Don’t fear Mr. Reaper

On the evening of Sept. 5, I came home and got the phone message from a surgeon in a Fresno hospital informing me that he was a few minutes away from going into the operating room to open up my father’s abdomen to remove a nasty little tumor that was wreaking some serious and sudden havoc. I knew that this could well be Big Trouble for Pops. Big Trouble in that he could soon be drinking a couple of his beloved vodka and waters in the slightly overlit White Light Lounge, owned and operated by one G. Reaper.

Mr. Reaper, unfortunately, got down to business a few days ago when he dispatched one of his most trusted and efficient closers, ole Nick Pneumonia, to the scene. Within five days, my paternal co-creator had been freed to explore the mysteries of whatever may lie beyond our material world.

His death was not completely unexpected. I knew there was nothing routine about emergency colon surgery when performed on a 77-year-old. But it was still a shock. If you’ve lost a parent, you know. If you haven’t, you will.

Here are a few notes from my experience that may help you prepare for the un-preparable:

When the doctor says his approach is shifting from recovery to comfort, he’s assuming you can figure out what that means.

If you’re the designated plug puller, make sure you have that power of attorney document. Do you know where it is right this minute? If not, find it. You do not want to be fumbling around at home, looking for that damned paper while mom or dad is slipping toward oblivion. Don’t worry about being able to actually pull the plug. If you have to, you will. Don’t worry about pulling the plug too early. You won’t.

If you wonder whether you’ll cry or not cry, don’t. You will. And it won’t be that reserved Hollywood-style crying, with the single tear elegantly dribbling down one cheek. It will be much more along the lines of a full-scale boo-hoo meltdown, with lots of undignified acking and sobbing, complemented by plenty of messy nasal action.

Definitely record your parents. If you like them at all, it’ll be a treasured memento to have a tape or two of them being themselves. The best way to do it is to set a tape recorder or video camera off to the side and just let it roll. With a little luck, and maybe a few cocktails, that self-conscious vibe of being recorded that makes for such lame home videos will fade off and be forgotten, and you’ll be able to get what you want, which is a real recording of a real conversation, complete with gaps, noises, swearing, whatever. Hiding the gizmos to make clandestine recordings is a good plan, with the ends justifying the means.

Guaranteed one of the all-time bizarro moments in your life—walking down the street with your freshly cremated parent in a box in a little bag.