In recent weeks the drib-drab-drip of Time’s passing has been most acutely observed within the confines of my father’s room at the local hospice. Death’s anteroom — thoughtfully outfitted with big-screen display, luxurious leather recliner, the convenience of a mini fridge, and a cot for my mother -- will be Dad’s last home for some time still.
As a family attending to my Dad’s last days, we are grateful that Kelowna is home to one of the province’s finest hospices. Caregivers are unfailingly kind and mindful of everyone’s needs. They do everything in their power to ensure that their temporary guests are treated with dignity and, above all, respect for their wishes.
But as remarkable as the hospice staff is, they lack the skill that my Dad needs most at this stage of life’s end-game: The ability to accelerate the time left to him. Miracle worker that he is, not even my father’s much-loved G.P. possesses this occult art.
And it’s got my dear old dad in a dither.
My father is an anomalous guest at the hospice. Ordinarily guests come and go with an urgent regularity. But every so often, a terminal case morphs into a surprisingly persistent presence, by refusing to die. And that’s my dad right now.
None of this refusal is ever consciously contrived by those desirous of death. In a previous column readers may recall the black humour of my father asking if anyone actually died in that place in which he now still lives, increasingly glum. And at the time, he was relieved when he was given proof-positive that patients had been carted out of the place daily since he had arrived. “Thank God,” he said. “It’s good to know that people are still dying these days...”
It’s a truism to admit that it’s not easy to watch someone so well-loved in such psychic pain as he awaits the end. Relief from the physical pain that cancer brings is often an IV feed away; and a desultory draining of sensate discomfiture is about the best a dying man can expect. One happily gives oneself up to the narcotic embrace of these anodyne angels and drifts away, for a time.
But it’s the return from narcosis that vexes and beguiles even the gentlest of Earth- and body-bound spirits. And my dear old dad is nothing if not gentle.
And so it was that I found him this past Sunday.
It was a little past his midday feeding when I cracked open the door to his room. The dark cool of an air-conditioned room was a welcome relief from the blasted heat of the Okanagan sun. Dad was fast asleep on his back, his hands clasped as if in prayer, beneath the cotton bedsheet, his face looking oddly young and beautiful, the skin glowing with a preternatural youth that must have been the ironic display of a cancer deeply entrenched. Mum too lay on a cot at the foot of Dad’s bed, her tiny body curled on its side, coddled in a red cardigan, her hearing aids out and on the dresser. Neither of them noted my entry.
And so I sought the comfort of the leather recliner and read. I had brought along Gore Vidal’s essays in Dreaming War. But even Vidal’s fine diction and sharply-defined historical witness to America’s pending implosion failed to soothe my restlessness as Dad was now turning in his bed, still fighting to while away the hours in a narcotic slumber. I opened the adjacent drapes a crack and found the finger-faded black leather Luther Bible that my Mum had left lying next to the orchids from well-wishers.
Cracking open the text and turning its onionskin leaves my eyes landed on these words in 2nd Corinthians:
16 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed every day. 17 For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 because we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen; for the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
Irrespective of the dogged resistance I have always had in matters of religious belief, The Bible has been a source of philosophical inspiration my entire life long. And again, the soothing words of Saul-now-Paul turned out to be a salve for the aggrieved.
Dad was now awakening, and smiled when he saw me sitting next to him. “Oh Jeff,” he said. “When can I go.” Soon Dad, soon. And he smiled again, tired. “I miss you so much when you go.” Me too, Dad. Me too.
— Jeffrey Loewen is a Kelowna-based writer to plays music by day and politics by night