May 26, 1986, Memorial Day

My father would die this day. I knew it was coming.  We got the word in January that his cancer was terminal and shortly thereafter he was a hospice home care patient.  I was his primary caregiver and had by this time moved in with him.  Though morphine helped some his pain was hard to witness. Hospice workers lamented that it was not supposed to be like this.  What hospice could not know was the degree of his mental anguish.  Here was a pain beyond the help of any drugs or social worker’s good intentions. Never in my life have I known a man with so many regrets.

When in the Army during World War II he wrote home often.  Much of the time he complained bitterly about the war.  What galled him most was that he was in London, an ocean away from his sister and parents. Family was everything to him.  He ultimately enrolled in flight school not so much to learn how to fly as to return to the States, closer to home.

When the war was over home had moved from Detroit to Huntington Beach, California.  With a new bride in tow my father went west to seek his fortune working construction side by side with his father, Jerome.  My grandfather was more than a little bit intrusive.  He accompanied my parents on their honeymoon and kept my dad out fishing all day.  In California a feud broke out between my young mother, Irene, and crusty, Jerome.  My father had to choose between his father and his wife.  He chose his wife.  After a bitter fight, my parents packed up their belongings (which included  2 year old me) and moved to Detroit.

My father and grandfather hadn’t spoken when dad got the news that Jerome had died suddenly of a heart attack at the age of 60.

Dad turned to the bottle.  His work life as a building contractor and most importantly his marriage disintegrated. Though he never stopped worshipping my mother, he hated himself and took some perverse pleasure in getting her angry at him. When I would presumptively  try to talk to him about his life he made it clear that he didn’t care whether he lived or died.

Dad was a good man but he was lost and had little energy or know-how when it came to marriage or parenting.  As the first born son I received more attention than my brother or sister.  Near the end he confided to me that he felt especially bad about his treatment of my brother, Rick.

When mom died suddenly of a heart attack 1n 1976 he was beside himself with grief.  As far as she was concerned he would never have another chance to redeem himself.  Ten years later as he lay dying he confessed to me that he wondered whether there was an afterlife and if there was whether Irene would want to see him.

We talked a lot in those final months and to our surprise we developed a closeness we never had before. He was more alive to me as he was dying than before we discovered the cancer.  When his sister, Simone, came to see him a month before he died he exhibited a tenderness towards her that came from the deepest part of him.

When Father Bill Cunningham administered last rites he told dad that God forgave him for his sins. With tear filled eyes dad looked looked into the priest’s eyes and asked, “really?”

Memorial Day came and dad was in great pain.  I left him with Rick and my sister Marie to make a morphine run. The last words I heard him speak as I left the house were, ” I don’t want to die.” By the time I returned with the morphine he was gone.  The last words he heard came from my brother.  Rick told him it was okay to let go, and so he looked at Rick, shrugged his shoulders and died.