At 7AM, the physician came into the room and said they had to take my dad off dialysis. They did. His heart kept beating.
My dad had received a priesthood blessing--through the anointing with consecrated oil and by the laying on of hands--that he would be healed and would go back to serving in the church. My mom told me that I had to release him from this blessing. Mormons believe that adult male members who hold the priesthood have the power to act in God’s name. Since the church has no professional clergy at the local level, every male member who keeps the commandments can hold the priesthood. My faith in this moment was waning. I was face-to-face with the Real. I was looking into the abyss and seeing nothing staring back at me but the task of mourning someone who I was told I would see again. A person I was also supposed to believe had been blessed to be healed of a disease with a 100% fatality rate.
At 10 AM, the physician said that they needed to take my dad off the respirator. My mom couldn’t give the order. She looked at me with the most painful eyes I’d ever seen at that time, and I said, “Do it.” They removed the tube, and said it would be a matter of minutes, that they had given him as large a dose of morphine as the law would allow, and that we should just watch the heart monitor.
The old bastard started breathing on his own. He struggled for another six hours. My mom and sister and I stood right by his bed, and we watched his heartbeat stay in the 40’s. It would occasionally dip down into the low 30’s and the doctor would tell us “This is it.” And my father’s heart would beat again, faster, thumping, “fuck you.”
Around 3:30 PM, when the doctor excused herself to go to the restroom, my dad let his heart rate drop into the low 20’s and held it there for about 45 seconds. Like in the movies, the heart monitor went flat, whining the end of a human life, 3:33 PM.
How many other ends have that heartless monitor documented?
For reasons I’ve yet to understand, as soon as my dad died, with my eyes tightly closed, I began singing aloud a hymn in Spanish that I learned in my early 20’s as a missionary in Costa Rica:
Ven, oh Señor; la noche viene ya.
Todo ̮es oscuro y temor me da.
No hay amparo; gran maldad se ve.
En las tinieblas acompáñame.
The hymn is called, “Acompáñame,“ Abide with Me in English.
Veloz se va la vida con su ̮afán.
Su gloria, sus ensueños pasarán.
Gran decadencia por doquier se ve.
Ven, oh Señor, y acompáñame.
My aunt recognized the tune and tried to start singing.
Siempre Tu gracia quiero yo tener.
¿Quién más podrá a Satanás vencer?
Sólo en Ti mi guía hallaré.
En sol y sombra, acompáñame.
After my sister and a family friend started sobbing uncontrollably, my aunt stopped. We went out into the hallway and began chatting, telling each other how dad didn’t suffer, marveling at how long he’d held on after coming off life support. I actually thought to myself, “He never got to see how Lost ends” (in retrospect, he was lucky).
Later, the doctor came out into the hallway to tell us that they were ready to move my father to the morgue, and that if we wanted to see him one last time, it needed to be now. I walked in, and there he was, lying in the bed. I reached out my right hand to touch his right forearm, and I recoiled at his cold flesh. I wanted nothing more than to flee from there, to fly away to some quiet, peaceful place.
As I walked from the hospital elevators to the front entrance, I kept looking at molding along the wall, thinking that on the day it was installed, my dad was alive and well, but now he was gone, graveyard dead, and there was no going back.
My father always liked to help others, but since we couldn’t donate any of his organs because he was infectious, we decided to donate his brain to the National Prion Disease Pathology Surveillance Center at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. They came for his brains on Halloween, in true zombie fashion. October 31st dawned cold in Atlanta.
My family and I went to the Lenox Square shopping mall—I’m not entirely sure why. We walked around and bought tablecloths on clearance at Macy’s and overpriced cookies and pretzels. I remember thinking, “THIS IS WHAT IT FEELS LIKE TO BE WRETCHED” seething inwardly, wanting to scream, to cry out, to lash out at God, to denounce anyone who dared tell me that this was some big Plan with a capital fucking P. Hitler had a god damned plan and we decry it as monstrous; why does God get a fucking pass for killing whom he wills to get what he wants?
Eating mall food and listening to Muzak, my faith that I would see my father again diminished. I was reeling. Everything felt so meaningless. I felt I couldn’t share my crisis of faith so as to spare my family further suffering.
With dark settling, we got my daughter and son dressed up in their costumes and went trick-or-treating in my hometown of Woodstock/Acworth, GA. We didn’t go to the houses of anyone we knew so as to avoid the only-natural outpourings of grief that people would want to share with us. We stayed in a hotel again that night. I spent most of the evening working on the eulogy for his funeral. I made two posts to my blog. One telling people that my dad had died, and another, here, a mixture of lyrics from Radiohead and Maná.
Weeks after his funeral, I reached atop a wardrobe and found an electric meter my dad had bought when we first moved into our house. I lost it. Sudden tears are only ever a moment away.
About a year after he died, I discovered the music website Pandora and I picked up the phone to call him to tell him about it, but after I finished dialing, reality reared its ugly head, and I hang up the phone, saying the words “God dammit” aloud for the first time in 18 years. People keep trying to comfort me by mentioning God’s plan. If there is a God, I don’t understand his scheme or the coyness of his agenda. And if it was indeed God’s plan that my dad died the way he did, well, God’s a dickhead then.
Mac Williams was raised in the mountains of North Georgia where his parents were professional beekeepers, later giving up honeymaking for the then-nascent personal computer industry. He considers himself more Appalachian than Southern, and when he gets really tired, or angry, or around his friends from back home, his true Appalachian accent will come out. After high school, he lived in Costa Rica for a couple of years, serving as ordained clergy in the Mormon church, before coming home to attend Georgia Tech, BYU, and Tulane on his way to his PhD in Latin-American Literature. He has been married for 19 years to the coolest person he's ever met, and they have three odd children together. He has been on the faculty at Coker College since 2007. He loves birds, bird watching, and teaching others about birds; just ask him.
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