Beginnings and endings. One can’t exist without the other. Endings and beginnings. We tend to resist the discomfort that often accompanies change, but to have an experience, truly have it, to feel it unfold, embrace its effect, and watch new sensation move into its space is something that belongs to each of us alone. It’s a process that occurs within every plane of our existence, some more impactful than others, but no matter the gravity it cannot be escaped, and should not be ignored.
So maybe by now you’ve sensed that this post isn’t really about climbing. Or maybe it is. Whatever.
Red-winged blackbirds line the 1450 miles of highway strung between Wyoming and Michigan like hitchhikers. They usually move out of the way at the very last minute, but this one does not. Were you to superimpose the circumstances of your drive upon the incident it might seem like an omen, however, it was just a bird, hit by a car.
You arrive in the rain, the northern suburbs of Detroit appearing just as grey and dingy as the city proper. It’s as though nature herself is aware of and reflecting your emotions, your experience.
Stable, transitional, active…these are the words used to characterize proximity of death. 0.25ml of liquid morphine every 8 hours, every 4 if needed. Hold the dilaudid until we see how the morphine does for him. 2 drops atropine every 4 hours to calm the guttural, gasping “death rattle” breath. Haldol or Adipan if he becomes agitated. Extra morphine prior to changing the dressing on the oozing bed sore. Alzheimer’s, dementia, pneumonia, terminal congestion. This is the new language you’re speaking.
You’re supposed to be back in Ten Sleep getting fit for epically long routes, sleeping in, seeking shade, solidifying beta. You’re supposed to be planning rest day showers and laundry, grocery shopping, internet-ing, and hiking dogs to higher, cooler ground in the canyon to escape the heat in town.
Instead, you’re saying good-bye to the guy who taught you to be brave, to think for yourself, and to always question authority. The man who told you that you could be and do anything you wanted, that your passion was your path, and that your happiness was the only necessary result of your decisions…and who also made sure you knew that the same should be true for everyone, regardless of past transgressions, social class, race, or sexual orientation.
He is dying in a manner true to his familiar style: ornery, feisty, resistant. To see him in this state of in-and-out, of helplessness with refusal to surrender is too much. You thought you were so strong, but even the steadiest mind can be broken if the heart is breached first.
Staying to watch is not an option. Maybe it’s your pride, maybe your guarded nature, but sitting in a tiny, tattered yellow bedroom in an adult foster care home to watch your closest ally die is just not an option. His eyes no longer see you, his voice addresses ghosts. You realize that he doesn’t want you there, he doesn’t need you now. He wants you to go be in your life, to have your experience. This one is his.
Heading back West on I-90, you notice someone else’s blackbird casualty. 2900 miles and 50 hours on the road to thank a man for 45 years of being your father and friend. In perspective, it seems like a pretty short distance to travel.
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