I am not going to be funny today.
September is always a sad month. My Grampa Sam died on the third of September 1971 and my daddy died on the 20th of September 1986. Even if I hadn’t had the date of my Grampa’s death emblazoned on my brain, the song Papa Was a Rolling Stone would have branded it there forever: “It was the third of September / a day I’ll always remember / because that was the day the my daddy died...”
There isn’t a song about September 20, but I don’t need the help. I remember it in exquisite detail. My bride of nine months and I had been out walking around Stillwater, Oklahoma. It was a warm, late summer day. We had come inside and were watching Murder, She Wrote. I have Angela Lansbury flashing through my head as I write this.
The phone rang, it was my momma, I heard immediately she was upset, and this worried me.
Daddy had been diagnosed with esophageal cancer ten months before. He’d undergone a rather draconian surgery in the OKC Veterans Hospital and had to miss our wedding. Jean and I had gone to see him the day after we were wed. The surgery had affected the nerves to his vocal chords and he still couldn’t speak above a whisper.
He fought his way back from that, by the summer he was mowing the lawn again. But then he’d gotten a pain in his hip. They’d started treating that with radiation. Then there was the bowel blockage.
The cruelest thing through all of this was the hope I had. Silly, silly boy. It was going to turn out differently for Daddy. He was going to beat it. I was only 24. What the hell did I know?
Dad had returned home from the Veterans Hospital after having had his stomach pumped. They’d stopped at a store on the way back and Dad had gone into the store alone to buy medicine or Gatorade or something like that. He’d also gotten some shotgun shells.
That warm Saturday evening, while my wife and I were out walking 100 miles away, Dad had shaved his face, wiped out the sink with a wash rag, and went back into his bedroom, closing the door.
Momma and my brother heard a sharp sound. They thought he’d fallen.
When my mother spoke on the phone she said, “Your daddy has shot himself.”
Whenever I mention this to someone, a large percentage of the time they will begin to tell me that they believe in physician-assisted suicide. I know this is kindly meant, but I would ask you to please refrain from doing this, at least to me.
Page 2 of 2 - This should not be easy. It should not be easy. It should not. Be. Easy.
This act has sent out shockwaves that still reverberate after 26 years.
For years I had recurring nightmares of my father dead and yet undead. Among us, but ever in threat of being taken away. When I dream of him now, which is rarely, it is in the same way.
This would not have been made easier by us standing around him holding hands and singing Kumbaya.
But beyond that, one does not treat a disease by killing the people who have it. There are too many ways this would be handy to the wrong people.
After Dad died, Jean and I decided that life was just too damn short and we started our family. Our eldest was born 17 months later. Jean’s father got to know all three of his granddaughters and meet the man the eldest was to marry.
Forgiveness is a continuing process. As I’ve grown older, this has become harder for me to forgive my father. Ironically, this is because as I’ve become older, I’ve become a lot more like him. I was born when Dad was 45 years old. He was 50 before I knew how old he was. I will be 50 next month. I am coming into the point now where I first knew him. We are entering the circle.
I will try to be funny next week.
Bobby Winters, a native of Harden City, Oklahoma, is Assistant Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and Professor of Mathematics at Pittsburg State University. He blogs at redneckmath.blogspot.com and okieinexile.blogspot.com. You may contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.