Unlike grief, death was what I thought it might be. What I hoped it would be, even, as it turned out. Death was life’s last courtesy to my father, who had always been so lucky until he was lucky no more.
He was fortunate in the way he died. This belief is not, I don’t think, a trick of the mind to find a score on which, at last, it may rest easy. His death was never a source of great anxiety. His dying was. All that came after.
My father died at 3pm on a sunny Wednesday afternoon in the second half of April, aged 56. At 3pm, like Christ, I remember thinking. Was this blasphemy? If it was, all the other things I thought in his hospital room, which now seems to have been white, all white, must have been too.
I hadn’t eaten since breakfast, if you can call it that, forcing a cheese sandwich down my throat at the back of the car my mother drove to hospital. I have the same secure memory for our way to the funeral, so maybe that same cheese sandwich was only eaten once in the back of the car my mother drove: Maybe I didn’t eat at all the day my father died. And maybe this is just what I would like to think, to find some moral high ground in bodily abstinence.
The banality the body reduces us to, in life, in death, in witnessing both, is unbearable. Blood, sweat and tears; shit, vomit and piss. The tubes coming out of him the night before, me being hungry at his bedside the day after. I remember checking my watch, watching my dying father, and resolving if he doesn’t die, I will go and get a snack at 3pm.
I am ashamed now, for die he did. But at the time and in that room, the thought made perfect sense when all else seemed senseless: How can he go and I go on, when I don’t know a life that does not contain him, too. The thought of food was born by disbelief, a disbelief that could not be suspended. Not then, not now. It was an instance of the magical thinking I so excelled at in the years that came: If I do X, Y won’t happen.
I wanted him to live so much. And yet he died such a peaceful death. Dylan Thomas would have been appalled; me, I was surprised. This big, bold, boisterous man, going like this, tip-toeing out of life when he had never been one for the backdoor. Come back, I felt like yelling. Come back! What I managed was a sobbed-out No.
His breathing came to a slow and noiseless halt like the flywheel of an old machine run out of heat to steam the water and keep the piston pumping.