The hangovers Chris and I suffered were well-deserved. I fell asleep after texting a message to Lars around three that I might finally come home around dawn. I never made it, instead falling asleep on Dad’s small leather loveseat.
“I heard you guys guffawing all night,” Dad said. “Did you have fun?”
I felt some adolescent shame thinking of Dad trying to sleep after receiving word that he was on is his way out—his thankless children yukking it up like a comedy team on his front porch. On the other hand, the alternative was us beating our chests in agony, and that seemed a little melodramatic.
“Yeah, we did,” we admitted.
“Good,” Dad said.
I remembered some early “walks of shame” when I ended up crashing at some stranger’s grungy apartment, but in this case I was 41 and sleeping at my father’s. Lars picked me up, and I struggled to pull myself together before Dad’s next event, the MRI to see whether cancer equalled paralysis. It was scheduled for the eerily-odd hour of 8:30 at night.
Chris packed in preparation for leaving the next day, and Dad sat with his death sentence, tottering about the house and puttering in the art studio annex Chris and I set up by the kitchen.
Things were changing with such rapidity that we were barely keeping up with the stages as Dad passed through them. The day after the oncology appointment, in his trademark thoroughness and recognition of his own diminished state, Dad finally requested a walker. “I’m looking ahead, trying to make some choices about how to manage, and I would like to get a walker,” he stated, confident that he was cautiously planning for a future which would arrive, just not quite yet. I had been investigating walkers anyway, along with all the other strange medical equipment I had never considered, nor knew existed. The same day, we bought a lift chair to ease him upright from sitting to standing. Dad loved the walker immediately.
Chris and I walked in from purchasing rails for Dad to hold himself up on the toilet, and a tall toilet seat to elevate him, confident that we were managing Dad’s needs with a level-headedness which spoke to our ability to rise to any challenge. In a sing-song voice, I announced, “We got you a brand new potty seat,” emphasizing the silliness of the thing, a toddler’s toilet aid at the end of life.
We installed them, Dad recognizing their value immediately.
And Chris and I put up the makeshift art annex in the breezeway of his kitchen, noting privately to each other that Dad would probably not be going out to his real art studio too often in the near future. Perhaps never. But this was a good interim measure, a compromise, sure, but not terribly demeaning. Dad stocked it with brand new art supplies, new paints, new brushes, fresh watercolor blocks.
The cancer had other ideas.
Whatever mental fetters had been holding Dad together were weakening en masse. Chris drove Dad to my house after dinner and in one short day Dad seemed to have shrunken and become even more infirm. We raised our eyebrows at each other, Chris helped Dad into our car, drove off, and Dad and I struck out for the MRI early because Dad was too weak to stagger the twenty steps to our patio to kill time.
I was struck by a creeping sense of genuine concern. I had never actually had to lift Dad out of our car, but now there was no choice. And my tiny stature wasn’t too comfortable wooling around my fragile father, tough though I am, but Dad’s momentum alone could no longer work its miracles. I scrambled a wheelchair, poured Dad in it, and checked him in by writing his name on a clipboard at the ghostly desk, unmanned at such a late hour. The halls were empty, no daytime bustle of workaday hospital business, only overnight patients and attendants hidden in their rooms, two patients for MRI’s like us, and a couple of techs. The fluorescents and mauve institutional wallpaper accents made for a depressing wait.
“Mr. Moone,” the tech announced. “Please come this way.” He eyeballed Dad’s condition there in his wheelchair and suggested I come along to help. I agreed, though I didn’t really know what he meant, and pushed Dad into a windowless, awkward room, with medical supplies and tables pushed against the walls in what appeared to be little organization. The monolithic MRI machine stood on its own in a room behind glass; that was the only detail that matched medical dramas on TV. Everything was beige, poorly lit, industrial and practical. There was no creative director for this room; it was purely utilitarian.
I pushed Dad into the restroom where we did, for the first time, a profoundly awkward dance to get his clothes off. Working around his cane, a wheelchair and his infirmity in the limited confines of the industrial bathroom, I began to peel away Dad’s shell to reveal again exactly how frail he had become. He was exhausted and embarrassed. His nudity didn’t bother him but the weakness did: Dad’s reliance upon me, his baby girl, to carry him through this extremely personal struggle struck him in the most tender spot where his pride lived. And the full import of my duties revealed themselves to me as we wrestled with belts and socks, mundane objects rendered adversarial.
It took several long minutes to get Dad into his gown, and then back in the wheelchair. I rolled him out into the antechamber and handed him over to the MRI tech. Dad looked surprised and a little scared.
I went to the lobby to wait.
Two hours later, Dad came out ready to pack it in for good. His aching bones and the mission to stay completely motionless during the procedure made him so sore that he looked like he might cry with relief. Back into his clothes, more difficult this time because Dad was even weaker, back into the wheelchair, back into the ravenous bucket seat in my car.
Back home. I woke Chris and he helped me lift Dad out of the car. The front steps were now too steep for Dad to climb and Chris helped Dad walk through the back door instead. Chris was leaving the next morning. We shared a look of concern.
I was on my own.
"Dark Age," gouache on paper, circa 1999