My dad is dying.
On his deathbed, my mother says, with some doubt that he’ll live through the weekend. He is eighty-one and has pneumonia, and a mysterious spot on one lung. He is not responding to treatment. Three times yesterday he pulled a feeding tube from his throat. A nurse thinks he’s lost his will to live.
I am 1,300 miles away, and my mother is begging me to come back and see him one last time. Due to my own circumstances, I feel that I can’t. My circumstances are these: I’m on the downhill side of middle age, the economy could still tank, I am alone, and I need to buy my own house before I retire. These circumstances lead to the most important reason, which is that I just can’t do anything that could risk my employment right now.
Nobody does my work when I take vacation. Dropping everything and heading back for a week or so, perhaps followed by funeral leave, will lead to revenue loss for my employer and problems for my colleagues until I return. This is exactly the sort of thing that any rational employer would take into account if a headcount reduction were to take place anytime before I retire. Funeral leave is one thing, but dropping everything voluntarily to have some kind of breakdown, to be followed by funeral leave, is something else. In this economy it is not wise to raise your head in this way.
And taking time now to spend a week or so across the country will also leave me less vacation time to use moving into a new house. Finding, buying, and moving into a new house is something that I will do by myself and will definitely take time away from work.
My sister and one of my brothers seem to understand. I think they support my decision, even though one of my sister’s sons has already arrived and the other is leaving a sick toddler and his pregnant wife to fly 700 miles to my father’s sick bed. How can the nephews drop everything and come back, yet you his eldest son cannot? -asks my mother. You must not care about your father, or any of us really. You just want to stay in Virginia and have fun while your own father dies. I feel bad, very bad, but I do not think it will result in any harboring or nurturing of guilt in the future.
Sigh. No, it’s not that, mom. It’s that everybody has to weigh and make choices, and this is how I have weighed mine. Maybe I’m too conservative in my outlook, too dependent on my paycheck, too subservient to my employer’s beck and call. Maybe I am too fixated on a life I hope to lead when I retire. Maybe I have the yips when it comes to communicating with my supervisor. Maybe I don’t want to remember my father as a 135lb ghost deathrattling his way to the other side; I’d rather remember him as the guy who once pulled a four-bottom plow across a plowed wheat field because the tractor had run out of gas, the sky was black with storm clouds, and he needed to move it a hundred yards or so to unplowed ground, and quick. By himself, slightly uphill, Hercules. A theretofore disinterested, adolescent son dropping everthing to watch in awe. I called him three weeks ago, on his birthday, and we said what needed to be said.
What should I do?