My father’s death was unexpected, sort of.

About a year ago dad separated and moved away from his abusive wife. I found him a nice independent senior living apartment complex right across the street from me. My brother lived 40 miles away, but visited him more often than I did. I took care of dad’s business, but dad never really understood me. He never knew what to do with girls. My brother and father were quite alike. Thankfully, my brother gave up drinking. My father didn’t.

We thought it was his alcoholic tyrant of a wife that was making his life miserable. Turns out it was him and his Popov Vodka. He would drink a fifth a day. We managed to con him into an inpatient alcohol rehab when she kicked him out. We said that he had no where else to stay. He was clean for a few months thereafter. He only drank non alcoholic beer. The difference was amazing. Before rehab, he was weak, barely able to walk. His memory was dreadful. He came down state with a broken arm. I assumed it was caused by his abusive wife. Turns out she wasn’t lying about how often he fell.

He didn’t necessarily fall because he was drunk. He had extensive nerve damage in his feet from all the booze. He would fall and hit his head, crack a rib, break an arm. I guess he shouldn’t have been in independent senior living. There was no way we were going to con him into a nursing home. His father starved himself to death for such treachery. His mother died from cirrhosis of the liver. Damaging the liver does terrible things to the body. Dad didn’t eat much. He just smoked 3 packs a day, ate Vodka, and vomited often because of a throat constriction that could have been easily fixed.

I tried so hard to save him. I begged and cried when he was still up north. I gave up on him, but renewed my pledge to change him when we got him back in our lives. He married a woman whose only redeeming quality was that she looked like my mother. They moved up north. She didn’t want anything to remind him of his deceased wife which included his kids. I forced myself in once a year. My friends and I vacationed at their house for my birthday. The rest of the year I spent playing nice to Nancy on the phone because dad was never much of a talker.

Last year when they were fighting I detailed an account 10 years ago when I witnessed her throw a glass ashtray which hit him in the head. I called the police that night. Later, he testified in court that he fell. She was angered by my email and kicked him out the next day. I was pleased they were finally apart. It took a decade of abuse and unhappiness.

Suddenly he was my responsibility. I must say I gained a tremendous amount of respect for Nancy. I thought she was exaggerating when she said he was shitting on the walls, or that she had to help him into the bath. She was willing to clean up after him. I wasn’t. I was however willing to take him to the doctors.

Dad had decided that his rectal bleeding meant he has cancer. He was planning his death, and quickening it with a strict booze diet. I have done a study on prostate cancer and knew that wasn’t necessarily a death sentence. My brother currently thinks he has bowel cancer because his farts stink. The men in my family are hypochondriacs that fear doctors. I took dad for a colonoscopy. His legs were weak so when we went to the doctors he used a wheel chair. He held my hand. He was never afraid to show me that he loved me. Times like that made it hard to hate him for the racist homophobic asshole he could be.

His apartment complex wasn’t very good with snow removal. He was still tired from the sedation and under orders to not drink. I had to help him up over a snow bank and he collapsed on me. If two strangers hadn’t helped me pick him up that day, I don’t know what I would have done. He had lost weight, but not enough for me to get him up a flight of stairs. They even loaned us a chair, and a wheel chair that day. They restored my faith in humanity. My back was however a bit strained.

My father had crapped his pants in the car. I figured my first step was to get him to the toilet, clean him up and put him to bed. His first priority was to get to his vodka. He crapped on my foot. This brought me a whole new sense of strength when he tried to push past me for his drink. We screamed at each other that day. He thinks I was trying to rule his roost. I just didn’t want him to die. We just verified he didn’t have cancer. I figured he would live another 20 years. He was malnourished and cranky, but he was going to live. I wiped him, and helped him get into bed.

I poured his vodka down the drain while he slept off the sedative. I asked my brother to come spend the night there as dad would still need help walking around. I couldn’t take it anymore. I left with my father’s car keys so he couldn’t get to the store to buy more liquor. He was furious. He threatened to call the cops, and write me out of the will.

He was childishly victorious for figuring out that a taxi could take him across the street to the liquor store. I gave up on him for the second time in my life. I brought his keys back. I told him I wouldn’t do anything for him that he could do if he weren’t drinking. I told him I was dissapointed in him. I said if you ever get over this and want to go out to breakfast then call me. He told me it would take a while. He never called.

My brother however does call, often. This time he was about to place a bid on a house for him and dad. He was going to save dad; make him stop drinking and enjoy life. My year of therapy has taught me I can not save or control anyone but myself. I, however, wasn’t going to let my brother and father make a stupid decision on a condemned house. He said dad had been wanting to go out to breakfast with me. It was a good day. We had breakfast, and looked at the house. Nothing more was said about my confiscating his keys, or pouring his vodka down the drain. In fact, he was especially nice to me. That was the last time I saw him.

Later that week I called him to tell him I got a job. He was so proud of me. He never failed to show how proud he was of me. My brother was there borrowing money again.

My brother went back two days later. He usually didn’t wake dad up from his naps. He would just hang out and before long dad would come stumbling out. My brother ate his Chinese take-out and called me. I told him I had an updated list of houses for them to look at. He said he would be right over.

He called back a few seconds later. My brother calls a lot, but I couldn’t believe he was calling a minute later. He asked me how I was. I suspiciously said, “O.K.” He said, “I think Dad is dead.” He went to say goodbye and let dad know he had been there. He watched for breathing that wasn't happening.

The denial was hard to repress. Dad looked like he always did curled up in his bed facing away from us. He was cold and stiff, but looked peaceful. I couldn’t look at my mother’s frightened wide-eyed corpse 12 years ago in the hospital. Death and I are old friends now. I sat down on my father’s bed and said goodbye. My hand found a fresh injury on his head. Perhaps he fell and slowly bled to death internally.

We still don’t know the cause of death*. The police and coroners were suspicious of my paranoid brother who was the last to see him and the first on the scene. They saw an old man who had a head injury and bruises all over him. They saw blood and shit stains all over the apartment. I don’t know if they believed us that he was always covered in bruises. He fell all of the time. Cirrhosis makes one bruise easily. He would lose control of his bowels because he drank so much. My brother feared he would be accused of murdering his hero.
Alcohol is great.

The police were there for hours before the coroner zipped his stiff body into a plastic bag. The tissue, blood and urine sample results still aren’t in. I am guessing his liver finally surrendered. They would have been able to tell during the autopsy if the brain was swollen from impact. I ruled out heart attack. I figured he would have woken up and kicked around.

He had to be cremated to fit into the plot next to my mother. There was a double headstone with his name already on it that read “together forever”. He gave his plot to my brother’s baby years ago. We all assumed Nancy would never allow dad to be buried there. We got him back in our lives before he left his. It was challenging and stressful and wonderful being able to see him more than once a year. All I have left of him now are memories and a small take-out urn that rattles like a salt shaker with gallstones inside.

He used to sing a Jimmy Buffet song at the local karaoke bar in Kalkasa, Michigan every time he went, and he went often.

“Wasting away again in Kalkaskaville.
Searching for my lost shaker of salt.
Some people claim that there’s a woman to blame.
But I know it’s my own damn fault.”


*I wrote this on the one month anniversary of his death. The coroner called the next morning to say it was Hypertensive Cardiovascular Disease (high blood pressure) with a contributing factor of liver cirrhosis. His doctor took him off high blood pressure pills a few weeks before.

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