(Originally posted on old blog on February 5, 2010)
If we go back in time to over a year ago, yesterday marked the day that my father had one week left to live. The English teacher in me appreciates irony. The common definition of this words means the opposite of the expected outcome happens, but as a literary technique, irony refers to when the full significance of a character’s words or actions are clear to the audience but unknown to the character. As I reflect on the “story” of my father’s final week, the irony is particularly poignant.
On my sister’s birthday, February 6, her then-boyfriend-now-fiance threw her a surprise party. As it was a small gathering for the 21-30 crowd, my parents babysat the kids while Brendan and I attended. When my parents babysat, they rarely went home upon our arrival; they stayed at least another 20 minutes to hear about our evening and tell us what funny things the kids said or did in our absence.
My parents wanted to know if my sister was surprised. Frightened was more like it, as when she opened the door and saw people in their apartment, she thought for sure she and Scott were being robbed.
“She almost had a heart attack,” I said. For the audience, that’s ironic example #1.
While listening to my parents’ report about the kids, I noticed an empty wine glass in the sink. “Where they that bad that they drove you to drink?” I joked. My mother then said that my father drinks a glass of red every now and then “for his heart.” Ironic example #2.
The next day, we celebrated Kara’s birthday as a family. She wanted to go out for a meal and ice cream at Friendly’s, the restaurant my father used to take us to for breakfast when we were kids. As much as I like the cheap grub, Friendly’s is not known for their service, at least not the franchise closest to us.
But this visit was perfect. We had a short wait to be seated, during which we all talked and the kids were well-behaved. As a party of 8, we had to split between neighboring booths, but we compensated for the divide by frequently turning around and checking in on the other table’s conversation. We all shared a laugh when Owen said, “Poppy, do you want a bite of my ice cream?” then revealed that, in fact, he had already cleaned out his dish.
My father picked up the bill. Brendan offered him money. He said, “No, I got it. It’s not every day I get to take everyone out for my youngest’s 25th birthday.” Then he flashed what some have dubbed the “Tommy grin” or the “Pesola smirk,” though I just consider it my father’s trademark look of contentedness. Ironic example #3.
Though I am sure it is difficult for my sister having a birthday just days before what is now the anniversary of our father’s death, I am grateful for the timing because it allowed us to have a truly memorable, happy weekend together, what we now know was our last.
After leaving Friendly’s, my parents got ready to attend the Snow Ball, an annual fundraising dance for the Danvers YMCA. While I did not go to this event, it seems it was the most ironic scene of my father’s final days.
From what I’ve heard from various people in attendance that night, my father donned the jovial persona he typically wore to these occasions, which he rarely looked forward to attending because he did not like to dance. He introduced himself as my mother’s “boy toy” to some, as her “eye candy” to others, and had conversations about how lucky he was to have the relationships he had with all of us.
The only serious note of the evening was a conversation he had with a colleague about a recent health scare. Though I don’t remember the details, this physically fit and otherwise healthy person told my father that he had been having chest pains and ended up getting to the hospital just in time for major surgery that no doubt saved him from a heart attack. Ironic example # 4.
My father was obviously shaken by this chat because he called our house the next morning to talk about it. How could this happen to someone so young and healthy, he wondered aloud to Brendan. Now, I see the subtext of this conversation as, Could this happen to me?
As the audience member watching this final week in hindsight, I want to shout, “Yes! Call the doctor!” much like we yell at the impending victim in a horror movie to turn around and leave the soon-to-be-crime scene.
But I didn’t say that.
I didn’t say anything because the last time I spoke to my dad was Saturday, February 7, as we left Friendly’s. We he called on Sunday, he spoke only to Brendan. I tried to call him on Tuesday, the 10th, after leaving a particularly thought-provoking lecture by Noam Chomsky at BC. He wasn’t home. I didn’t leave a message.
Brendan called him later that night to ask if he could babysit on Thursday the 12th. I had lass and Brendan had a work obligation. He said he’d be happy to.
Brendan asked me, “Do you want to talk to your dad?”
“I’ll talk to him later,” I said, worn out from the day and still processing the lecture. Ironic example #5.