FOR YOU, THE SURVIVOR
I choose, so far, to allow outside forces to choose the timing of the end of this life. I’ve never felt otherwise. Maybe I would like to know when, but when I think about that, I change my mind back to the choice of ignorance. No way to know, anyway.
When I am old, hopefully much older than I am now, I might suffer. I might wish to die on my own terms when I am terminally ill.
My Papa tried to halt the progress of his cancer by getting the dying out of the way, but he didn’t have the proper pharmaceutical knowledge to succeed. He was ready to go to sleep and not wake up, but he woke up, mildly nauseated and angry. Later, he asked me too late and too long in the hospital, to help. I couldn’t, but not because I refused, but because I didn’t know how. He whispered, pull that plug and cut the wires and scrape the insulation with your pocket knife and plug it back in, and on and on in great electrician’s detail. He was disappointed with me when I left and he was not holding bare wires. I was the one who could do anything I set my mind to, and I couldn’t even take out my knife for him and strip a cord or two and leave the room. He died the next week, and I watched him die. He was relieved. Not everyone runs away from death. He closed his eyes and his mouth and turned his hands palm-down on the sheets, and left me alone in the room.
Survivors, we call ourselves when a loved one leaves. Survived by wife, daughters, grandchildren, brothers, sons, sisters, mother, father. We survive, but sometimes parts get carried off with the casualties, too.
Sometimes, more is left behind: gifts of words and knowledge that stick forever, now ours alone and only attributable to the dead. Relics.
Whole vaulted cathedrals surround my ability to unclog old pipes and frame a room and reglaze a window, my relics. Chocolate pie and cornbread and crochet stitches.
When I die or choose to die, my relics will resemble useful life skills of people born just before and during the Great Depression. I’m good, very good, at not being poor when I have little money.
Our family lost another member this week. I don’t know why he chose to leave, but it was his choice, irreversible and final. I don’t know what relics he leaves for his survivors, father and son and mother of his son, maybe more that I never knew about. He raised buildings made of other old buildings, and saved bits and pieces of things for making other things. At some point, he stopped creating and began breaking and burning, I am told.
An earthly mess gets left behind after such an abrupt exit.
We have lost another father, another husband, in this family of women. And we survive.