Circle of Life and All That
Harold Haubrich died on March 2, 2010. It wasn’t a surprise other than that he lasted a few more days than we expected. He had made his own decision to discontinue the dialysis that had shored up the work of his failing kidneys. The doctors told him that he could expect to die 3-5 days after the last round of dialysis. He was at peace with his decision because even with that treatment, he had been growing steadily weaker over the last year and was unable to perform any of the daily functions of living on his own. For the sake of his dignity, I won’t describe all of the things that he needed help with, but suffice it to say that his quality of life was fading fast.
He made the decision because the day before he started vomiting blood, and the doctor did a preliminary exam only to realize that in order to determine the cause, extensive testing would be necessary, and then the remedy would quite probably be exhaustive and exhausting. He decided that with all that he had been through over the last year that it just wouldn’t be worth the trouble to extend a life so far diminished.
Dad had lived a full life and was a relatively happy man, so his was a decision based on his exhaustion rather than a lack of desire to live. He was tired and he wanted to move on to whatever is next. When we asked him what he thought was next after death, he answered “I don’t know.” I don’t know, either, Dad. The local Lutheran minister apparently knows and described it all to Dad. He told Dad about reuniting with my mother, dead since 2007. After the Lutheran minister left following such words of comfort, my sister asked Dad if he now knew what was about to happen after death. He repeated to her the words, “I don’t know.”
In Dad’s last remaining years, he returned to a Catholic Church from which he had lapsed. I asked him why, and he told me that after he had a heart attack and some bypass surgeries he decided that he wanted to get back to church “just in case.” I don’t know that Dad was all that serious about his faith in his religion or whether he was just playing at Pascal’s Wager. He had made close friends with the local priest while they were both recovering from heart attacks in the same hospital.
I am not going to deal with my own grief here at losing my father. I realize that everybody hurts, and that grief is a process of dealing with loss. While I feel the pain, I don’t write about it well. I would rather explain why I am also joyful at his time.
We are the lucky ones, we who have lived. From Richard Dawkins’ “To live at all is miracle enough:”
We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Arabia. Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton. We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively exceeds the set of actual people. In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here.
Dad and I shared this planet for nearly fifty years. That is worthy of a celebration in and of itself. He taught me how to bait a hook with minnows, he taught me how to check the oil, he taught me how to pee standing up, he taught me how to aim a rifle at a pop can, he taught me how to paint a house, he taught me how to balance a checkbook, he taught me how to cook oatmeal, he taught me how to laugh so hard I cried, he taught me how to take a head of wheat and roll it in my hands to shed the husks and then chew it until it turned to gum, he taught me how to use a blade of grass to whistle, and he taught me how to deal with crises with an even temper.
We shared this planet for fifty years. We lived through cold below freezing, and we lived through heat and mosquitoes. We saw Mexico together. He gave me rides on his motorcycle and let me drive his Jeep when I was far too young. He let me know that Bob Dylan is just a poet and not a singer and wondered why people spend good money on records and tapes when FM radio is just fine and free.
His time on this planet as Harold Haubrich is over, but there is more to the story. Nothing ends, matter never disappears. It changes form and life makes way for more life. Yes, his body is preserved with embalming chemicals and is sealed in a coffin in a vault to avoid decomposition and a return to the elements. It is only temporary, and in a few thousand years, his body will finally be returned to nature, broken down by bacteria. The molecules and atoms that were him will be returned to the earth from which they originated.
We, all of us, are materially connected to the planet on which we live. We eat, drink, breathe and metabolize the substances that make us and turn them into the proteins that build our cells and organs, but we are still mostly carbon, nitrogen, hydrogen and oxygen even now and long after we have died those elements will continue. Dad died and made a little room for another person to eat, drink, breathe and metabolize and in a few years I will die and do the same thing. My ashes will be scooped into an urn and placed in a mausoleum for a few years and eventually will all return to the earth. We never go away, even long after death. The C, H, N and O2 that make us are remnant elements of a supernova that burst some 7 billion years ago because we are “starstuff.” He is still here, and always will be.
I am sad, because I miss my father. I miss my mother. It is difficult to be an “orphan” because I don’t have their counsel any longer. I don’t have Mom to call and tell about the way things are going with the kids, and I don’t have Dad to call and talk about spring training and to speculate on who the Twins will use as a closer for 2010.
People ask me how I am doing after his death, but I feel awkward because I don’t feel like crying (often). If I admit that I am not having a particularly rough time with it, will they think that I am cold-hearted? Will they wonder whether I didn’t love him, or think I had a rough relationship with him? I am not necessarily responding in a way that people expect me to. I am not forlorn and I am not rending my garments.
I am happy when I think of how wonderful he was to be with, how sly his humor was, how fair he was in dealing with people and how I was one of his (nine) favorite kids. I am happy that he taught me how to be a loving and kind father to my own kids. I am happy that he was there for me when I needed help financially. I am happy that he was there for me when I told him about each of my kids being born. I am happy when I think of all the people who genuinely liked him.
I am doing okay. Thank you for asking.
Hey, Dad. You were one of the good ones.
This entry was posted on Tuesday, March 16th, 2010 at 6:20 am and is filed under Mike Haubrich. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.