It's personal stuff. My own father, Billy Joe (yes, character's naming was very deliberate), was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer four years ago.
We got the news in January of 2007. There was never a chance, as later scans showed an internal image of his body that was lit up like a Christmas tree. The cancer was too invasive, so all we could do was wait for the inevitable.
That didn't take long. He was gone within a few months.
I never had that in-your-face death experience before. I mean, both grandmothers died when I was young, and my grandfather died when I was in high school. And my brother died in a stupid fall down a flight of steps in 2003. So yeah, I know death. But not so in-depth.
I remember chickening out of seeing my grandfather when we were visiting and he was in the hospital. That's never something I take much pride in, but I was a kid. I didn't want to see all that. And when we were called to the hospital after my brother's accident, I simply refused to go back to see his body.
I guess I don't understand that morbid need to view the dead. I grew up Catholic. We make death a lengthy production. We have viewings and wakes and a Mass that is preceded by yet another viewing. I'm probably not the only recovering Catholic who can tell you where you would turn to in a family bible to find a cache of photos of dead uncles and aunts laid out in caskets.
Little things have turned me off to the whole death thing. Aside from that not wanting to die thing. I remember looking at one grandmother in the casket and it looked like she was breathing. Sure, it was the eye playing tricks on me, but that's a scary thought to have for a kid. And at the other grandmother's funeral, I accidentally touched a hand and was thoroughly freaked by the cold.
I avoided funerals of family friends. I always feel dumb at events like that. You don't know them enough to cry, so you try to fix a saddened expression on your face while you feel guilty about not being crushed by their loss.
So, anyway, by the time my dad's diagnosis was levied, I'd had my fill of death and all of its nasty little intricacies and ceremonies. And, frankly, I'd kinda assumed he'd die when I wasn't around. Probably part of me was hoping that would happen. The idea of being around that freaked me out.
I guess, by the time it happened, I forgot about that, and accepted that it would go down on my watch.
I didn't expect it that particular day, though.
I mean, he was going downhill fast. He was completely out of it. No eating, no drinking, no bathroom trips. Just laying around, incoherent, restless, and it was all very hard to watch.
I can't remember when it became clear that things were changing. Maybe there was just a vibe in the air. I don't know. But I remember the very second when he began to actively die. His pallor suddenly changed. In a split second. Nothing dramatic happened. He just turned grey.
The family was there, and death still didn't come quickly. But everyone was there. Who knows if he heard all that or not. Hopefully, he knew.
It was a bit before 1:00 a.m. when the final slide began. I don't think I'll recount all that, because it's grim, it's disturbing, and it's not fun to think about. I didn't realize how complicated it was, this dying business. Things happen that you just don't think would happen. It's not a simple, dramatic final breath.
But I think I'm glad I was there. I doubt I'll ever have a solid answer on that thought. Sometimes, I'm not, depending on where my mind fixates at any given moment.
I put a lot of my father into Joe. I didn't recreate my father's death in print, though. That's off limits to the general public. But there are aspects of my father in Joe McGee. A precious few of his words are there, too. Not that I'll ever admit what those few words are. They're in there for me.
And last night, I had to do something I've been putting off for weeks. I finally had to let Joe die.
Talk about a meltdown. I honestly can't tell if I have a cold right now, or if my sinuses have simply collapsed from the strain.
At any rate, it's funny to me that I managed to finish the WIP on today of all days. I didn't intend for it to happen that way. When I realized what my progress was this weekend, though, I made the effort.
April 27th is the fourth anniversary of my father's death. And today, I finished the first draft of the story that was so inspired by him.
Fitting, I think. Thanks for the push, Daddy. Love you, and I miss you.