Biff America column: Truth, hope and a prayer
I looked my buddy Paul straight in the eye and lied to him.
Yes, I hoped my assertion would come to pass, but I said it with the conviction of one who had no doubt. We both walked away feeling better, though I think both of us knew I might be full of it.
“Dude, I am so sorry about your old man.” I said, “But soon he will be in a place where his body is young and his mind is sharp.”
Tough-talking father, sensitive son
Paully’s dad, Gus, was a beer-drinking, hardworking, tough-talking, working class hero. His son was just the opposite. Paul Beale was as soft spoken as his dad was loud; as sensitive and successful as his father was harsh and blue collar. Paul is also gay.
Paul’s dad seemed less perplexed by his son’s sexuality than his intellect. When Paully graduated magna-cum (something) from college and fielded offers from Fortune 500 corporations, Gus was obviously proud, but all he could say — at least in my presence — was, “How did a mutt like me get a smarty pants for a kid who wouldn’t say crap if he had a mouth full of it?”
All Paul’s success and love couldn’t prevent his dad’s physical and mental decline. Gus was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s shortly after his wife passed away. For me, going years without seeing Gus, the process seemed rapid; I’m sure for Paul it was slow and agonizing.
As his dad’s health worsened, the part-time nurse care was replaced with two full-time nurses who alternated staying at Gus’ house. When his condition deteriorated to a point when even more care was needed, Paul reluctantly placed his dad in a nursing home.
Last summer, I was visiting the East Coast and on an impulse I stopped by Paul’s house. He wasn’t home, so I was in process of leaving a note when his car pulled in.
Comforting a friend
He got out of the car and hugged me. He had just returned from his almost daily visits to his dad; I could tell he had been crying. When I asked how his dad was doing, his voice cracked, “He’s dying, he is already dead mentally, now his body is going the way of his mind. He doesn’t know who I am, he can’t control his functions.”
Paul apologized for his outburst, and told me a little bit of how hard it had been watching his old man’s physical and mental decline.
“He was such a tough old fart, but he is also kind,” Paul said. “He accepted me as I am even before I knew who I was. Now, not only doesn’t he know who I am, he doesn’t remember who he is. He would be better off dead. And I hate myself for feeling that way.”
What can you say to that? The simple truth is we are all going to die. And before we do, some of those we love will precede us. We can only hope they die cognizant and with dignity. Grief counselors caution those comforting a survivor to say little and instead sit quietly and soothe them by your presence. But the inclination, when you see a friend in pain, is to try to offer something that will lessen their grief.
Faith or wishful thinking?
“I am so sorry about your old man. But soon he will be in a place where his body is young and his mind is sharp.”
It gave me such pleasure to say that. The mere thought of Gus enjoying his next life with a young body and calm countenance provided both hope and recompense. At the moment I made that declaration, I believed it with all my heart. But I have to admit in the harsh light of honesty void of emotion, the belief in heaven for me is as much faith as it is wishful thinking.
Gus died two weeks later.
I have no idea where Paul’s dad is right now or if in fact his mind is sharp and body young. I certainly hope that is the case. But what I can say with conviction is that there is heaven right here on earth. It can be found in the time we have, be it long or short, and in the love of a child, parent, lover or friend.
Jeffrey Bergeron, under the alias of Biff America, can be seen on TV-8-Summit and read in several newspapers and magazines. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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