The hammer continues to strike, with almost robot-like precision: last week, my brother-in-law, the same one whose son was killed in a February blizzard, died quite suddenly of a massive stroke. My sister came home from work to find him lying on the ground, out in the cold, unable to move or speak. The local quacks threw their hands in the air in much the same way that they did with my mother, four years ago almost to the day now, and he was moved to Portland. Even in the apparently magical medical world of Portland, little hope was offered for recovery even if he survived the surgery: my sister, who is in no way sentimental, asked that he be taken off of life support: and five minutes later he was dead.
My sister is a survivor and will be fine in the long term no matter who she has to stab in the back, but I feel terrible for my niece, who in the space of two months has lost a whole family: only having her mother left is the same thing as saying that she has no one at all.
My brother-in-law was a talented man, but not necessarily a nice man. He mellowed with time and a heaping helping of bad behavior from my sister, who certainly more than revenged herself over time for the verbal abuse that she took from him early in the marriage.
At the end of the original King Kong, Carl Denham looks upon the broken body of the animal that he himself was responsible for removing from the wild, and said, “It wasn’t the planes, it was beauty that killed the beast.” My brother-in-law could be a big, angry, not so nice gorilla when he wanted to be, which was a lot of the time when he was younger, but that isn’t the only thing he had in common with the monarch of Skull Island. Because it’s my belief that it wasn’t a stroke that killed him: it was grief.
The last time I saw him, at his son’s memorial gathering, he was hurting terribly. Guilt and loss had dealt visible physical changes on him, and he had a lot to feel guilty about. Perhaps a stroke was coming to him anyway, down the road… but it happened now because he was Walking Wounded.
“What’s your take-away?” is the modern, corporate way of saying “What’s the Moral of the Story?” — morals being something that corporate types are so uncomfortable with that they will change the language in order to avoid talking about them.
My brother-in-law and I were not close to put it mildly, so it takes a kind of arrogance for me to point out that a person is best off living their lives in such a way and with such conduct so as not to be wracked later on with guilt over the fact that you should have done better.
It’s considerably easier, and I’m on much less shaky moral ground, to repeat something that I’ve said many times but which bears almost infinite repitition: We are all five minutes away from death. Don’t put off what’s important to you, don’t put off what will make you happy, and don’t sell your life cheap to people who don’t give a good god damn, because there seriously may be no tomorrow.
It’s kind of drummed into us that, “Eh, there’s always time.” This is the opposite of the truth.
This is why I have been taking the terrible risk of financial ruin by spending the last few years doing what I want and need to do, instead of what someone else wants me to do. At times it looks really bleak and I worry that my future security may be going up in smoke. Our culture tells us to be sensible now and be happy later on… but with all the death I’ve seen and marked recently, it’s very obvious that there may not be any later on.
Yesterday my father announced that he and his wife have sold their home in Maine, and will be moving to Nevada full-time. This is virtually the same as announcing his death to me: I know that when they go, I will never see him again. He’s in his late eighties and won’t be able to travel much longer; I’m not in a position to travel at all. It’s all very strange. For years and years, until quite recently, as can be found even in the pages of this blog, relations with my father were strained to say the least. Now that I’ve finally learned how to put old grievances aside, at least insofar as he is concerned, it’s all over. The hammer pounds away.