Two years earlier.... 1992.....
Want to read part 3?
“Mob, telephone call for you; says he’s your brother but the connection is kinda bad”, a soft Minnesotan accent informs me as the handset is thrust towards me.
“Hello, who’s that?”, I ask wondering who of my five brothers feels it’s important enough for them to call me in the USA. I wasn’t even aware that they had my office number and am momentarily baffled as to how they found me out here at the research and development centre.
“Hi, it’s me, John”, he says in a voice that is echoing down the line making it difficult to hear as each word repeats several times over another and another and another. A further string of words tumble over each other but I begin to make out that something is wrong and that I should come home.
“Dad’s ill, it’s cancer, lung cancer”, he says sounding very matter of fact.
It takes a moment or two before the news sinks in and I feel completely detached from any kind of emotion or reaction. I sit down on my chair and pull myself towards my desk where I rest my head in one hand, buying time before I respond.
“How is he?”, I stupidly ask, but I’m on autopilot trying to absorb the news. “I mean, how serious is it?; is it terminal?; how long’s he got?”. I babble on not knowing what to say or how to say it without sounding crass or unsympathetic. I’ve never been one to beat about the bush and it was typical of me to be logical and straightforward in my approach and this situation was no different. But, having said that, in the past I’d often wondered how I would feel on hearing the news that a parent was seriously ill or dead; had even played a few scenarios out in my head just so I could be prepared for the worst when it came. But shit, none of that came into play now; so much for wasting time getting all sad and emotional and picturing how I’d cope . I hadn’t prepared myself for feeling nothing, nothing at all, not even a jot of emotion.
I heard John's voice as he enquired as to whether I was alright or not and it brought me back from my reverie. “So, what’s the score then?”, I ask again, needing to get a handle on what we were all about to face.
“The doctors are putting a treatment plan together now and I should get sight of that sometime later today. I’ve called the others and told them the same”, he says referring to my brothers and sisters, “but as you are the furthest away, perhaps you should consider coming home, sooner rather than later”.
“Christ, is it that bad then? “ It’s beginning to dawn on me that that perhaps the old boy’s card really is marked and that his days are numbered. But still I continued to feel nothing, not even relief that my father, with whom I have at best a tumultuous relationship, will be out of my life forever. In extreme moments there had been times in my life I had wished him gone; wished he'd never been my father.
“I’m sorry I had to give you this news”, John says forlornly, sounding very weary. “I’ve been here for two weeks now and we’ve only just been given the diagnosis. Seems he had pleurisy and that was masking the symptoms, but from what I can gather, it’s neither here nor there in terms of the outcome. The doctors don’t hold out any hope and the treatment plan isn’t going to be a cure. You do realise what I’m saying don’t you MOB?”, he asked as though what he had already said hadn’t made an impression; that he hadn’t quite got the severity of the situation across. But he’s right to enquire because in the short few minutes that we have connected I have gone from being surprised that my brother has called me here to having to grasp the fact that my father is dying. No doubt in the space of a few hours he has grown from being a novice bad news teller to a consummate professional narrator because he has had to tell eight of his siblings perhaps the worst news he could ever tell them.
“Jesus John, how the hell are you holding it together”, I ask him because I know that he is dealing with this on his own.
“To be honest MOB, I’m exhausted and he’s been so bloody demanding and yet I feel so deeply sorry for him because he’s scared and frustrated. Mostly all I see is a broken old man who flits between bitterness and confusion and I could do with a break; do with some help to take the strain”
The guilt looms large on my horizon; I know that being the youngest brother this wasn’t supposed to fall to him, it was never meant to be a problem that he was left to resolve on his own. Suddenly I feel like weeping, but not for my father, only for my younger brother who is clearly beginning to bend from the task that he bears heavily upon his shoulders. I’m glad of the sudden need to cry even if it isn’t for the right person or the right reason. At least I feel some kind of emotion and that’s finally normal isn’t it? If I didn’t know better I could swear that my heart is going to burst out of my chest and I feel faint.
“Look sweetie, I know you understand that there is little I can do from here right now. You know what I think of the old man and how he feels about me. But, I’m not sure how I feel about this right now and I need time to come to terms with what you have told me. Well, at least I need time to sort out my workload – get someone else to take over my project”.
I know it’s a cop out and that I’m bailing out on him but I can’t face this right now; can’t be bothered to dredge up the past and to deal with it all head on. It’s too late, much too late....
“Okay, I wasn’t expecting any more and don’t beat yourself up about this”, he tries to reassure me. “I know what the score is and I’ve got things under control but to answer your point about how long?; a few months, that’s all and that’s more than likely an optimistic figure so don’t go leaving it too long” . He knows what I am like with work and how I bury myself knee deep and loose all track of time. This is his way of making sure I register that time is short, there won’t be any extensions or flexibility on this one because nature doesn’t work like that, it doesn’t do deals and nor will it fit in with my schedule just because I demand that it does.
We bring the call to an end and I promise to call him tomorrow to find out where we stand. He’s relieved to know that at least I love him enough to care about him and I suppose he’s hoping that some of that empathy might just stretch to my dad as he lies fighting for his life while his strength ebbs and flows with natures tides.