May 9th, 1973: Dad is now today, not rational. He hardly knows anybody. But he did love everybody. For about 9 p.m. on May 9th, 1973, my father died. We all loved him, and would do anything for him.
May 9th, 2013: What a brief, somewhat unattached, and sort of cryptic entry, in that original diary. But then again, I'm surprised I had the gumption to write anything at all. I'm sure it was written through a flood of tears.
I'm a big fan of Warren Zevon. When Zevon was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer a few years ago, a film crew followed him around as he put together his last album. In that film, Zevon says, perhaps borrowed from another source, "All good stories end in death."
Virg Kriegshauser used to have a more basic saying when things ended. "That's all she wrote."
May 9th of 73' was a Wednesday. Throughout the day, there was no indication it was going to be dad's last. At some point in the past week, he'd been moved from home, back to the hospital. His condition was that bad. Those "in the know" probably were aware this was the final stage. The "death watch" had been on for seven days or so. Maybe I knew it too. But I guess I just pictured him going on and on, in that condition, for a longer time. To this day, I have a hard time letting go of some things. It was sure evident then.
His condition was bad. I'm sure he was heavily sedated. I attended school that day. But I'm betting mom was with him most of the day. Not at the store. I don't think I saw dad on the 9th. Whether by coincidence, or by design of the adults. I can't recall the day I last saw him alive. Maybe two or three days before.
I know it was a nice, Spring day. When I got home from school, one of the first things I did was hop on my Honda Mini-Trail 50. Usually, it was ridden on the track made in the yard. Today though, I got it over the ditch in the backyard, and across Clinton Street to a big farm field that has since been developed. 20 acres or so, it provided more room to ride, but it was more boring than the track in the yard. Not yet planted for the season, I rode up and down the rows.
At some point, the mini-bike experienced trouble. Stalled and quit running. There are no excuses for behaving like an asshole, but, I was already on edge. This set me off. I threw the mini-bike down and began kicking it. Then, hearing something, or sensing something near, I stopped and looked around. One of our neighbors, Phil Casteel, was walking towards me. I blushed with shame. He'd surely seen what I'd been doing.
Phil and Carolyn lived just up the street. Two of the nicest people you'd ever want to meet. Christian people. They had three children. Tom and Marcia were grown and out of the house then. The youngest son, Michael, was still around. Mike was probably six or seven years younger than me.
Casteels volunteered, or were asked to help out, and feed me dinner. Phil had walked to the field to invite me, and tell me what time to be at their house. This is another indication that mom was probably sticking close to dad's bed side. And another indication those in charge did not want me there too. To see him die.
The mini-bike was done. I got it back to the garage, hung around the house alone for awhile, then walked up to Casteel's house for dinner. Their kitchen table was near windows too. Just like ours. Phil, Carolyn, Mike, and I ate. The mood didn't seem all that somber, but I think conversation was sparse. Michael has recently told me, even though he was still a young boy at that time, he was aware of the situation and felt sorry for me.
Dinner was nice. I don't think it had been more than over when a call came in to Casteel's home. Or a car just showed up in their driveway with no notice. It was Ed Pease, one of dad's best friends. I was handed off to him and bid the Casteel's good-bye after thanking them for dinner.
There may have been silent communication between Pease and Casteel's More so, if he'd called first.
I got in Ed's car. He was a big man with a voice to match. Sort of like Paul Harvey. Deep, and a good tone. He didn't have a lot to say, and he didn't make much eye contact. I didn't think anything too much of it. I assumed we were headed to the hospital to see dad. Or to Aunt Betty's house to hang out.
"I'm afraid your mother's got some bad news for you," Pease spoke, about halfway to the destination. It could only mean one thing. But I had to ask. "Is he dead?" Or, "He's not dead, is he?", I quizzed Pease. Ed said nothing. Just stared ahead, out the window of the car.
We pulled up to Aunt Betty's house, directly across from Illini Hospital. A bunch of cars were around. We got out of the car, walked up the steps that cut through the small hill on the sidewalk to her patio, through the door that led into her sun porch, and up a step into the kitchen. All this happened in slow motion.
Once in the kitchen, things sped up. I moved my head from left to right, looking around, trying to get a read on what was going on. Everybody had congregated in the big kitchen. I have zero recollection of who was there, except for Pease and Aunt Betty. Mom was not there. I felt panic and anxiety.
Not much time had passed before the noise of the back door shutting signaled more people arriving. It was mom and Dr. Bunting. They'd made the short walk across the hospital lawn to Betty's house. Mom was crying hard. Bunting was stoic and supporting mom. His right arm around her shoulder, his left hand on her arm and elbow.
It was that moment when I knew dad was truly gone.
Everyone remained in the kitchen. I bolted into Aunt Betty's den, landed in a big, overstuffed, round chair, and wailed. Someone made a move to come console me. Dr. Bunting advised them to let me be. "Let him bawl," I heard the doctor say from the kitchen.
I had noted in my diary that dad died around 9 p.m. I would swear it was earlier than that. I remember it being still light. The late stages of dusk.
I cried and cried until I couldn't cry anymore. I don't know how late we stayed there. Eventually, people dispersed. Mom and I made it home. I don't remember if a friend or relative stayed with us that night.
My original diary entry is disjointed because I think I'd made part of an entry, thinking that would be it for the day. When dad died, I added that announcement later.
Obviously, I remember a great deal more from that day than was put to paper. The details are so real. Living it and recounting it were, and are, surreal.
Three months to the day. He was diagnosed February 9th. He died May 9th.