I made three stops on my drive home from Albany:
One. I stopped at the first mall I saw to buy a copy of The Who's Quadrophenia. The whole way home, I listened to "Love Reign O'er Me" as loud as I could stand it, so loud that the high notes made my inner ear itch. It wasn't the lyrics I needed, or the redemptive-sounding bridge; it was Roger Daltrey's anguished howl, the sound of outrage, of something ripping, the last jagged "love" sounding like nothing so much as an angry prayer.
Two. I stopped along the highway where the pavement was being grooved for repair, where big orange signs warned, "Motorcycles Use Caution." And was sick in the dust of the shoulder.
Three. I stopped at a Harley Davidson dealership that happened to be along my route and bought a tasteful pewter pin to wear to my father's funeral.
Albany, New York. We found ourselves there by accident, literally and figuratively. Albany, as strange and irrelevant a place as the Norwalk of Charlie's birth, is where my father died on Monday.
They were all on their way to my house Sunday afternoon, winding through the Adirondacks, enjoying the scenic route on a mild, cloudless, perfect August day. My father was on his Harley; my mother, my older brother, his wife, and their sons were following in a mini-van.
We don't really know what caused it; there was no other vehicle and the road conditions were good. Our best guess is that something happened: a heart attack, a blood clot. The others didn't see it happen. As they rounded a left-bending curve behind my father, they saw only a cloud of dust. Instead of following the turn, he'd veered away from it into a ditch to the right of the road.
The motorcycle landed on top of him.
My brother and sister-in-law pulled the motorcycle off him and started CPR. With no cell service in the area, they were dependent on other motorists, who kindly stopped and offered to drive to the nearest towns for help. Several motorcyclists stopped, too, to offer what aid they could. The paramedics came. The medevac helicopter arrived to take him to the nearest level I trauma center. After 45 minutes of CPR, my father finally had a pulse.
Too long, of course. From the time of the accident until the end, he remained unresponsive — no neurological activity. I got to the hospital while he was still in the trauma center, the extent of his injuries still being assessed. That question was largely moot given the lack of brain activity, but the doctors did their job. Exploratory surgery revealed that his entire intestine had necrotized from impaired blood flow, with no possibility of repair.
His organs had already begun to shut down, rendering them useless for donation. His tissues were unsuitable, too, due to the blood thinners he'd been on and the subsequent transfusions. We tried, hoping to salvage something of meaning, but nothing. Nothing to be done save wait: Wait for the final refusal from the organ donation coordinator. Wait for the priest to arrive to administer last rites, as a comfort to his Catholic sisters. Wait for verification from the neurologist, required before withdrawing life support.
I sat with his body — not with him, as it was obvious he was gone — while my mother went to take a shower and my brothers occupied my nephews. I watched him as the respirator moved his chest up and down, an illusion of life. The black threads holding the packing in his nose. The swelling of his face. The stubble on his head and cheeks, still growing. The blood seeping from his eyes.
And I said goodbye. I do not believe in God. I don't believe in Heaven. But he did — God, Jesus, angels, and Heaven, a happy someday reunion. Desperation, shock, and a dumb stunned grief didn't make me believe, but they did momentarily make me hope, for his sake. I dabbed at the blood and told him, "I hope you're right."
I came home yesterday to pack, to get ready to go to his funeral. An emergency haircut, a scramble to find a dress, the search for a pet sitter. The details. They keep us afloat, give us something to concentrate on other than an unthinkable absence. Something to think about beyond how I'll answer Charlie's inevitable question as we walk into my parents' house: "Where's Grandfather?" He's not here. "Where is he?"
I only know where he should be. He should be right here in my house right now, not dust in a box in Albany.