How was your Thanksgiving? Here's mine. Around midday, I got a phone call from one of my uncles...my father died. The good part about it was that it wasn't a surprise.
Five years ago, he was diagnosed with severe kidney cancer and given 3-6 months to live. That's right, five years ago. And it wasn't a misdiagnosis. Rather, he was that damned stubborn. His kidneys had shut down and he began dialysis treatments (that's being hooked up to a blood filtering machine for 4-5 hours/day, three days/week). The treatments were always hard on him and often painful, but it was his only option.
Over the last few months, he'd begun sliding. He'd been kept alive by dialysis treatments and pure piss & vinegar. Now he was steadily weakening. He was in the hospital for a bad case of pneumonia for the previous week, and no one thought he'd walk away from it. He'd had several close calls over the past few years, but this time he just didn't have the strength.
I went to see him in the hospital the Sunday before Thanksgiving and I didn't recgonize him. The wasted man who lay in the bed that was supposed to be his was nothing more than a skeleton shrouded in loose-fitting skin. The sunken cheeks and protruding joints were sure signs that the cancer was nearly finished with him. Not until I heard him moan his recognition of me did I dare approach, and then, I only knew him to be my father when I saw his eyes. Even with the glimmer of life nearly gone, I could still see my father in those grey-green eyes.
Despite the delirium caused by his weakness and medication, he was able to acknowledge my wife and me. He asked, "what are y'all doing here?" I answered that we'd come to see how he's doing and then he asked where the boys (my sons) were. I both wished we had brought them so that he could see them one last time (and there was no doubting this was the last time I'd see him), and was glad we hadn't because I did not want them to see him like this. I wanted them to remember the grandpa who teased and played with them, who watched from the sofa as they played a game or with toys in the floor.
Everyone was surprised when his strength returned by Tuesday. He was released from the hospital Wednesday to return to the nursing home. Nursing home...did I mention he was 62? He'd lived hard and fast during most of those years. Alcoholism makes for a harsh mistress, but he was more faithful to her than nearly anyone else throughout much of his life. During his dry periods, he worked hard and did his best to provide for me and my sister.
My father didn't concern himself much with what other people thought. If he chose to, it was only to size them up for the most effective attack. He was a man who never encountered a bridge he was afraid to burn...sometimes even before he crossed it. But his resourcefulness and resilience ensured there would always be another bridge.
He cared for those he cared about and to hell with everyone else. And while his way is not mine, I respect the hell out of him for it. When you dealt with him, you knew what to expect. Be straight with him because he can smell bull a mile away, and if you cross him, it'll be the last time you do.
He lived on spite, and yet was always there whenever my sister or I needed help. Many was the time in my pre-teen years when, as he was about to leave out on the road for the week, he would literally give me his last dollar knowing full well that, whatever excuse I came up with when asking for it, I'd spend it on comic books.
And so, he spent the last five years repenting for a life filled with bad deeds, which outweighed his good deeds by a ton. Though they were filled with pain and suffering, these last few years, in my mind at least, have ensured that he arrives at the next life, whatever it may be, with a clean slate.
The irony of it all: he always hated Thanksgiving. For as long as I can remember, he was always miserable and avoidant on that day of the year. And most certainly drunk off his ass.
And this week, Thanksgiving Day, he left home to deliver one last load of frieght. Look out Old Scratch...my father is on his way.
Playing on XM: some random trucking song, let's say it was "Six days on the road" by Dave Dudley.