My dad died today.
He was 79 and had been severely depressed for two, maybe three years. A case can be made that he was depressed most of his adult life.
In My dad's case, his depression was masked--weakly--by alcoholism. Beginning some four years ago and becoming entrenched after about a year, My dad's daily routine consisted of black coffee in the morning, followed by red wine until mid-afternoon when he switched to rum until he either ate or passed on his meal for a few more drinks.
His activities went from a healthy handful to a few to just radio and TV. Never very tall, he became stooped from osteoporosis and his weight dropped to under 90 pounds. Everything surrounding him was centered on his routine, on his need for caffeine, nicotine--two packs a day--and alcohol.
My dad had a highly capable mind. His memory was excellent and he absorbed information with meticulous care. To watch this man, whose influence on Me is enormous, melt away in mind, body and spirit was disheartening. In what turned out to be his final months, We barely spoke to each other. Now We'll never speak again.
I tried. I tried to reach him, to make him understand what he was doing to himself. My sister, mother and other relatives tried, too. In the end, as his lungs filled with phlegm and he refused to eat or even drink water, it was pneumonia brought on by severe dehydration that eventually led to his death.
But before the heart attack, before the pneumonia, before the dehydration, before the phlegm or even the mild cold it all sprang from, there was his depression. When his father died, My dad told Me that Grandpa wouldn't talk anymore, wouldn't do the things he once did with joy, that he--in essence--shut down and waited to die. I was a boy then, but I told Myself I wouldn't let that happen with Grandpa's son...My dad.
I tried. God damn it, I tried. We all did. But in that deep dark recess of a person's mind, that black hole where Life is smothered to a feeble glow, that hole I've explored too often and for far too long in My adult life, never really let My dad go. He let it swallow him, turning him into a passive vessel for coffee, cigarettes and drinks, transforming an elf-like gentleman with a whimsical charm into a bed-ridden cave dweller who only rarely--but oh how brilliantly!--would recall the elf and let him shine.
My dad died today. My dad died yesterday, in the ambulance, as the EMTs labored to stabilize his badly-weakened body. My dad died last week when his body started to break down badly and he refused medical attention. My dad died the day he fell and hurt himself, taking to his bed as his only occupied space. My dad died when he chose--each and every time--to sacrifice his health out of fear or sheer indifference.
My dad died when depression closed his every door. How long will it take Me to reconcile Myself to the fact that not one of those doors broke under My blows? How long will it take Us--those who loved him--to accept that My dad had a part of him no one could ever really understand? How long until the pain of his death is replaced by the warm memories of his wit, soul and heart?
I didn't say goodbye to My dad, for when I left him it was but to take a nap and come back to be with him in the hospital. In the larger sense, I didn't say goodbye, either. But in an even larger and more painful way, depression made it impossible for him--or Me--to say what We really wanted to say to each other.
Goodbye, Dad. I always loved you, even in those darkest hours when you didn't love yourself. Thank you for teaching Me what you could and for sharing more than you know. And rest assured, Dad, that I will do everything I can to break the pattern Grandpa and you followed. Someday--not today, but soon--I'll stop blaming you for that pattern. Until then, let Me repeat what neither you nor I ever said enough: I love you. Rest in peace.