There ain’t no grave. Can hold my body down.
I saw the end of life today.
My father. In the hospital. No longer able to swallow.
It’s not the first time he’s been in there.
This may not be the last.
But it’s close.
He is close.
He’s been rapidly nearing death for a little while now. But this. This is the very end of his life.
I heard this song Johnny Cash covered recently for the first time. Now I’m listening to ‘Ain’t No Grave‘ on repeat while I write this.
The feelings. That this eerie and awesome song evokes. Are pulsing through my blood right now. On one hand an ode to fighting for life. On the other. This declaration that the devil doesn’t have a hold on his soul. Not anymore.
Either way. Both ways.
Ain’t no grave…
My dad is frail now. Physically much weaker than I’ve ever seen him. And he’s skittish. His brother pointed at him and my dad flinched like he was about to be punched in the face. He did the same when I tried to hold his hand.
He tried to say a thousand words in the time I was there. I understood only two of them.
Trapped in this hospital room by his debilitating body. Trapped inside his, and by his debilitating mind.
A cruel punishment. The most cruel.
For this man. Who has been my blood father for my entire life. And my dad for half of it.
Yes. There is a touch of resentment in that statement. Or at least there was resentment. For a while.
I’ll explain. This is somewhat of a sad story.
When I was growing up. When he was still my dad. He was more than a man. He was a force. A presence. Who would command a room. Any room. People young and old. Male and female. Black and white and anything else. It didn’t matter. They would hang on his words. They would believe what he said. They would follow him.
He understood people. And life. As well as anyone I knew.
He was my hero.
That was a long time ago though.
Then he just started to empty. It seemed to happen quickly. Because any fall from the top must feel like that. But it was a gradual process. Over many years.
Until he became just a shell to me.
I wonder sometimes. Which came first. The stopping of being a father or him becoming a shell.
I like to think it was the former. Stopping being a parent to my kids. That would be enough to gut me completely. Maybe it did that to him.
It doesn’t much matter though. Which came first. They both happened.
And he is where he is now. At the end.
In a terrible hospital room. Unable to move.
Unable to even communicate what he wants to say.
I lean in to try to understand his words. I can’t. I have no idea what he is saying. A dying wish, perhaps. Or some profound words. Maybe he just wants to make us laugh.
Probably the last one. That was always his way. Even when he wasn’t all the way there. Even when the humor was miles off.
But right now he can’t get anything out. And that’s frustrating him.
And through this frustration, I realize when life ends.
You enter into this world taking. As a baby, you need to take from anyone and everyone. Just to survive.
Then you spend the bulk life giving to this world. Contributing. Through your job. Through your marriage. Through your parenting. Through your friendships. Through all your relationships. Through whatever it is that you give to society. Through what you say. Through what you do. To everyone. To anyone.
Life truly ends when you have no more left to give. Or some cases. In this case. You are physically and mentally unable to give.
Life ends when you cannot or do not contribute to the world.
My father feels like he is not contributing anymore.
But he is. Despite being trapped in every way. He continues to give. He will contribute. Probably as long as there are people on this earth.
No matter what religion he believes in. No matter what afterlife theory you subscribe to. If any. Everlasting life does exist. For all of us.
It comes as a result of all the people you impact in this world. Because your fingerprints are on things and people in this world. A part of you. Lives on.
For my dad. He lives on through me. And more importantly, and more powerfully, through my siblings. Who have branched out in this world to touch and influence so many people.
My dad, along with the help and guidance of my incredible mother, helped prepare us for this world. So no matter what. A part of him will live forever.
My dad’s fingerprints. Will not get buried with him. They are on the ends of my hands. On the ends of the hands of my brothers and sister. On the hands of their kids. On the little hands of my own kids. His fingerprints are on the hands of the people, not just whom he impacted. But also those we have impacted. They will be on the hands of all the people we will continue to impact.
My father’s everlasting life spreads so incredibly wide. By way of all the people we touch.
And when I think about the amount of people that my siblings impact. When I see the incredible children they are all raising. I know that my father’s continual contribution to this world, would be enough to give any man peace. At the end of this journey.
You’ve given us to the world dad.
You continue to give to this world. Through us.
I see a band of angels, and they’re comin’ after me.
I walked out of the hospital and cried. I was trying to think of another time my kids saw me cry. I couldn’t remember one. Maybe they’ve seen a tear or two. But nothing like this.
‘I feel really bad for Grandpa Doc’ my daughter said about six times on the drive home. ‘Me too baby.’ Is all I could muster in response.
My son just wanted to play 20 questions. We all deal with grief differently. We played a bunch of times on that long ride back.
More tears will flow from my eyes through this process. But that’s OK.
I am already at peace. Knowing that my father gave me gifts. Through his greatest decisions and his not so great ones. Through his best parenting techniques and through his worst. The same gifts he likely got from his parents. The same gifts my children will likely get from me.
I have made peace with this man by being the father to my own kids, that he was to me the first part of my life. And I will make peace with the second part of our relationship, by being there for my kids for the rest of my life. A lesson that my dad maybe never learned. But one he certainly taught.
I don’t resent him for anything. Not one thing.
There will be no long speeches to the man in the hospital bed, who can no longer speak. There is nothing to get off my chest. To the brown box his body will occupy, once he’s passed. Not from me.
I only thank him. For everything. The good. The bad. The worst. As it all combined together. With the rest of my life experiences. To get me here.
And here is really good.
I hope you find peace dad. Knowing that you’re still giving to this world. In a much bigger way than any one man can.
And there it is. You leave me with one last lesson. Maybe the best lesson you could ever teach me.
That raising children, to be incredible people. Is enough of a contribution to this world. More than enough. More than anything I can contribute to this world myself.
You did have one more thing left to give. Without being able to move from your bed. Without any words able to come out of your mouth.
Gabriel don’t you blow your trumpet, ’til you hear from me…
Those two words. The only two I made out when I was with him. They haunt me.
When I said we had to go. He looked at me. As lucid as he was 30 years ago. ‘So soon?’ He quickly asked.
I wish I thought fast enough to ask the same right back to him.
Ain’t no grave Doc. No grave can hold you down.