David Fernandes
Producer, Director, Writer

Archive for the ‘death’ Category

Full Circle

Wed ,15/04/2009
Late on April 6th, 2009 – my birthday – my father passed away.
On the surface, this would seem like a shitty thing to have happen, but in the context of my life, it actually makes perfect sense.
I was born on April 6, 1973; my brother Danny, April 6 1961; my father-in law Gurmit, April 6, 1943; my brother-in law Raj, April 6, 1973. Between our two immediate families, Nrinder and I have four people that share the same birthday. So if you can accept the impossibility of that, then my father dying on my birthday has some kind of cosmic circularity to it. The man who helped bring me to life transitioned into his new life on the anniversary of my birth. What a gift.
The days leading up to my birthday were hard ones. By the time I got to Napanee, where he lived, on Thursday, Dad was pretty far gone. He hadn’t eaten in close to a week, he’d lost a substantial amount of weight, and he was barely able to get up, much less walk anywhere. I knew that he wanted to die at home, away from doctors and hospitals, so I cancelled all my plans for the next four days – including my birthday party – so I could help him do that. Dad’s wife, bless her soul, was having a hard time keeping up with him. Nrinder and I knew that by being present we could extend the time he had at home and possibly help him achieve his wish.
But he was a stubborn bugger – a trait that comes directly from being the youngest male in a family of farmers. He’s been independent since he was able to walk, working since he was strong enough to shovel earth, aerate wine or stomp on grapes – as if he was going to let anyone ‘help’ him. Since he retired at age 55, he’d been the picture of health: lean, strong, able, sharp, and tireless. But the cancer  - and particularly all the goddam treatments – did a number on him. When it was clear the chemo wasn’t working, my father made a very conscious decision to go. But in spite of his wishes, his body soldiered on. Life, it seems, is a difficult thing to loose, even when you want to.
So for four days I helped keep him comfortable, keep him company. I cried a lot those days, knowing that there wouldn’t be more of them and feeling bad that he had to go in such a miserable way. “You don’t ever want to go through this,” he whispered to me. And he’s right. With the cancer spread to his stomach, liver, lungs and kidneys, ‘living’ had become reduced to lying in bed, too weak too move, to parched to talk, too dehydrated to cry.
I didn’t have anything burning to tell him, I just took his hands and felt their heaviness and warmth, noticing for the first time how elegant his hands were. I’d always imagined them as a bit stubby, but up close his fingers were long and his skin soft. Hands that once picked me up by my ears, to my squeals of delight, were still strong and gentle, even after all the sickness.
By Sunday it was clear to us that we couldn’t keep him at home anymore. He’d already tried to get up a couple of times on his own, and fallen, and the stress of this had gotten to be too much. We explained to him that we thought he’d be better served in a hospital, with round-the-clock nurse care and better facilities, and once we were sure he understood, he agreed to go. 
As we waited for the paramedics, I took a few moments alone to tell him that I loved him, that I appreciated him, that I forgave him and that I would treasure his memory, and that I was sorry he had to go this way.
After four days of being inside, surrounded by death and sadness, I stood with Nrinder on the front steps of his house and witnessed the first signs of spring. As the paramedics carried my father out of the house, the sun shone warm and brilliant, the finches and blackbirds filled the air with beautiful songs as two doves cuddled in their tree. 
For all the fear of hospitals and doctors, the people at the Lennox and Addington hospital in Napanee treated him like extended family. They forced no more pills on him, hooked him up to no more machines, and moved him as precious little as they had to. They knew they were giving him a comfortable place to go, and treated him with all the respect and care that he could have ever got at home. In fact, the home care nurses were wonderful too – caring, sensitive and quick to respond. It gave me a whole new appreciation for our health care system and how wonderful and precious – and privileged – it is to have so many resources so close at hand and totally independent of an insurance plan. For all the ninety-something visits to doctors and specialists that my father had and all the hundreds of visits to home by nurses, all the equipment that was installed in the house and leant out to make things easier, none of it cost an extra dime. 
The folks at the hospital let us use an emergency room, privately, as they waited to bring him into a room in the ward upstairs. It’s there that I said my goodbye. It was Sunday, and my birthday was the following day. I decided to go home because I wanted to be with my mother on my birthday and I didn’t think there was anything more that I could to do to make him comfortable. I had planned to come back on Tuesday if necessary, but I knew this time that I wouldn’t see him again. 
Before leaving, I asked for a few moments alone. I took his hand and told him again that I loved him and I thanked him for being the man that he was. I told him that I would see him again. And his final words to me, whispered through his sore, parched mouth, were, “you will.”
And I did. 
Driving home that night, Nrinder and I saw the most beautiful sunset, orange and purple rays streaking across bands of clouds and flocks of Canadian geese, returning from the south. And I felt a great peace come over me. Though letting go is a sad business, spring is always around the corner.
The following evening – my birthday – I went to visit my mother. After chatting with her for a little bit, I went upstairs to use the washroom. While taking a pee, I distinctly heard a child’s voice say my name. I looked behind me and of course found no child, but I took note of the experience because I’m not one for hearing things. Moments later, while sitting on the couch with my mother, I got the call that my father had passed in the company of his wife and her sister-in-law. It happened a five minutes ago.
After seventy-four years of life, and three long years fighting cancer, my father decided to let go of his dying body on April 6th – Danny, Gurmit, Raj and my birthdays. And now, appropriately, his birthday too.

