Michael Chabon’s father died slowly, over the course of days and weeks, and he sat by his bedside writing Star Trek scripts. Now he’s written about how he felt during that long lingering time.
I’d tried talking aloud to my father a few times in the hours since he’d lost consciousness, telling him all the things that, I’d read, you were supposed to tell a dying parent. There was never any trace of a response. No twitch of an eye or a cheek, no ghost of a tender or rueful smile. I wanted to believe that he’d heard me, heard that I loved him, that I forgave him, that I was thankful to him for having taught me to love so many of the things I loved most, “Star Trek” among them, but it felt like throwing a wish and a penny into a dry fountain. My father and I had already done all the talking we were ever going to do.
He made me think of my father’s death, which was different in every way possible. No slow decline, no confinement to bed, no slipping into unconsciousness for my family. The last time I heard his voice was in a phone call on Christmas day — I talked to my mother for a while, she asked if I wanted to talk to my father, and “Sure,” I said. She called out to him, where he was working on Christmas dinner, a very Dad thing for him to do, and all I heard in the distance was a strangled yell and “GOD. DAMNED. CAT!” and Mom laughed and said he can’t come to the phone right now.
So those were my father’s last words to me. I have tried to live by them ever since.
The next morning my mother called to say he had died in his sleep. I missed my chance to talk back and tell him all the things Chabon said to his father. Oh well. We were never estranged, there was never any conflict between us, so I guess we just lived those things instead.
I’d still like to have that conversation, though. God damned cat.