Monday, July 18, 2011

(Papa Tom and Chloe)

Dearest Papa Tom,

My friend Ren has a blog where she collects letter to the dead so
I’m writing you this letter as kind of an open letter, knowing
I’m going to send it to her for the blog. Therefore, I guess I’d
better start with some info for readers who don’t know us, cuz ya
can’t tell the players without a program.

Tom is my father-in-law. Technically, he’s a *step*fil cuz he and
Ronnie’s mom have only been together a little longer than Ronnie
and I and they actually didn’t get married until after Ronnie and
I did. But those are technicalities. Tom is incontestably my fil and
he’s been our daughters’ closest and most-significant grandfather.
Period. He is *Papa* Tom and there is no other.

Tom, you…

“I’m not dead.” (off-screen voice) [with apologies to Monty Python
and the Holy Grail for the following]

Ren interjects, “What?”

Nothing, I say.

“I’m not dead.” (off-screen voice)

Ren queries me, “He says he’s not dead. This is letters
to the dead.”

He will be soon. He’s quite ill.

“I’m getting better.” (Yes, ok, it’s Tom’s voice)

No you’re not. You’ll be stone dead in a moment.

“I feel fine.” (from Tom)

C’mon, Ren, he won’t be long!

“I think I’ll go for a walk.”

You’re not fooling anyone. [to Tom]

C’mon, Ren, do me a favor here. [to Ren, obviously]

“I feel happy. I feel happy.” (Tom kinda sings)

It’s the drugs, Tom. You’re loaded on morphine, dilaudid,
lorazepam, atropine and who knows what else. You’ve chosen to stop
radiation, chemo, and extreme measures and you just wanna try to control
the pain and die at home. Remember? [to Tom]

“Oh, yeah. I do remember that. Hey, can we say a rosary?” (Tom says)

Of course, I reply. And I, the rabid atheist, begin, “Pater
noster, qui es in caelis…” cuz Tom and I are (in my case, *were*)
both pre-VaticanII Catholics and I know what he wants. After a
half-century of feeling alienated from the Church, Tom wants to
reconnect. And he has. A couple of days ago, he had a nice pre-VaticanII
confession (nowadays mostly called Reconciliation), Extreme Unction
(called Anointing of the Sick post-VII), and Viaticum, which is
Eucharist/communion for the dying. He is spiritually ready for his
journey to Shakespeare’s undiscovered country.

The rest of us are absolutely not ready to say good-bye. Not.
Not. Fucking NOT!

Our culture is saturated with in-law jokes but nothing could be
farther from the truth in Tom’s case. He is a kind, loving, thoughtful,
generous, sweet-natured man, one of nature’s noblest creations. I’ve
had a marvelous relationship with him for a quarter of a century,
sharing good times and bad, happy times and sad, boring times and
adventures. We’ve certainly had a goodly dose of all of those. My
best memories are familial ones, of course.

Tom was graced with a gaggle of granddaughters, so he naturally
called ‘em his “boys.” “C’mon, boys, we’re going crabbing.” “You
boys help get that stuff ready if we’re going waterskiing and tubing.”
Etc. Naturally, they ate it up. Papa was Papa and could do no wrong.
Our older daughter, MJ, and her close-in-age cousin Chelsea were Papa’s
oldest granddaughters and his go-to boys. When he got a bit older and a
little incapacitated, they’d go out with Papa to drop the crab pots,
retrieve the crab-pots, and measure and sort the catch. Crab for dinner
tonight! They were his clamming buddies, going for their limit and anxious
to return home for some fresh seafood.

The bond between Papa and his boys was a wondrous, thick chain of
links forged from love, unbreakable, unyielding, and untouchable. Their
sadness is profound. I have had many a shirt soaked through with tears
over the last couple of days and Papa hasn’t even died yet. Tom has had a
long life and a good one. I desperately wish I could make these last days
better for him but all that can be done is being done and I guess that has
to count as enough. It breaks my heart so terribly that I am unable to
ameliorate the emotional suffering of our poor, sweet gang of “Papa’s
boys.” Their sorrow is vast. Their grief inconsolable. And I am bereft
healing balm for their wounds. This train does not pass through Gilead.

I will not extoll Tom’s virtues here like a grocery list; I would
find that demeaning somehow. They are best summed up in the simple
sentence: Papa Tom was a good man. Really, when you strip away the
chaff, the fluff, the frippery, if you can say that about someone,
you’ve said everything that needs to be said.

In the time that has elapsed since I began writing this letter,
Tom has died. He died quietly, at home, surrounded by his loving
family. I have nothing to add to what I’ve already said, except
for the sake of his reunion with his religion, I’ll say, “Frater,
requiescas in pace.” And from my own heart, I’ll quote Catullus
who wrote these words on the death of his brother, “In perpetuum,
frater, ave atque vale.”

I love you, Tom,


Carmen 101 Gaius Valerius Catullus

Multas per gentes et multa per aequora vectus advenio
has miseras, frater, ad inferias, ut te postremo donarem
munere mortis et mutam nequiquam alloquerer cinerem.
Quandoquidem fortuna mihi tete abstulit ipsum. Heu miser
indigne frater adempte mihi, nunc tamen interea haec,
prisco quae more parentum tradita sunt tristi munere ad
inferias, accipe fraterno multum manantia fletu, atque
in perpetuum, frater, ave atque vale.