(This post contains profanity.)
Speaking of time in fractions of a century seems more dramatic than just saying “twenty-five years”. It’s been a quarter of a century since the last Father’s Day I celebrated. In ten days from now, my father will have been dead for a quarter of a century. About a year ago I was as old as my father was when he died a quarter of a century ago.
I don’t know how life would have been had he survived his massive coronary. A myocardial infarction he suffered on the night of 24 June 1994, after spending a happy evening with his family, was (according to the specialist who had the shitty experience of having to explain he wasn’t coming home) enough to damage a significant enough portion of the heart muscle that he would have been in very poor shape in the best case.
It was the worst experience of my life. I’ve had bad days, I’ve had Bad Days, and then I’ve had the morning after the night where three of us went to the hospital and only two of us returned. And that fucking bucket.
Grief is a weird beastie. He was busy dying, mon pere, and the ambulance was not going to be fast enough, so my mother had to drive (I was 17 and very much unlicensed). He had a bucket he could be sick into while we drove to the hospital. When we got there, the staff wasn’t expecting us because who brings a dying man to a hospital after midnight?
There was something on TV about an American football star turned actor, who had been in the Naked Gun films. That’s all that was playing on CNN as the nurses and other emergency staff put my dad onto a bed and started stringing up a glucose drip and other stuff. I think that’s the moment he died, but my mother and I said it looked like a diabetic coma, because he’d had them a bunch. Dude was brittle.
His specialist physician was on the way, and eventually he arrived and they wheeled my dead father into an important-looking room and closed the doors, and because I didn’t care one shit about OJ Simpson, I tried to peek through the crack in the door of the room they’d wheeled him into. I saw paddles for the defibrillator, and I realized in that split second that we’d never see him again. My mother looked at me, I made the universal movie “paddles rubbing together” motion, and then we waited. OJ Simpson was driving his white Ford Bronco endlessly on the television, and we waited.
I took the bucket of sick and went looking for a place to clean it out. I found a room with a fancy basin where you turn a container upside down and press, and water shoots up inside and cleans it out. It helped with the smell at least.
A hundred years later, the specialist took us aside and I had the worst conversation I’ve ever had with anyone about anything. My mother made a sound I hope never to hear again for as long as I live. Then because of my morbid curiosity, I needed details. That’s how I found out about muscle damage, lack of oxygen, wheelchairs, and how this was really for the best.
I don’t begrudge that poor doctor. Not now. He couldn’t have enjoyed the conversation either, but at the time I thought he was emotionally distant. Looking back on the memory of that conversation, he was trying not to cry himself.
There were phone calls with some relatives, a last moment where my mother went to say goodbye to him and collect some personal effects, and then we drove home in silence. My mother and I, and that fucking bucket.
When we got home, I took the bucket and went outside to the back yard where we had a sink, and started washing it out. That’s where my mother christened that fucking bucket, and said “will you leave that fucking bucket alone?”. In the kitchen, she looked at me with eyes that said “we’re so fucked”, and then she said “What are we going to tell your brother and sister?” Fortunately (?) they were awake, and I’ve never been closer to my brother emotionally as I was that morning, an hour before sunrise, a week before his 13th birthday.
Last year in November, when my sister got married, I read a poem our father wrote when she was six years old. She was nine that night in the kitchen. Nine, 13, 17, and a recently single mother.
And that fucking bucket.
It’s Father’s Day 2019 on Sunday 16 June, which is tomorrow on my calendar. If you are on speaking terms with your parental units, tell them you love them. It’s the very least you can do.