Quality of Life
The story goes that my parents at one point
made official a “do not resuscitate” order
in the event of some cataclysmic approach
of eternal darkness–and then, at some later
point they changed their minds, in order,
I can only guess, to live as long as they could live.
That cataclysmic event occurred for my dad
while on vacation in Nevada. Sitting around the
dinner table at some swank casino restaurant,
my father’s heart stopped. The life flight unit
helicoptered my dad to Salt Lake City,
essentially freezing his body against the dark
so that he could be revived later.
After an excruciating recovery in which
Dad had to relearn everything and
miraculously did, and after being stranded
with Mom in Salt Lake City for two months,
he was finally able to come home to Portland.
He stayed at home, venturing out only for
doctor appointments or simple tasks here and there,
alive, relatively alert, but uncomfortable
most of the time, never feeling very good
about anything; food, drink, conversation,
all those things he loved seemed to have lost
all luster and interest. He was a man
But Mom, my siblings and I, and all the
extended family were happy to have him
back in our world. We visited often, saw
each other more, sat with Dad in relative
silence, did odd errands for our parents,
and praised modern medicine for bringing
our daddy back to us from the dead. But
something nags at me still about this year,
the last year that we would have our father.
His miraculous recovery was more about us
than it was about him, and I think that
maybe he sacrificed the last year of his life
only so that his family could better prepare
for the inevitable, so that we would not
feel that he was ripped away, stolen from us
before we could see him again, say goodbye,
touch him, tell him that we loved him.
And maybe that was okay, what he did for us.
But almost one complete year after
his heart stopped and he was able to return,
the next cataclysm was deadly, and painful,
and in his last days he suffered immensely
before going into a last-ditch surgery for which
even the doctors had little or no hope. This was
Mom’s wish to try one last thing, to hold on
just a little bit longer. We all watched him
die the very next day, quietly, surrounded by
family, likely unaware of our presence.
Luckily, the only day he ever had to spend
in a nursing home was his last, and he
slept through it until he stopped breathing.
As my mother considers
a dangerous surgery to repair a fractured vertebra,
I write this poem,
before memory fades and time erases
the learning, in order to remember what my father
taught us, that, insofar as it is possible,
quality of life decisions can only
truly be made by the individual living that life.
The rest of us, well, we learn to let go,
and then we mourn.