Hospice and Hillbillies
On the day you died, there were two WTF moments I wish you’d been alive to see.
Because you would've thought them hilarious.
(Granted, had you been alive, they wouldn’t have happened, but there you go.)
On the morning of The Day, Mom and I sat by your bedside in your study, which she’d converted into a Recovery/Rehab Room that quickly turned into a Hospice/Dying Room. Your condition (or reported condition, as with COVID we could not visit and had to rely on infrequent communications with medical staff, often receiving conflicting and, turns out, patently false information), it had spiraled down at such a shockingly rapid pace, we are still reeling.
Somehow, within a thirty minute Med Van ride from hospital to home, you deteriorated from one with three broken ribs, supposedly well enough to be discharged with rehab/physical therapy orders, to a gravely ill man, drifting in and out of lucidity, in severe pain and unable to move his legs. (I'm not sure what the Hell type of PT exercises they had in mind, given that you were IMMOBILE, but the joke’s on them 'cause you died nineteen days later.)
Those 19 days were rough. And precious. And tragic. And profound.
On your last day, a hot Tuesday in June, we were visited by two guitar wielding Hospice chaplains for an End Of Life Musical Serenade. (I hear it’s a good gig, but you don’t get repeat customers. Ba Da Boom!)
The Chaplains, (both warm and sincere, you would have welcomed their pragmatic yet joyful demeanor), they asked what type of music you liked and, since you were pretty much comatose, I answered for you.
“Jazz. Thelonious Monk, Fathead Newman. Classical Spanish guitar. Oh, and blues, like Alberta Hunter?”
Blank stare. Then - “How ‘bout John Denver?”
Nope, not a JD fan. I suggested traditional Irish music. Greatly relieved, the Singing Chaplains launched into a charmingly earnest Danny Boy, followed by Irish Lullaby. (I was going to ask for The Parting Glass but thought better of it - that tune makes me cry on a good day and, really, a bit too on the nose?)
Mom reminisced about the soundtrack of your salad days and the Chaplains crooned a heartfelt Bridge Over Troubled Water, followed by a peppy, if a bit jarring, version of I’m A Believer. (Apparently you liked the Monkees? Who knew?!)
Wrapping up, the Chaps asked if they could end with their favorite song. We said yes, expecting a hymn or the like, but instead, they threw down a robust rendition of the TV THEME SONG to The Beverly Hillbillies.
And they really SANG it, playfully ping ponging the spoken bits back and forth:
Oil that is! Black gold! Texas Tea!
(this done in vaguely Appalachian accents behind surgical masks.)
It would be, I think, an odd choice for anyone’s ‘last song’ but for you, who hated television and pop culture, it was sooo ill-suited, such a very, very wrong choice, you would’ve died laughing. (Which you did shortly thereafter, albeit not laughing.)
Fast forward a couple of hours. The chaplains had left, the nurse had come and gone, it was just us; you, Mom, and your two daughters. You were home, in the old house you loved dearly, with a view of the bucolic backyard that gave you such joy. We were telling old stories, holding your hand, when your breathing changed rhythm and Mom said, “I think this is it.” And it was.
Such a big, loud life. Such a subtle, quiet end.
After performing the small, tender rituals we each needed in order to bid farewell, we called Hospice.
The bell rang some ten minutes later (Wow, that was fast!) and I opened the door to a young salesman, a dead ringer for Daniel Kaluuya, grinning broadly.
“Hello!! Hope I haven’t caught you at a bad time!”
Now, they say comedy is timing and, really, could his timing have been ANY worse? Or better? (Depends on your point of view - I know you’d say better.) I also know you couldn’t resist a good set up, intentional or not, (like the time a spoiled student dramatically wailed “I want to write so badly!” and you countered “You do.”) so I think you’d appreciate my reply.
“Bad time? Well, my Father literally just died. Here, in the house, so - I’m gonna say yes.”
Do you know what it looks like when someone wishes a gaping sinkhole would spontaneously crack open and suck them into oblivion? I do.
As I closed the door on his profuse apologies, laughing at the sheer What The Fuckery of the moment, I swear I heard you join in.
Oh, Dad. It’s only been a week and I miss you greatly. Your larger than life personality, your humor, your wit, your kindness – you lit up any and every room. Perhaps you didn’t strike oil like a Man Named Jed, but you definitely struck a chord with so many people and you absolutely, undeniably left your mark on this world.
for Robert James Flanagan 4/26/1941 - 6/19/2020