A few weeks ago on December 17th, after about three weeks in Intensive Care, first at Baptist and then at the long-term Select Specialty Hospital, Daddy coughed – or threw – up some black stuff and “passed”, as the nurse put it. Mom was, by a miracle, with him and had him in her arms up until running out to fetch help. She had returned from running errands minutes earlier. Wonderful the way we seem to be able to time our deaths. December 17th was the date when Mom’s dad died as well.
I drove up to the hospital immediately and brought this twisty wooden scepter that mom and I had come up with as a hand-made Christmas gift for Dad. Mom put it in his hand, resting across his chest and over his heart. The body was still quite warm. It was beautiful. We hung out with him for a couple of hours. The hospital chaplain tried to push his friend’s funeral home on us, going as far as telling us we shouldn’t call our funeral home in New Jersey. Sleazy. Mom laid down with Daddy, “one last time”.
Called all the other children, Mom’s two siblings and Dad’s closest brother. His body cooled down slowly. The hands that hardly worked any more and required “gauntlets” to keep the wrists from reaching ninety degree angles at night would no longer frustrate him. Last Christmas we tried hard to convince him they could still be used to draw, but he could do little more than spread batches of color with the pastels and opted out of that endeavor. There may have been a moment or two throughout the year.
Finally and end to dialysis. An end to the constant task of determining what he could eat, or if he could eat, and preparing it. Pulverized everything. We broke the no food rule in that last week and snuck him some vanilla pudding with a hit of Captain Morgan’s in it. Rum. Yum. Mom talked about Daddy licking his lips enthusiastically with every bite those last days.
He and I had some tender moments. He was like a baby. Hardly able to speak and barely understanding where he was or what was happening. We told him he would be home for Christmas. I asked him if there was anything he could tell me that would be good for me to know after he died. He said, “I want to be buried”. You will, Dad. He was.
Dad was flown up to New Jersey for a “green burial”. He was buried, naked, wrapped in a shroud, in the cardboard container he was shipped in. We said the only thing that would have been more Hugh Kilmer would be if the coffin was made from used liquor store boxes. The funeral cost over eleven thousand dollars.
I’ve been telling people that Daddy is not gone and certainly not to me, as he’s in me and I’m made of him. As with Doris, his spirit is simply magnificent and in ways more so minus the decrepit body. Dad’s like, “oh, did my body die?”.
There’s a vacancy, but it is a vacancy that began nearly a decade ago, if not more. Daddy used to say that he began dying at age eleven when he first got diabetes. He suffered from depression, by his own explanation. Some people considered him an alcoholic. If anyone considers you an alcoholic you probably are, dude. I think of him when I swig in the say time.
People at the “send off” said things like, “your mom and dad were Hoboken when I first came here”. One young artist said, “they were my first music teachers”. There was an article published about him in the Star Ledger.
Now we, his children, in the ways that we were like him, we kind of are him now. He’s now an ancestor. He’s in the realm of ancestry. The chain of living beings who emote the radicalism, truth, love, passion, trust, faith, frustration, worry that came to us through and from him, ends with us now. Used to wonder how it would feel to be at the end of the chain, rather at the top of the chain as opposed to the bottom or middle of it. At one point I had hoped to have children before Daddy died – so he would be pleased. He was. Check. I wanted to be artistically successful and I think he finally saw us that way. He certainly didn’t see financial stability.
Recently learned that, had he been single, his Social Security income would have been less than eight hundred dollars a month. That’s supposed to cover rent, utilities, food, clothing and anything else a person desires. Know what’s classic? Florida is one of the states that opted not to expand medicare. Our “medically needy” “share of cost” went from like a hundred something dollars a month to over a thousand to over two thousand a month, each. Rivka ended up at Baptist back in October and in December a bill finally came. It had been like twenty nine hundred, which would trigger the “share of cost” and cover the whole thing, but apparently we are in the uninsured category so Baptist knocked like eight hundred dollars off the bill, putting it just about a hundred dollars below “share of cost” so we are busily scraping together the other medical bills for October to see if it reaches $2175.00. As Scott Satterwhite says, “or you can do what my mom does in Texas, which if you can believe it has a worse system than Florida, and pay five dollars a month for ever”.
What would Daddy do? “We’ll do what we can, Michael.” “Bills, bills, bills”, was something he complained once. And one time I remember, probably naked in the sixty degree morning, “never enough money”. These are aspects I need to fucking exorcise. But he always found reason to celebrate, life and everyone in it. And that is to cultivate.