The last resort

My father died in the year 2014; on the 8th day of April, my sister’s birthday.  I believe my goddaughter was with him when he vanished. She seemingly had predicted his demise and had stayed with him overnight at the hospital, sleeping in a chair in his room. He was almost 96 years of age (born August 17, 1918).  He was a decorated war hero. The decoration, from what I could tell, was the lingering horror of the entire episode acidly mixed with its bolstering conviction on both sides. I once overheard him remark of the Swedes, “At least we fought with the Germans!”

When his mobility became impaired and he could no longer manage the stairs at home and my mother was on the decline, he spent his last days (several months) at the Perley Rideau Veterans’ hospital. His room was adjacent another senior military man who was sickly and whose wife (dying of cancer) visited him regularly. When I visited my father he was still alert though partly diminished in his intellectual acuity, It was a contraction only observable by those who knew him. He had trouble getting out of bed but was not completely bedridden. He once muttered, “It would be less trouble if I were dead”.  It struck me as singularly odd because it reflected not his view of personal inadequacy rather his apology for being burdensome to others. Perhaps he had already confessed his own progressive withering. But to me it then resounded as a sad misfortune. Since then I’ve begun looking at things differently.

Facing the last resort is likewise for me oddly more about being burdensome than inadequate.  The meagerness of life is foreseeable in everything that surrounds us. Plants and animals steadily deteriorate.  As shall we. It is though not the admission of loss that troubles me; rather what is to be done in the meantime. I won’t pretend to be overtaken by magnanimity for the tolerance of others in the process but I will say I have often regretted my inability to contribute throughout my widening imposition on others. It is akin to attempting a resolution in a circular dream, a repetition that never advances.

Comically this downward evolution of which I now speak is not entirely exacting. Indeed it is in some respects easygoing.  More particularly I view my incapacity as not punishing but rather relieving. It relieves me of what has been a lifetime of commitment to sometimes Stoic sustainability.  When you think of it, it is a deceit ever to imagine that through whatever effort of improvement and propriety we may engage that we shall succeed to overcome our eventual downfall and capitulation. It is as hideous a distortion as cometic surgery. Wouldn’t it be more sophisticated to confess the path of Nature? Seeing an old man on a skateboard is not my idea of flattering. Similarly certain customs and habits are the preserve of the elderly. I am now at that point of reckoning.  And I can tell you, I hope to do so with unflappability. Already for example I have graduated from a bicycle to a tricycle.  I must begin wearing my raffia hat more often!

If I had my druthers I would include in this my last resort a daily glass of sherry.  But there are even in these penultimate activities boundaries to be observed. It may be an avowal of one’s continued strength to acknowledge the force of abiding addiction. Once again life advances on its own terms in its own time. Besides facing the last resort does not legitimize unprofitable behaviour; rather it authenticates congruous conduct. It’s not your choice of a last meal before being executed. It’s a decision to do what one enjoys without remorse or misgiving. Nor is this calculation particularly difficult.  Like all other appetites, they speak for themselves. It is more a matter of yielding to the persuasion, submitting to the alteration. It’s not about preserving the past or reinvigorating it.  Those days are gone. It is no more nutritious to relive the past than to eat a hotdog at a circus.  The fun then was something else, itself a different intangible, all unrecoverable. Even in pictures.  Maybe lasting only in one’s mind.  But memories are the photo albums of old age.  They too become hackneyed with time. For my part I am convinced there repair in the future ingredients of levity and inspiration. New ones.  Different ones. Just like the very young, the very old harbour what are often misguided fears of inadequacy and impending peril. I am reminded as always that Nature teaches us how to die; just as it taught us how to live, like the birds that magically fly from the nest or the fish that swim upstream or the plants that turn towards the sun. The last resort like any other is an adventure to be anticipated. Not for any preposterous philosophic reason that I or any other person may fabricate or retail; but for the simple recognition of conclusion. It is a final act to be performed with dignity.