Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Last Stand

I am just back from a visit with my father in law.  He lives ten hours away and has been in declining health.  The visit was partly social, partly "it could be the last time", partly to get my retired but still somewhat helpful professional opinion on things.

The old gent is 94 and still living alone in an apartment.  He is just barely hangin' on, with bad balance, bad vision, bad hearing.

Two days of visits bookended by twenty hours of driving.  We probably had less than an hour of real conversation.

When he nodded off I would watch the vintage cowboy movies that he had on continuously, even though he can't see or hear much of them any more.  It was sound off for me as the system was plugged into his headphones.  But I got to where I could quickly figure out the stock characters.  School Marm.  Spunky Cow Girl.  Dance Hall Lady.  Square Jawed Hero.  Shifty Eyed Villain in a black hat.

Of course there were plenty of fist fights and six guns were regularly "blazing".  

Looking about the little apartment where he thought he would be spending his last days, and comparing it to the silent action on the big screen I realized that you don't always get to decide where you will make your Last Stand.

No matter how stubborn or strong you start out it is just not possible to anticipate certain things.  What parts of you will fail first.  Whether your spouse dies before you.  Just living to a ridiculous near century age.

I imagine he will be moving to Assisted Living soon.  The alternative is a likely fall, with the undignified death spiral that so often ensues after a broken hip.  Or even after a lesser injury.

This is not the way he would have wanted things, but you don't get to write the last pages of your life's script.

No, actually you can.  You just don't have any assurance that it will be followed......


It was late morning and the sun was bearing down with purpose on the little town square.  Mario was opening up his cafe for the day's trade, rearranging the chairs and tables jostled askew by the previous nights revelers.  

As always he stopped by the smallest table which was positioned to best catch the light while giving a pleasant view of the valley below.  He reached into his apron and pulled out the table's marker, a small silver badger.

Soon the American "friend of the house" would stir from the room he rented in the back.  It was a small space and he paid too much for it in Mario's opinion, but "il Vecchio Americano" said he would have no other.  He liked the fact that the rear wall was authentic Roman, once part of a grain warehouse according to the district archeologist.

Soon he would emerge for the day, always wearing black although his reasoning for this varied. Some days he would say he was still mourning his wife.  Others that he needed every bit of sun-warmth he could get in his old bones.  

Mario had a list of detailed instructions issued by Don Carlos, the old man's far away son who was reputed to be an Industrialist of considerable wealth and influence.  "Give him as much wine as he wants.  After his second glass start making him drink one water for each glass of vino della casa. If he ever fails to appear by me".

It was getting rather late for il Vecchio to turn up.  But he had been busy the day before.  He had spent the afternoon doing crosswords in both English and Italian and had stayed up until almost midnight celebrating with a wedding party.  He had told some stories of his long ago medical career that were new to Mario and had caused not only the bride but the groom to blush.

The Scicilian sun was now bright across the valley, highlighting the ruined aqueduct.  The Old Man always said it was a beautiful and evocative sight, although privately Mario wondered if those 94 year old eyes could make out much beyond light and shadow.  

It was almost noon now and Mario was, if not exactly worried, a bit curious.  Would this then be the day he would be calling Don Carlos?  The day he would open the envelope in the safe for a final set of instructions?

Perhaps.  Or perhaps not.  In any case there was a routine to be attended to.  The little silver badger was straighted to face the morning sun.  A fresh flower was put into the vase.  Breakfast, and the first glass of wine, could wait to see if they were needed today.

1 comment:

Borepatch said...

This is a hard time. I'm glad that you took time for your Dad - these days, many don't.

When my Dad was going through hospice 6 years ago I made sure that we talked about everything that needed talking about. I'm really glad about that today.

Good luck - to you and your Dad both.