Struggling to get his left leg into the passenger side of the car, he sighs and says:
– I’m not particularly interested in this getting old business. I’d just as soon pack it in.
Statements like these remind me of when I told him that my stepfather, Ian, was dying.
– There are worse things than dying, Katie.
He was right.
I was three years old the morning that I walked into Andrew’s playroom, found Ian sleeping on the fold out couch and woke him with a surprise attack. His response: smiles and tickles.
I loved him instantly and he hadn’t even met my Mum yet.
In the early years, I remember plastic squiggy fish bait, a broke down boat in the yard and lots of holding hands, climbing knees and flipping over. Ian flooded me with love and attention and in my whole life only raised his voice once – the day I didn’t want to share the McNuggets he had just bought me.
Ian was a dreamer with a heart of gold but if wealth is a lifestyle, he lived in poverty. A smoker, drinker, gambler and anytime of day toker, Ian would give a stranger his last dollar and had a hard time taking responsibility for his own health or financial future.
He thrived in a home with children where he could shower us with love and tell Mum/Brookie/Queenie Baby that he was going to jump out the basement window when she was giving him a hard time. Life was good when he had health on his side and my mother to take care of the financial responsibilities.
Alone, he didn’t fair so well. He lived in compromising places – a floating junk boat anchored illegally in the Gorge and in his car were particularly low points.
What started with a simple cut, festered into an infection that took his leg and eventually his life.
When I got the call to come for the final farewell, I took a seaplane from Vancouver and finished a monster box of chocolate mints along the way. Seeing him that first day in the hospital, I had to leave the room so I could pass out discreetly in the hallway instead of in front of him. From the look of surprise on the nurses faces as they picked me up off the floor and sat me down with a cup of OJ and a cool cloth, I gathered that most people manage to keep it together better than I do.
You could say a conflict of emotions arises watching someone you love pass the point of no return: the point where you start hoping for them to die.
I was having a bath before returning to the hospital when the call came. I missed the last breath again and the coward in me felt relieved.
Though I was heartbroken and relieved that he was gone, I also felt certain that he left this world feeling loved and cherished. We held his hand, kissed his face, sang out of key and told him we loved him many, many times. During his conscious moments, he held my hand, kissed my face, told me he ‘woved’ me and winked at me with a smile. The last time I saw him awake he said goodbye by blowing me kisses as I left the room.
We spread his ashes in the sea at Swartz Bay.
– Heart attack, says Dad to himself.
– What’s that?
– Just hoping for a heart attack.
I don’t think it’s possible to fear death more than I do – but I get it. Make it quick and easy when it comes Lord. Quick and easy.