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A Man Who Has Nothing In Particular To Recommend Him Discusses All Sorts of Subjects at Random as Though He Knew Everything

Winter Dreams The Same Dream Every Time

An old man lies in a hospital bed, dying of nothing. His son sits in a chair fit for a lobby and waits. The snow slants down outside the window. It’s collected in the corners, where the brick meets the sash, and formed a kind of porthole into a world gone beneath a winding sheet.

Some sort of machine wheezes and sighs. Every voice is a murmur like a pew near a confessional. The son wonders if there’s any noise of life in this place. No tinkle of a fork on a plate. No hammering of seconds on a clock. Music has never entered the building, and never will. The memory of the jarring blast of metal bells on the old man’s phone in his walkup parlor would sound like a calliope here. Everything that passes sounds like a black mariah, the horses with burlap on their hooves.

The old man says nothing, just looks at his son, and begins to cry. His son can’t help it, he begins to cry, too. They cry for the same reason. The son doesn’t want to be left alone in this world. The father is afraid to leave his son alone in the world he’s made for him.

12 Responses

  1. The details don't matter. The experience always is the same. You took me back to my mother's room, and gave me sharp tears I thought were gone.

  2. In the year it took my Dad to die, we talked about many things. Looking back, it was a gift to me that he took so long; it gave me a chance grow up a little, to really know him as a person, as a man. Maybe, in spite of the pain and indignity, it was, in some small way, a gift for him as well. He taught me a lot in that one year, maybe more than all the ones before. One thing still sticks. He said, "Grief is a selfish emotion. There's nothing wrong with that, as long as you know why you're sad and why you hurt." When I finally got the call, the first thing I said was, "Good for him."

  3. I was talking yesterday to two children of Tuskegee Airmen. Their fathers, unbelieveably, are still kicking and looking pretty well. But i looked at these two, like me children of the WW2 servicemen, knowing already what they didn't know yet but surely would soon- envying at once what they still had but by no means what they are very soon to lose.
    Cleanse the palette:

  4. My dad died in the spring, in the early nineties. I remember the mountain lake was smooth as glass on that early morning. A kind tribute.

  5. I was called to my mother's room, late one sit with her as she faded. They had taken the other roommate out, so we could be alone. There was one incandescent light on, casting a yellow glow…and, not a sound. Her breathing was shallow and quiet. There was nothing to do but rub her feet. So, I did. I sat there and talked to her, though she could not hear me, and did not know me. The hours I spent in that quiet, I wouldn't trade them for anything. A gift. Shoreacres is right: they are never gone.

  6. I sent this article to my Dad:

    And this was his reply – "And takes me back 28 years to the morning Bonnie died and I closed her eyes for the last time. //Dad"

    My Mom made it home from the hospital in time to die in her own bed, looking out the window at the Texas Hill Country that she loved.

    Thanks for the morning reflection (and tears), Gregory.

  7. I lost my dad two and a half years ago and I think about him all the time.

    I spent too long after reaching my maturity thinking that I was an adult now and while I liked and loved my dad, that I didn't need him to teach me anything any more. I was convinced I could learn life's lessons on my own.

    A couple of years after fighting off one cancer, the new, and terminal cancer came on him. He took his treatments, and we enjoyed our phone calls and visiting him. Chemo and radiation are just poisons, but he took them all in stride. As he took his last three years to die, the nature of our conversations slowly changed. We talked less and less about politics and the economy and more about what he really loved: baseball and his family. In what turned out to be my last conversation with him, as he lay on his death bed, his concern was not for himself, but rather for the wife who he loved. My dad was teaching me how to die with grace. I hope I learned his lesson.

    By the way, when they call you and tell you that you need to begin hospice care for your loved one, one of the things that you'll ask will be: How long will this last? They'll tell you that they don't start hospice till the last 6 months of life. Don't believe them. You don't have that long. Two, maybe three weeks, tops. Don't waste them.

  8. Sweet.

    When I first saw the title, I thought of Fitzgerald who wrote a short story called Winter Dreams, but that's where the similarity ended. It was more like Updike.

    Regardless, the ending days with a love one, if you get them, are memorable — I had them with both my parents —- unfortunately, my mom was unable to speak.

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