Earlier this month I wrote:
Humans – that is, the “being” part of the human – may arise out of the individual patterning of his or her biology and neurology. The “being’s” task is to remain aloft above the sum of his or her own parts, and not, through physical or neurological dysfunction or deficit sink back in to the morass of autonomic functioning unaware of anything beyond the instant.
I think that our lives – that is, whether we have life or are dead – don’t have much to do with our health. They’re related but separate categories, if categories is the word I want. People in terrible health seem to linger for months and, short of euthanasia or suicide, it doesn’t seem to matter much how how they feel about it.
For two weeks I’ve been thinking about human mortality and how to write about it. My wife’s grandfather is in hospital and for several weeks has been expected to live no more than a few more days. His brother died a few months ago, picking tomatoes. My wife’s mother has spent almost every night in his hospital room with him because she does not want him to die alone. Certainly he will never return to the home where he and his now three or so years deceased wife have lived since the 1940s. For the first time this year as we drove by the old white farmhouse we didn’t honk the horn in greeting because there was no one in residence to hear it.
The man who married my late maternal grandmother in 1973 (I think it was that year), now 96, has seemed to be growing weaker over the past several months to a year. About four, five weeks ago now, he fell for the second time, and because he was living independently and apparently lost consciousness, lay there for several hours until he was able to muster the strength to get to the telephone and call somebody, probably my mother, to help him. Not long after that he agreed to daily help at home, and shortly after that determined it was time to hang up his car-keys. Within a week or so afterward, he made some alteration to his medical regime without medical advice that seems to have altered his consciousness to such a degree he cannot remain at home at all. Little likelihood remains that he will ever return to the home he built all those years ago for my grandmother.
A few days ago a man of my acquaintance died. When we last spoke, he talked about how he wanted to reconnect with his son who’d been living homeless in a southwestern state suffering from pancreatitis attributable to chronic, long-term alcohol abuse. He himself suffered from emphysema, but thought he had two or three years left to live. A former high wage earner, this man had been reduced to a meager and fixed income. He continued to find meaning in writing, recording, and performing music. He said his father used to tell him, “You’ll never amount to anything.”
After our parents die, the only people who have any idea who we are on the basis of who we were are our siblings, if we have any. My son has no siblings, and as I think about my elders as they make their way through their final days, I think of my little boy as he wades into the first of his. By the time my wife and I turn our toes skyward I hope our son will be happily established raising a family of his own. Possibly these dolorous preoccupations are entirely my own and occur to no one else.
On the other hand, all this thought and feeling, much of it probably rooted in the experience and observations of fatherhood, motivates me to greater social interest and compassion for those who do not inhabit that little circle of caring made of wife, son, and a few others who comprise the people who matter most to me.