Traveling In and Out of Heaven: Prologue
"Do not go gentle into that good night but
rage, rage against the dying of the light."
- Dylan Thomas
Thursday, March 17, 2016
Here we are at the gravesite ceremony, standing next to each other, just inches from Allan’s grave. Will it be possible to perpetuate some semblance of a relationship, as I fulfill my role as Executor of her father’s Estate? Will she contravene Allan’s directive to reimburse me for $15,000, a very small portion of the Trust Fund, that I require to live on. Joan’s conduct during her father’s three-week hospitalization – with two of those weeks spent attached to a respirator – was mercenary, iniquitous, and disgraceful. I was the medical proxy in Allan’s Will, but he inadvertently forgot to sign it. Joan exploited her “next-of-kin” status to undermine life and death decisions for her father, since she seemed to be motivated by the Trust Fund she would inherit, rather than any possibility of her father’s survival.
Dirt is shoveled over the coffin as the brutal winds refuse to calm down and I can feel his rage. It’s Allan – I know it’s him – he’s not going to leave without a fight. His body was delayed one hour at the Detroit/Windsor border and he’s still not ready to depart. He had “a lot more living to do” he often told me, since his esophageal cancer diagnosis five months ago.
People are recalling charming stories about him. I tell how he came to my rescue in Kindergarten, and Joan reads her “eulogy” though I don’t hear a word of it, as I zone in and out. Now my cousin Bernie is recalling a lovely childhood memory of Allan. There’s quiet for what seems like several minutes, until Joan blurts out, “Do you think he knew that I loved him?”
Allan’s close friend, Jim, whispers angrily into my right ear, “Everyone knows how terrible she treated him! And what the hell is she wearing?”
“I think it’s her yoga outfit,” I murmur, in a daze.
I had heard those exact same words two weeks ago in the ICU. She was saying good-bye to her father after spending only two and one-half days with him, knowing that it could be the last time she would see him alive. Still, she was going back to Chicago to “save my vacation and sick days.”
The first day that Allan was in the ICU, I called her all day and night with updates. He almost died twice during the day, and at midnight, I watched doctors prepare him for attachment to a respirator, as tears streaked down my face, knowing that I may never hear his voice again, while his daughter stayed out late on her date. She still had not decided whether to fly to Michigan, despite calls from Allan’s closest friend and myself, until Sunday afternoon, when a nurse told her, “If it was my father, I’d be on the next plane.”
The banality of life support.
I don’t think she knows what love is. I don’t think she’s capable of putting someone else first. Did Allan know that she loved him? Joanie doesn’t know if she loved him!
Their relationship had been arduous since the divorce in 2004. Joan didn’t see him for two years straight, between 2014 and 2016. Whether she loved him seems dubious: you do not go two full years without seeing a parent, especially since she always seemed to be traveling on weekends and holidays. Despite how turbulent the waves crashed into the sand, Allan’s motto seemed to be: forgive, forget, and “call me every Sunday.” Before he was hospitalized, he loved his daughter, without a doubt, and I’m sure he thought she loved him, too. To think otherwise would lacerate his soul, a wound he couldn’t possibly endure. When she revealed her true colors to one and all in the ICU at the end of his life – he had to know she did not love him, which makes it even more heart-rending.
Certainly, he was cognizant that Joan spent very little time with him in the hospital. He could not talk because of the tube down his throat, but he was unequivocally aware that his daughter was not there for him. During her two and one-half days in Michigan, she arrived at the hospital at about 10:00am, left at 4:00pm, and didn’t go back in the evening. Instead of staying for the remainder of the week to encourage him in the fight for his life, she called his doctors from Chicago.
She threatened me, over the phone, that she would use her “next-of-kin” status to keep her father off of life support, if the first breathing test was a failure. Doctors were improving his lung function with steroids and intended to keep treating him for another seven to ten days, if he didn’t pass the first test. Yet his daughter was looming in the distance with the intention of jeopardizing his survival. The next time she encroached on Allan’s life was ten days later, and it was even more menacing, as I watched her maneuver an exit strategy that had been formulated in advance, with her mother’s help. I started calling them the Evil Twins because that’s who they are. The daughter has turned into the mother.
Not once did Joan display any fervency in helping him survive – NOT ONCE!
How many times over the past few years had I witnessed Allan’s anguish over his relationship with his only daughter? How many times had he asked his friends who had daughters for their advice, only to be told to keep his expectations low so that he wouldn’t constantly be disappointed. Even after his cancer diagnosis, she could still pierce a dagger through his heart, as when she threatened to not see him last January 1st 2016, when she came to Michigan with her boyfriend. It turned out to be a misunderstanding, but none of us – not Allan, Michael, nor I – could comprehend why she had to be so cruel.
When she walked into Allan’s ICU room for the first time, her pursuit of the Life Insurance Trust was palpable, in a class of its own. His survival was not even a close second. This wasn’t just my point-of-view: family and friends were also stunned to observe that the Trust was her primary concern.
Didn’t she know that there wasn’t a monetary value for taking the time to know him, to appreciate him, to love him. She cared more about the costs than for the things that can’t be bought. She exploited his survival and death to manipulate the Life Insurance Trust. She knew the price of everything and the value of nothing.
And when it feels like your heart has been torn out of you and there’s nothing left to hurt... There is still something, somewhere, somehow – that permeates through the emptiness and restores all of the shattered pieces of the inner self – the soul – for it to continually and eternally grieve but endure.