Love beyond sentimentality

Mon ,23/03/2009

The back is bright white, like some fine, unfired porcelain, and it makes a dense, glassy sound as I run my fingers along its ultra smooth surface. The front is a dull, off-pink colour chosen from the muted palette of 70′s kids paints. Like some fossil from another time, a child’s handprint is embalmed in the plaster, sunk into the middle of the six inch pie plate that molded it. On the back, ‘David’ is printed in pencil by some unknown adult, but the date is my father’s scrawl: 16-06/79. I was six years old.

My father brought it up from his basement last week, his cheeks already sullen, his clothes baggy, his speech slurred from the morphine. “I want you to have this,” he said matter-of-factly. 
It’s a reminder that we lived together once, before the marriage broke up, before he left – before things got complicated.
We lived close to my elementary school, St. Anthony’s. I could walk there in about a minute and would come home for lunch daily, tearing across neighbours’ lawns and leaping off the small hill next door; peanut butter and banana sandwich with a side of the Flintstones on channel nine.
When school was done, I would play for a bit, anxiously awaiting the return of my father from work. In those days he managed the LCBO store at the top of our street. Whenever I heard the car pull up, I would run to one of my two hiding spots, between the back of the front door, or inside the closet, and then scare the piss out of him as he entered the house. I got him every time.
When he left home he didn’t take much with him, grabbing his tools, wine-making gear and a couple of antiques he’d refinished: a pull-down desk, and a tea cart, both relics from the school teacher my parents bought their first house from. He wants me to have them now.
They’re beautful old pieces, but the desk – the desk is evil. Whenever I got a fever as a kid, I would hallucinate. The oval patterns on my curtains became eyes. I’d see a mouth opening and closing in the air, or feel like I was in the booth of a vast court, being judged by some presence sitting at the top of an incredibly high tower. I felt small and vulnerable, perfect prey for the hungry desk in the next room. The desk with the animal feet, waiting patiently for a moment when my parents were asleep and it could waddle over to my room. Its mouth, the folding desktop, snapping up and down, swallowing me whole until my mother would burst in and pull me out. 
The tea cart I found less menacing. I would insist on pushing it around when we had visitors, making as many trips back to the kitchen as my mother would tolerate.
This past weekend my father also gave me his ring, the one he’s had since before time. His mother gave it to him as a gift, the day he left Madeira Island. It’s a chunky thing with gold art deco styling and a giant red, rectangular ruby in the middle. My six-year old hand might have fit two fingers in it, but today it is snug. She gave it to him as a reminder of her love. And he gives it to me as a reminder of where he came from, and as a hint that he won’t be here for much longer.
The hand it once fit is old now, spotted with age and discolored by jaundice, swollen with fluids from a number of medical complications. His organs are struggling as his body eats itself for food. 
I cried on the car ride back this time, not knowing if it’s the last time I’ll see him. Not sure if there’s anything I need to say or want him to know. I’ve always been a bit quiet around him, but I don’t think there’s a lot left to say. I’m happy just to be there as much as possible, watching him while he naps, getting him a glass of water, accepting the trickle of gifts as he takes inventory of his things and finds new lives for them. 
A desk; a cart; a ring; a plate: worthless things without the memories that give them purpose, give them meaning. 
My hand dwarfs the imprint I left, but my father returns it to me now not because it was mine, or even because it was made by me.  Despite its age, the plate with my six-year old hand print looks new, like it was kept in a vault. There is no dust, no dirt and hardly a chip. For thirty years he treasured it, kept it safe. And more than any sentimentality its return conjures up, its condition shows me something else, so simple and so powerful. 
He loves me.