Jamie is one of my oldest friends. We used to hang out together when it was all sex and drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, and we’ve stayed tight, apart from a few years, since then. Jamie doesn’t come from my background, he grew up in the projects and hung with rough crowd. He got in scrapes with the law and did all the risky things teens do.
Jamie’s father died this weekend. He had colon cancer two years ago, and had it surgically scraped out. He never really believed it was serious. When it spread to his lungs and lymph system this year, he still thought he was going to beat it. He was 82, in terrible shape, after a lifetime of making all the wrong choices. It was a surprise he survived one round with cancer already.
Jamie sent me simple text: “Heard from my mom dad died. Better now than later”. That about summed up Jamie’s relationship with his father. He had abandoned his young family after immigrating from England, and had always been a drinker, and a beater. His dad bought Jamie his first and only bike when he was 12. A Raleigh from Canadian Tire. He told Jamie “This is the only bike I’m getting you. You lose this, I’m going to beat you and you won’t get another”. Jamie lost the bike, got beaten and turned into a competitive bike racer when he grew up.
Jamie’s dad had only one last request. He wanted to be cremated and have his ashes strewn at the resort in Muskoka where he imagined the “happy times” were. Jamie doesn’t remember them as that happy, mostly remembers a lot of drinking. When his mother told him of the plan, Jamie responded, “Mom, he wasn’t that great a a father, why don’t we just put him in the mulcher. My lawn could use some bone meal”.
This sounds cold, but Jamie had some contact with his father at the end. He came into town a couple of times after his father was checked into hospital for the last time. He visited him the day before he was to go into palliative care and found him relatively lively. He said “I watched him get up and go to the bathroom, and I thought, he’s not that sick after all”. He didn’t have a lot to say to him, but he comforted his father, told him it would be quick, he wouldn’t suffer. I don’t know if Jamie told him everything was OK between them. I don’t think Jamie believed that. But he made his peace.
That night, his father was dead.
I told Jamie he was lucky to get to see his father before the end, and his father was lucky to go so quickly, and with such a short period of incapability.
Jamie agrees. We sail together. There’s not much to say on a fine afternoon with the sails drawing well, and a chuckle of water at the bow. Sometimes we sit and think. I think of my mother, dead of cervical cancer in September. Maybe Jamie thinks of his father, dead of colon cancer in May. I don’t know, but the cancer years aren’t over yet.