The plan was to return to the West Coast on Saturday. I wasn’t sure he would make it. Every day – he seemed a bit weaker. The nurse from hospice came Thursday. Most of the conversation with her was about diarrhea. There were a few “accidents” in the previous few days and that was humiliating. This is the “end-of-life” crap (pun intended) that he didn’t want to be a part of. He did the laundry himself. Didn’t want anyone else to participate. The nurse did her best to add some value: she advised keeping a food diary to track what “worked” and what didn’t work. Mom fetched a little notebook from Walgreens and on Friday she opened it to see how much he had written. Nothing.
The social worker was supposed to arrive @ some point on Friday but that never happened. As we were driving back from the sports club event, dad started talking about getting Fish-and-Chips for lunch. We looked for it at a few places in Waltham and Newton and found nothing. The local deli was closed (early shabbat?) and so we went home and had something else. I didn’t think the Fish-and-Chips was very important so I let it go.
Saturday. The flight to SFO left BOS at 2:48 so we planned on leaving home about Noon. Dad got up about 11:00. He hadn’t slept well. Nor had I. Mom looked pretty crappy too. We all knew he was leaving our home – the place we had lived since 1975 – forever. We didn’t say it. We didn’t say many things. But it hung over our every moment that day. He seemed so groggy. I asked how he felt. “Not good. I woke up at 6 AM and took a lorazepam so I could get some more rest before the flight. I don’t think it’s gone yet.” I was relieved. I had been worried that the calcium was rising. Do I pull the “emergency brake” and stop the trip to SF? Some tea and an hour later – he was much less groggy, but he still had a look on his face that is so hard to describe. Mouth open, eyes squinting a bit: it looked like a grimace – or a smile – or perhaps a grimace trying to be a smile. It’s how I feel when I’m at mile 22 of a marathon. I’ve made it so far – but the finish line isn’t in sight. And it hurts now.
Driving to the airport – he asked for my advice. His brother had written him a long e-mail with loquacious details about his own medical problems (which – seemed quite trivial to us) and then at the end of the e-mail asked dad if he was “hanging in there …” Dad thought it was especially insensitive of his brother to send such an egocentric message – capped off with such a cavalier comment. “What does he mean by that? I’ll die any day now! – No – I’m not hanging in there!” “What an asshole.”
An asshole whose brother is dying and he doesn’t know what to say. Or maybe he’s not an asshole?
I suggested he be generous – express some empathy for his medical problem. “Ask if he’s hanging in there.” I smiled and looked over at him in the passenger seat. Snarky grin – a real grin – and that spark in his eye I hadn’t seen in days. “Too funny. I will do just that.” And so he did.
The flight was delayed, and I was able to get a gate pass and join them in the boarding area for a few hours. I went to get some food and brought back some things I thought he would like. He nibbled at the crackers .. and had a bite of turkey sandwich. “What I’d really like is some Fish-and-Chips.”
And so I had a mission: find in Logan Airport what I could not find in suburbia. Twelve gates and $22 later: mission accomplished. I suspect he’d been thinking about it for days. “Fish-and-chips one last time.” I didn’t ask about the significance. Maybe when he had come to Boston for college in 1954, it was his first meal. That’s a good story. I’ll stick with it … and so … it would be his last meal in Boston.
He ate almost half of the fish – and only a few fries – before folding the cover closed with a satisfied grin. “I think I’ll take a break.” We both knew what that meant. I wanted to congratulate him as would the parent of a finicky four year old. “Good job! You ate so well!”
Two hours later, after we tearlessly hugged at the entry ramp, he handed me the remainder. “I won’t eat this on the plane. You take it.” And down the ramp he went – refusing the wheelchair. “I’ll see you in a few days .. ” I said. And I will.
Driving back to their house – so quiet and empty – the Fish-and-Chips sat in the passenger seat. I picked at it as I cried. I let the sadness come. Finally.