My Daddy Is Dying
When I reported this to my seminary community in chapel worship on Tuesday as we shared our joys and concerns, it was as shocking for me to say as it was for our young students to hear. Death is not a category immediately accessible to creatures in full commencement of their lives.
For the first time in this years-long slow sink, Dad no longer recognizes Mom. Those clear blue eyes have now clouded. He forgets how to swallow. His brain can no longer tell his tongue to lick the trickle of drool descending down his chin. He has been sucked into a watery unwaking. Mom wonders if he will ever emerge.
Where does he go? Is there some alternative world into which he descends? Does he know others there? Is he awake in this place in a way our wakefulness cannot detect? Is he aware? Happy?
The doctors cannot say with exactitude, but my father is nearing death. Medical professionals are understandably reluctant to forecast such mysteries, but, when pressed, one finally ventured only a matter of weeks remaining.
Dad got ready to die a long time ago, long before neurological disease calcified his brain cells. Rarely have I known a person to live with greater readiness. Cavalier or wise, who's to say, but he always had a wry insoucience about what lay ahead.
I carry an early childhood movie in my head of an approaching hurricane, the neighborhood in panic, folks scurrying and scampering to protect themselves against the coming storm. In the midst of this frenzy of boarding up windows and packing up cars, my father reclines on the porch swing, gently rocking, his head laid back in calm as he draws on a cigarette. "Daddy, aren't you scared?" a wide-eyed little boy asks as he climbs up in his father's arms. "No, son. We'll be fine. Just fine," my father says, smiling, as he bends down to pick me up, his Marlboro dangling between his lips.
And, of course, we were. With him, we always were.
The National Weather Service warns us about such people, and with good reason, as recent weather events indicate. I'm not suggesting such stoicism is smart. Only interesting for a small child looking for clues about how to act in the face of fear. (No wonder my oldest brother rode out '04 Hurricane Ivan at his bayside home in Mobile, his wife Cheri having evacuated to stay with her mother in the relative safety of inland Montgomery, but Langdon stubbornly staying, declaring he would rather ride out a hurricane than spend the night with his mother-in-law!)
Now, the darkening cloud is settling in on my daddy. We know it will soon carry him away. No greatness of spirit will be able to prevent it. If he could speak, he would say those familiar words, "It will be fine, son. Just fine."
Come, cloud, carry.