the weapons of his distaste.
Working together, however, made us try to form a friendship...
but the form of friend ship never congealed. I was at his wedding, though.
An invitation, more I thought, from his wife than him. I knew her well, before.
Over the next thirty years we met briefly, accidentally really,
unavoidably so, it would be most honest to say,
at a few gathering of co-worker friends, milestone birthdays,
weddings, graduations and the such
pleasant, warily, protectively, not even sharing notes of successes. Nor either, potentially more friend-inducing, failures. Just jokes.
unbeknown to us, the common disease co-joined.
The mutual friend's phone call came out of the blue: "Mind if I tell T. about your experience with the disease?" He had known of my plight..
"You might be able to help him, give some insight."
Instinctively, without malice before thought...or after thought...I said "Of course;" and meant it. Death is important. too powerful a foe to let human trivialities stand. Who cares whether we were close or not before. War makes strange bedfellows but it does make bedfellows.
So T. and I soon meet once again, over the phone, then in face, at his birthday party, seeming old friends now, any separation breached, mercifully.
At the party I also met there the daughter, his life's charming child,
who soon moved from a continent away,
DC to here, to care for ailing father, to share and aid the fight.
But soon thereafter, and more frequent times now, at least measured against the past, he and I talked, exchange inside information
about doctors and medicines and nutrition and pills,
and websites and institutions that might avail him best.
We even met at a doctor's lecture, and shared a laugh, a memory, and sandwich later.
Then, after another month without contact (he was out of town to consult new doctors)
the mutual friend calls: "T's disease has progressed mightily."
"Ironically he lives near you now," moved to a nearby apartment, convenient to the hospital and the daughter's new school.
I call; T. and I talk (although not of death...
We fighters never give in to eventualities, preferring to fight,
with drugs and protocols and second opinions; death is for us a vanguishable foe.) "I'd like to get together," he says. A few stabs at places and times to meet, nothing set
"Will call later" agreed by both.
Then another call, days later, from the mutual friend, "T's in the hospital."
We form a plan for our visit together.
Then the next call: "He's at home, in hospice." Life tumbles to death speedily. Another plan to visit,
The final call from the friend: "He's dead."
"Thank God the suffering's over," he says, the common wail. I agree.
But no less true, in our hearts and minds, co-mingling with
the unvoiced desire to spit, shout and curse at all-conquering death.
"We'll be setting up a memorial service," the mutual friend says. You and I will have to have lunch soon." "Yes," I say. "We must not postpone, or just promise." We mean it.
The dead man was more a friend in death than he ever was in life. Yet the breach remained, even in these last days. Or so I assumed. An email list he had given others, to form a Internet group to keep his friends appraised of his progress, had not included me. When discovered, I was not surprised, shocked or hurt. Life is nothing if not consistent. But I still miss him. He was a fellow human being. "Ask not for whom the bell tolls..." and so on.
It's five AM now, he is still dead and my sleep is dead, abruptly ended at two AM; denied. So I paw and peck away at this keyboard trying to make a pact with sleep: please allow me to join my wife in bed in the other room, I am growing weary. Can I assuage you, oh sleep, can I, like him, rest a bit, until the universe--owner of us all--throw another of its meaningful meaninglessness to interrupt our bliss?"
I finally sleep, another night. He, too. A bit longer.