Eight Years

For the past eight years, I have spent June 9 thinking about my father and my own mortality. At my most self destructive, I would compare my father’s accomplishments with my own. While I still do this, these days I am able to correct the most distorted thinking by reminding myself of my own accomplishments and of what my father never accomplished.

Tomorrow, I will spend most of the day unpacking our new apartment, thinking of an awesome Pat Gleason story to share with the world, day drinking and ignoring anyone who I deem toxic. This is how I cope with my loss.

To be clear: I will never get over losing my dad or my mom. I was given a wonderful bit of advice when my dad just passed away: “Anyone who tells you to get over your dad can fuck off.” One does not get over grief. You just learn how to cope with it. I cope with it by ignoring ignorant mother fuckers and spending a day with my beautiful wife drinking New Glarus Beer.

I Signed Off On My Parent’s Death Panel

Mom and Dad

The phrase, “Death Panel” is the biggest crock of shit invented by the Right since the phrase “Tax Relief.” End of Life Planning is an essential part of addressing death. It doesn’t matter if you believe in eternal life in some kind of Heaven or if you believe in oblivion: You are going to die. At some point you need to consider dying.

When my mom was diagnosed with Breast Cancer, we talked about my parents last wishes. Both of my parents signed a living will and talked, however briefly, about what they wanted. Long before this discussion happened, my father had to take care of his aunt Irene’s affairs. While my dad was Irene’s only surviving family member, her second husband’s family became more interested in her the older she got. Irene always said, “don’t worry Pat, you’ll get everything.”

Now my dad didn’t want anything. Irene’s estate was full of kitsch and junk. Gleason’s have a pack rat gene (my brother is the only exception) and towards the end of her life, she became increasingly senile.

When she went into cardiac arrest, my father raced to her side. When he reached her, he was shocked to the point of anger. Her chest was not uncovered, her ribs were cracked so they could stimulate her heart. He couldn’t see her arms because they were lined with tubes from various IVs. She was mostly naked, lying on the hospital bed. I wasn’t in the room when he saw her–I was maybe thirteen–but when he told the story, he was the angriest I had ever seen him (and would see him until I was a teenager). He told the doctors to, “Cover. Her. Up.”

Text cannot impart how cold his voice was, or how forceful his tone was. My dad was a lawyer, with a fantastic ability to use his voice to get what he wanted. The doctors argued for a second before they relented.

That experience haunted my dad. Given Irene’s fraility and her advanced age, he thought it would have been more dignified if they had let her pass away. There was no need to crack open her 80 year old chest to apply direct stimulation.

With this episode firmly implanted in my parents mind, my mother’s oncologist had a conversation with my mother. She told her, “There may come a time when this is not a fight worth fighting anymore. When the chemicals and procedures you will need to take will ruin your quality of life. You won’t be yourself anymore. You’ll just be the chemo.” I know this occured privately, as the day before my mom died, her doctor repeated those words. It infuriated my aunts. They thought it was highly unprofessional, unethical and immoral–especially at a Catholic Hospital–for this doctor to tell my mother, a woman who had fought cancer tooth and nail, and yet with grace and dignity, for over twelve years, that she should give up the fight.

But my mom knew. Her cancer had metastasized again. This time, there were microtumors in her brain. They impacted her speech. The gave her seizures. Those tumors robbed my mother of who she was: a talkative, impassioned woman who was always on the go. My aunts, my brother, my future sister in law and I all wanted her to stay. We wanted my mom to be around for decades to come.

What we wanted was selfish.

My mom wanted to live her life. She did not want to exist for chemo and radiation treatments that would make her less of who she was. My mother didn’t fear death either. She was a devout catholic woman who attended mass and believed in most of the teachings of the church fervently (except the whole gay marriage thing, the treatment of homosexuals by the church, women clergy and on priest celibacy). She also missed my dad terribly. Weighing the options, she chose to pass away. I believe if she wanted to, she could have fought on for another year before her body finally gave out. Her vitals were good despite the tumors. She chose, in the end, to die with dignity.

My parents planned their end of life decisions. They died the way the wanted to. Every other person in this country deserves the same. To get that, they need those options. End of life care needs to be discussed–and not maligned–as a death panel.

A reflection of how you lived

Over the past few days, I’ve been thinking about death and grief (again). For the most part, I think the way one dies is a reflection of how one has lived their life. Both of my parents passed away in a manner consistent with this idea. My dad died ONLY when he was told that we would, and would be able to. take care of each other. My mom passed away quietly, with dignity and without making a fuss for the people who loved her. My (great) Aunt Irene died after “extreme measures were tried,” which is also fitting given how much she lived through. My dad’s mom passed away in her sleep, after being visited by children on a service project–fitting considering that she loved children, and she didn’t want to be a bother (even when her depression made her one).

This view doesn’t take into account random tragic acts, nor does it really explain my grandfather’s passing. Still, my idea needs some work . I’d like to hear what other people think about this idea…