Friday, August 3, 2007

Did You Bring the Flashlight, Pop?

This week ... has been about a month long. I am sure my father is dying, and dying a terminal death, and I am moving home again, being moved by the events, and there is a candid air about his impending doom that stills even the half full glass of water. I ponder Terry Tempest Williams' Refuge, and the dying of cancer, his slow agonizing passage, my own suddenly human failings, and a series of fateful character building experiences of my youth. He is the architect of my strength. It is a strength I need now, to find a path through a mysterious maze of frailty. Mine, my mother's, my father's. I look to him and I wonder. He is emaciated and weak, speaking now in a difficult slurry one can only describe as a divine language. He has some control of his arms and legs, and frequently reaches up to grab something that is clearly not there. He often talks of his pain and now that they have him tied down in his bed, I am sure -- of his torture. In the divine language. All bets are off.

Today as I helped a nurse lift him free of his chafing bonds, I realized just how far I was from the day we got lost in the Mokelumne Wilderness (then just a wayward forest) right at dusk, or the day I limited in pheasants -- or shot two Canadian geese at dusk while his father watched us from a great distance. My grandfather later asked my father if he had shot those birds, and my father quietly pointed at me, an unspoken acknowledgement that I had reached a certain level of savvy mad voodoo skills. A lineage of male "hunter" and outdoor skills, passed from father to son, over generations, rewarding Indian Guides, Cub Scouts, Eagle Scouts, Fisherman, Woodsmen, Hunters, Rivermen, Boatmen, men, with the art of survival. Survival in a seemingly male way. A simple box of hand-tied flies passed down to a grandson ... a goose call gift in a car driving in the middle of the night, hours making decoys from paper in the garage, starting a fire, freezing you asses off. Hiking 50 miles in three days with a crazy dog eating road apples. Serious survival.

Today, I was at the hospital, and really just trying to find a wheelchair to roll my mother down to the car. I walked up to someone sitting at a computer and asked where to find a wheelchair.

"I actually can't help you with that, I am the chaplain."

"That's a pretty good job if you can get it, if you're here, I mean." Flirting with her a little.

"Yeah, especially if you do what I do." She flirts with me. "Go down there and ask ..." Pointing.

I hope she's there tomorrow.

"Forgive me father for I have sinned," a rush of condemnation slams me from my childhood and adulthood. I have done so many things wrong, how will I ever get these few things right. You are now free to feel guilty. I hope she's there tomorrow.


It is a strange day and we are in an 11 foot boat in a large open stretch of delta with 5' tall rolling waves and we are at three-quarters and going with the waves. The boat is rocking hard and my brother and I are laughing, and the man at the helm is looking across at me and saying something like "Knock it off," while meaning "Tighten up the straps on you life jacket and hold on, this is not a good time for laughing."

Fair winds and following seas, my old friend. I hope you are reaching up to greet the angels.

7 comments:

Gilby said...

Shawn, that is saddening news about your father. He sounds like a wonderful man and father; you and your family will be in my prayers.

Alberto said...

I am very sorry to hear that, Shawn. I have no words. Remain strong and proud.

shawnkielty said...

Thanks you both. My father passed away today at about 3:30.

A Midnight Rider said...

I'm very sorry about your dad. There will be lots of good memories when you think about him. Enjoy them, they will be with you forever.

Jill said...

Shawn, I'm so sorry to hear about your father.

Di said...

Aww, Shawn, I'm so sorry!! What a great tribute, this writing!! I'm right there with you. I'm glad you'd made the decision to go home for now. I will remember you and your mom and extended family and friends in my prayers!

My dad is having his struggles too--we can never be prepared for this time--I feel for you...you are in my thoughts!!

the old bag said...

Hey Shawn -- just got back into town.

I'm so sorry to hear. This piece is a beautiful tribute to your dad and his influence.

Be strong and thankful.