The Call December 13, 2006Posted by Administrator in Catholicism, Cultural Pessimism, Death and Dying, Family, Know Thine Enemy, Liberal self-loathing, Personal.
Ah, Great God. Where to begin?
There is the dreaded Hunt for the Nursing Home.
There is the Mother’s Redeeming Act.
There is the Universal Realization that there MUST be a Higher Being, be it God, in the midst of suffering. Without that God, suffering paints the universe most starkly as a slavering beast intent only on devouring its own progeny. No hope. No love. Only root, hog, or die. (Or life is nasty, dull, brutish and short. Take your pick) I cannot accept this. Logically I cannot accept it. I have seen and felt too much love in my life to think that it is all a rabid, monstrous will to power; the Law of Club and Fang triumphant at last.
If Dawkins, Myers, Dennett and Harris are correct, then they are are promoting the ultimate oxymoron: They claim to be able to love in a world that they claim is devoid of love.
Those perhaps, are topics for another day. Instead, I am going to dwell for now upon The Call.
We’ve all, any of us over the age of 20, spent at least a moment’s trepdidation when the phone rings at an unGodly hour.
2AM. The phone rings. The questions ensue: “Who’s died? Who got hurt? My God, is it Mom? Dad? My wife? My child?”
My dad got that call over 20 years ago. Both my brother and I were gone for the night, Dad didn’t know where we were. He got the call, this one at 4AM. Dad knew the moment the phone rang. Was it me? My brother? He knew it was one of us, as Mom was asleep upstairs.
“C’mon up to Evergreen. Your son is here. He is hurt.”
My brother, they responded.
Since they didn’t sound agitated, Dad took his time. Cleaned up. Went to the 7-11 for some coffee. Moseyed up to the hospital. Found my brother in the ER with a nasty gash on his forehead and no comprehension of who my father was, talking the at-once hilarious and alarming, utter gibberish that only the victim of a serious concussion can babble. That’s when Dad really got scared. My brother had been in a car accident -as a passenger- where the car got into a terminal argument with a tree, facilitated by high speed, slick roads, that indomitable sense of invulnerability that possesses all teens, no substances, and one helluva lot of luck for my brother.
Dad talked for years about That Call, and how loopy my brother was when he found him.
My wife and I feared for a brief while that we were getting The Call. For five years, we kept getting calls from a local drunk that mistakenly believed that our phone number was the same as his estranged wife. This fellow would call at all hours, piss drunk, babbling the most pathetic and heart-rending self-pitying nonsense. We simply heard him out, gently told him he had the wrong number. He would then apologize (in the most self-pitying fashion imaginable), or if he was really ripped would either hang-up or repeat his harangue.
Needless to say, this somewhat anesthesized us against The Call for some years. But it’s been awhile, we’ve moved, that poor drunk has another number to confuse with his wife’s and the tension felt at late-night calls has been allowed to increase.
Last night, I finally got The Call. From my brother.
“I’m sorry, dude. The nurse checked in on him about 3 hours ago, and he was fine. Then they checked again about an hour ago to turn him over, and he was just gone.”
“3-6 months,” they told me last week. They were off by multiple degrees. Not months.
Try days. He lasted exactly six days from my discovering he was sick.
Ah God, I reply. He was gone, huh?”
My wife gasps next to me.
Yeah. I’m so sorry, dude.”
And we talk about the aftermath of death. What to do with the body. His apartment. How fast can we get out there to Montana. We discuss the speed with which he left us; the pain of not being able to see him again. We use muted tones, hushed voices. Calm and straight, though. No whispering, no tremor in the voice. We’re men, godammit, don’t show any weakness to each other.
Even if he is my brother.
Maybe because he’s my brother.
We say goodbye, firm up plans to meet tomorrow so we can travel together to go to Montana and pull down the final curtain; removing any evidence of Dad’s presence. Take the car, clean out the apartment, close out the checking account.
Hang up, and lay back, walleyed, staring at the ceiling.
I’m supposed to cry.
I don’t feel like crying.
I feel some relief, actually. Dad was really uncomfortable on the phone. It was evident.
Where’s the agony? The recrimination?
Am I going to be miserable because I didn’t get out to see him as soon as I heard? Perhaps. Perhaps not. I have children, and he was not willing to come out unless we had the right place for him already established.
But it does continue to gnaw at me that it has been over two years since I or my family have seen him. . .and that gnawing I suspect will continue for some time.
What does one do after The Call? Stare at ceiling. Wonder when the tears will come. Hold the hand of your lovely, devoted spouse who is a little worried about how you might react. Hold desultory conversation. Go to work? Take leave for grief? Wonder where the grief is. . .
Finally, go downstairs and take up the long-neglected Rosary, and pray a desperate set of decades from the Sorrowful Mysteries for the salvation of Dad’s soul.
Did I mention he’s not Catholic? Baptized Methodist, he hasn’t entered a church out of real desire in probably 60 years, and died in the state the pre-Vatican II church called, “unshriven.” The state of his soul in real doubt.
One can only hope that what I teach my religion students is not only theoretically true but actually true as well: We have no idea who is in Hell, if anyone. It may be unpopulated; yes, not even Hitler. We do not know what happens to men’s soul’s as they depart their bodies. Perhaps a final reckoning may result in the deathbed conversion.
I fervently hope and pray that I am right.