Years ago, I was the one to tell my dad one of his buddies had died. At the time, he had yet to lose many (if any) friends; my dad was younger—in his early 60s—and had attended funerals of mentors, teachers and neighbors, but not peers. Not yet.
Dad's friend had moved south years ago, when their own nest emptied, yet they kept in touch with the rogue Christmas card and gossip they could muster from their now-adult kids. I heard the news from their heartbroken daughter, Jilly, and immediately called my dad.
Daddy, we're all good here, nothing to worry about, but I have bad news. It's really not good. You ready?
"Oh geesh. Hurry up. What is it? Just tell me already," he said.
It's sad. I was sad to hear it, and I'm sad to share it. You ready?
James Curry died.
Jilly's dad. James Curry. He's dead.
"I know who he is, Kathy." His monotonous tone was harsh.
Then silence. Nothing.
A breath, then, on the exhale, gently whispered, "OK. Oh. OK, then."
I'm sorry, Dad. I'm so sorry to tell you. Jilly called just now. Been trying to reach me for a couple days. It happened last weekend, funeral's tomorrow.
You OK, Dad? You OK?
"What happened?" he mumbled. Then louder, angry: "Jesus H. Christ, what the heck happened?"
Well, Jilly said he came in from a round of golf, they're down south, North Carolina, you know? He was waiting for his table at the club. Was supposed to have lunch with Mrs. Curry and some grandkids. Got a drink at the bar and was waiting for the table. Dropped. Right then and there. Heart attack. Died at the hospital.
What, Dad? You OK? You hear me?
"Jesus Christ, yes, I heard you. I said, 'That lucky bastard,'" he boomed, his bellowing laughter catching me off-guard.
"HA-HA-HA! What a way to go! He's what, 70? 75? Not even, I don't think. Older 'n me, but Christ, not like OLD-OLD. Not dead old. Not old enough ..." His voiced trailed off, then boomed back strong.
"Well, good for him, that son of a bitch! Well, I'll be. Good. No ... great! Well done, Jimmy. Well done! Good. For. You! Ha! Imagine it: golf, grandkids, cocktail, lunch and—BAM! It's over! Fat lady singin' ov-ah! None of this prolonged bullshit you read about. Not sick a day in his life. No walkers, no wheelchairs. No lists of doctors and tests and what-ifs and medicine that costs more than my car and makes you shit like a cow. Just hit a round, head to the club and—later! Over and out! See ya! Really kinda sad, but wow. Just wow! Atta boy, Jimmy! Well played! Ha! Well played, indeed!"
Well, OK, then. I see you're OK with this. I guess you've got a point, but the family is sad, you know. It was very unexpected. Really sad. Shocked and sad.
"I'm sure they are. They should be. Great guy, helluva guy. But gotta admit it, what a way to go! Golf and gone. If only … ya know? Perfect exit. Perfect! I don't golf, but you couldn't write a better ending! The only thing better would be quick cancer. Don't get me wrong, I don't wish cancer on nobody, but it wouldn't be so bad. You know, the doc says you got two weeks, get your shit together. Say what you gotta say, then good night, sweetheart. That's all she wrote! That would be even better than this. But we can't choose, can we? Jeesh, look at that Jimmy. What a lucky, lucky bastard."
My dad wasn't so lucky in his own exit strategy. He died despite successfully battling diabetes and somewhat stalling Parkinson's before that asshole pancreatic cancer got a death grip on him and didn't let go. Now, several years without him, I remain sad, yet so very grateful that he's gone.
No more wheelchairs and walkers and catheters. No more poking and prodding and testing and drugging. Perhaps that sounds a little sick, and it's sure to piss off a relative or two, but there's something to be said about a life worth living. Quality of life and all that.
After having the honor of helping him exit as gracefully as possible, clinging to any dignity my sisters and I could muster for him, I wish with all my heart, his well-lived life was played to the final round, like his buddy's nearly a decade earlier.
But it wasn't.
I never asked him if he remembered what he said about his old buddy James Curry, but I always wondered if he thought about it, when he was in the midst of all that was ugly and wrong and inhumane about the end of life care. I certainly did.
It hung heavy on my mind, especially during those last painful weeks, when my sisters and I lifted our larger-than-life father in and out of bed, in and out of the shower, on and off the toilet. When we gently injected insulin into his disappearing torso, until sugar levels no longer mattered. When we administered meds and setting alarms as not to miss a single dose. So many pills. When we put batteries in his hearing aids, cleaned his glasses, and massaged his hands and feet with gratitude and love.
I wondered if he too wished for a different ending. A luckier way out.
We tried. We filled the house with bacon and brownies he could smell but could not eat; with music and noise he could hear but could not sing or speak. Instead, we gave him ice water in his favorite glass, then from a straw, then with a sponge, then none at all.
How I so wish he golfed.
I miss him today and all days, and hope he was grateful for his chance to say goodbye, but I for one, am not. His prolonged death was inhumane. Yes, offering the gift of goodbyes, but words shared only with the shell of the man he once was, and not to the dad I knew and loved so well.