There are many days in life that we remember well. One day I remember is December 26, 1987. On that day I sat on a couch in my parents house in Westover, Alabama and watched my father make multiple trips from the back of the house to the driveway, each time toting a large black garbage bag full of his clothes and other belongings. Neither of us said anything to the other, and I didn't offer to help.
On his last trip out, he stopped and tried to explain to me that he didn't love my mother any more, and that this was all for the best. I was nineteen years old at the time, and didn't know as much as I do now, but I remember thinking even then how selfish he was and how he was incapable of telling the truth even when he had to know we knew he was lying. I was so angry with him at that moment all I could do was shake my head and glare at him.
To put this into context, you need to know a few other things about this time period. My parents should have celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary just one week prior to this day, but they didn't even mention it to each other. My uncle Floyd, my father's brother, had died suddenly of a brain aneurysm just a few days before, and we spent Christmas mourning him. I had just finished the worst semester of college ever, in which my GPA was a whopping 0.5 for the 19 semester hours I took. This was a time a father needed to be strong and be there for his family, but my father announced he was moving out of the house and into a cheap, run down trailer with the local whore.
The next eighteen years my brother and I spent too much time worrying about my father. Where was he? For five of those years we didn't have a clue. The rest of the time my father spent in jail, halfway houses, or living in various ramshackle trailers, relying on the kindness of neighbors or whatever family members he could convince to help him. Every time he tried to make a clean start, we would be there, but he seldom held off the demons for more than a few months, then the alcohol or drugs would sweep him away and we refused to be part of that lifestyle.
Eventually it all caught up to him and he developed a large aneurysm on his basal artery. He was given six months to live several years ago, but always managed to avoid death from the strokes the aneurysm was causing. He grew weaker and weaker however, and eventually was half paralyzed, deaf, and unable to talk.
December 15, 2005 is another day that I won't soon forget. At 5:30 pm I was still at work, finishing up a project I had spent the last few weeks on. I had talked to my father's doctors several times that day, who had informed me he had pnemonia and was not in good condition, but they were attempting to stablize him and get him ready to go back to a nursing home for long term care. I had given them authorization to insert a feeding tube since my father was no longer lucid and could not make decisions for himself.
At 5:30 I received a call from a nurse at the hospital, who told me that my father had taken a sudden turn for the worse and was having great difficulty breathing. They didn't expect him to last much longer. I asked if he would last long enough for me to drive from Nashville to Birmingham, and she said honestly she didn't think he would. I left work and drove to my house, and after speaking with Marissa and making sure someone could come quickly to check on her, I left Hermitage headed for the hospital in Alabaster at about 6:30.
It wasn't a fun trip. I didn't speed much, but I spent the whole trip wondering if I'd make it before he stopped breathing. My brother, uncle, and two aunts were already at the hospital and I got regular updates from my brother. They had put my father on a CPAP machine to help him breath a little easier, and my brother and I discussed that somewhat while I was driving down. My father had "do not resusitate" and "do not incubate" orders already.
I arrived at the hospital at 9:45 pm that night, and after I talked to my brother and my aunt Naomi we asked the nurses to remove the CPAP machine, and they did so about 10:30. We all stood there with my father as he struggled for breath, and I was still holding his hand when he took his last one just before 11:30 pm. He never regained conciousness that evening.
We buried him on Sunday afternoon in the Columbiana City Cemetary next to his mother. It was a brief ceremony and almost everyone there was a relative. My brother Brian, my uncle Eugene, my cousins Clay, David, Shawn and I served as pallbearers. My cousin Stephanie read a hearfelt letter to my brother and I that my aunt Naomi had written, which was much more truthful than the brief message that the preacher who barely knew my father delivered.
As is a strange tradition in my family, we watched the backhoe dump the dirt into the grave and the workers finish filling it in with their shovels. Then we stood around and talked for a while before drifting away and I drove back to Nashville to be with my very pregnant and beautiful wife, who was worried about me and upset that she couldn't make the drive down for the funeral.
I forgave my father years ago. I know some people don't understand that. I still don't understand completely, but I have forgiven him. The thing I grieved for at his death was the waste that the last 18 years of his life became. There was no reason for him to be dead at age 66. No reason he shouldn't know his grandchildren or enjoy his retirement. No reason for every conversation with him over the last 18 years to always include an apology for what he had become. He did this to himself with the choices he made. I think my real father died on December 26, 1987 but it took 6,564 days for the shell he had become to finally waste away.