You may remember that E.S.’s parents moved in with us some months ago so that the family could be together during the last days of Mr. S., who had recently been diagnosed with end-stage esophageal cancer.
Well, Mr. S. died several weeks ago. I haven’t written about it because people commented on the above-linked post as if I were doing something deeply heroic, which was not true. I mean, your fiancé says, hey, can my dying father move in with us so the family can be together during his last days, and you’re going to say “no”?
In any case, as I’ve mentioned, I have a great deal of experience living with the terminally ill, experience which I had assumed would come in handy as Mr. S. faded. When his blood relatives found themselves emotionally unmoored, I knew, I would be able to help them find ways to handle what was going on.
I was, however, wrong.
Because it seems that Protestants don’t deal with death by continually making morbid jokes about it.
Jews are not like this. The closer somebody is to death, the funnier Jews are about it. People have been killing Jews for millennia, so we’re used to the idea; it’s a well known joke that the answer to “what’s the meaning of [any given Jewish holiday]?” is “They tried to kill us, we won, let’s eat.”
My mother was Episcopalian, but she’d been married to a Jew for decades, so her pseudo-Anglican sensibilities had been blunted into non-existence. And when she was dying our house might as well have been the set of a Comedy Central special. It was unthinkable that any of us would ask whether anybody wanted anything from the drugstore and not be answered with, “Some morphine or a casket, whichever’s cheaper.” My favorite moment came a few days after my mother died. My father was talking about the snazzy new car phone he’d bought a few months before (this was in 1992, before cell phones). Our conversation went something like this:
MR. FAUSTUS: I was just so glad to have that phone, because it meant that your mom could reach me no matter where I was–at the office, on the way home, wherever. It really was a lifesaver.
FAUSTUS: Well, not quite.
Now, given that E.S.’s parents have a spirit guide named 28, one could argue that they ought not in fact to be classified as Protestants, but they are from Iowa, where apparently people are Protestant no matter what religion they are.
And so within a few hours of Mr. and Mrs. S.’s arrival, I learned that the way I could best help would be to keep my fucking mouth shut. I don’t remember the attempts at humor I made–doubtless the S.s’ appalled reaction has led me to repress any knowledge–but I do remember that when Mr. E.S. said he’d spent his whole life working and being busy and now what was he good for, I bit my tongue before “fertilizer” came out of my mouth, and realized I had a difficult time ahead of me.