My dear friend Jack died while I was away. He and I both knew he was dying, so when I left I asked him to think about living until I got back. He said he would consider that. But then he got to go home and I knew once he did that, having spent all his energy on getting to the point of 'going home to die' he wouldn't waste any time moving on.
I talked to him on the phone from North Carolina the day before he died. He told me he was so joyous to be 'home' and also told me he didn't think he could keep his promise to wait for me before he went 'home' in a different way. I was in a motel in Fredricksburg VA, watching college football when Jack's daughter called me to let me know her father had died. It was 10 p.m. on a Saturday. I was back in CT by 2:30 the next day. All he needed to do was live another 16 1/2 hours and I could have seen him again. Not much to ask--think about how short a time 16 1/2 hours is in the scheme of things....
But all that is about 'me'. Jack was on a different schedule. God bless him and I know how God has blessed me by knowing him. Lordy, lordy he was about the best man ever...
Through his dying I got to mourn my father--which I never did properly over 20 years ago.
I was with my father in the hospital--St. Raphel's in New Haven--just before he died. We'd had a wonderful conversation...his dementia had lifted like the fog is burned away on winter mornings...and we spoke in hushed and profound ways. Then I told him I needed to go home and he said, I swear this is true, "I'm going home too...." I only lived about a 10 minute drive from the hospital and I was half-way home when I realized that what he said wasn't a false and mind clouded statement, but the truth. I almost turned around to go back but didn't.
When I walked in our house the phone was ringing. It was the hospital to let me know my father had died. My daughter, 8 or 9 years old, came over and hugged me and said, 'you are an orphan now....' Out of the mouths of babes...
I went back to sit with him until the funeral directors came. He had been being shaved by a black nurse when, she told me, he sat up, almost being cut by the razor and said, "I have to get out of here", and laid down dead. Not bad 'last words', I'd say.
While I sat with him a Roman priest came by to ask if I'd like last rites. I told him I would like that.
My father was a racist and a virulent anti-Catholic. When JFK was running for president, my father asked me if I knew what would happen if Kennedy was elected. I didn't know, so he told me, 'they'll freeze holy water and make Pope-cycles', he said, laughing. I didn't get the joke.
So, he died being shaved by a black woman and was given the last rites of the Roman Church. Don't tell me there's no such thing as irony.
And I never mourned him in the way he deserved--the man who raised me and gave me life and taught me many things. Jack has let me do that important work.
And I mourn Jack--my mentor and friend and ally and priestly guru. And knowing he was one of the best men ever, I have come to realize my father was that too.
God bless them both.
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