Rudderless Voyage

A son guides his father on a final journey

| September / October 2006

It comes down to this, holding hands and listening to opera at a low volume, in a dimly lit room, with your father slumped in a black wheelchair, breathing fitfully. He wonders where he is each time he wakes. Skin touching his, whiskers to whiskers, is a superior language now. False assurances would only echo off the walls to haunt you. There is more dignity in silence.

You both drift. This passing beyond the end of life and into the beginning of death is a rudderless voyage through swirling mists of memory. 'I am scared,' he keeps saying.

You imagine his wheelchair is on the deck of an ocean liner, your legs covered with blankets, as if you've chosen to make this trip, as if you have purchased tickets and death can somehow be made grand. Best of Puccini is on the portable CD player. It's either that, or Artie Shaw, or the Pan Flute Melodies-Soft Hits. The Pan Flute CD will become the mainstay toward the end of the voyage and you will dislike the flute for the rest of your days.

This huddled companionship could be a painting. You will hold your positions for minutes, hours, days. Still life. Two deck hands, yours atop his.

He eats very little, doesn't mind being fed. He is no longer worried about going places. Last night you went for a walk down the hallway, 30 feet or so, to the end of the carpet, at his request, using the stroller, but before he could reach his destination he wanted to turn around. The horse no longer wants to leave the barn. A bite of banana is a triumph. His body doesn't want to take any excess fuel. Why bother? It won't be long until he forgets how to chew. He'll suck on a straw to get his liquids, then he'll forget how to suck. Or he'll just lose the strength to suck. It will be hard to tell which it is. And it won't matter. He has a DNR. Lingo for Do Not Resuscitate.

This is what you now face as a mutual challenge: to make something good out of this inevitable journey.

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