the Best in Kerouac & the Beats, Adventure, Politics, Music, Movies, Poetry & other Lifejoys

Brianland header image 2

Be Still Here — for Vern Victor Hassett

November 15th, 2009 · 1 Comment · Real-life Adventure Tales, Weird Things About Me

Be  Still  Here

(Subtle Streaks of Light)

for Vern Victor Hassett  (1912–2004)


Just so ya know, dad passed away this week.

He was a good guy.

If you’re around, you’re invited to a natural joyous Irish wake for him at the townhouse in Oakville this Saturday, March 6th.  Not an obligation, just an invitation.

He passed away naturally, a long slow fade-to-black.  Just as the arc of life begins in the unconsciousness of infancy and we gradually gain awareness, it’s in reverse at the end, and with each passing day he was rolling backwards in his wheelchair along that slow steady path to blissful unconsciousness.

He got so he couldn’t remember the meal he just ate.  He couldn’t remember going to dialysis the day before.  He couldn’t see what was on the TV  (but he still liked listening to the news).  He would start rolling himself in his chair back to his room after a meal, and fall asleep half-way down the hall.  He was 91 years and 9½ weeks old.  ( . . . simultaneously)

We’ve had many close-call ambulance-runs since 1983, so Mom and I have lived with the no-tomorrow reality for over 20 years.  He started with bleeding ulcers, hip replacements and other internal maintenance, then several strokes that really debilitated him.  He had a pacemaker put in and potentially cancerous tumors removed, then this January had kidney failure and began dialysis every other day for the last month.

When I came home to Canada after my broken shoulder in March ‘02, the doctors said they’d be very surprised if he was here in 6 months.  That spring we watched original-6 Detroit Red Wings win the Stanley Cup, with Scotty Bowman behind the bench, just like he and I watched Scotty coach another red-uniformed team win back in the 70s.  My earliest memories of watching hockey playoffs are with him in “the TV room” on Queenston Street in that idyllic elm-domed River Heights.

2/17 – he’d been throwing darts in the Tuesday Night Men’s Group at the Burloak nursing home.  They put him in bed, both side-rails up.  They check the rooms every hour.  Shortly after 10:00, he somehow lowered the siderail, crawled out, used his walker to go into his bathroom, and fell off the toilet.  The nurse’s aid in the next room heard the fall and his call out, and found him on the floor.

Self-reliant farmer.  Does everything for himself — trained to get up and go to the bathroom.

They asked him if he knew his son’s name.  He said, “Brian.”

They asked his wife’s name, and he answered, “I love her.”

They put him back in bed.

kept checking on him.

irregular heartbeat.

he complains of pain  (and he’s not a complainer)

2 AM they call an ambulance, then me.

Wednesday 2/18 morning and afternoon he’s feisty and fighting with the nurses.

This was probably his ‘rally’ as the medical folks call it, the one final physical

outburst of energy before the battery wears down to zero.

But they’re giving me good news on the phone and I’m thinkin, “There he is, still fighting away.”  I finally get up there Thursday, but the show’s over.  He’s still on stage and can squeeze our hand, but he can’t ask, “How’s Mom?” which was

about all he could say when I last saw him in January.  We’d almost, naturally, run out of conversation.

Mom and I sit on either side, each holding a hand.  He’s in the “I see you,” Intensive Care Unit, of a major Canadian hospital.  A thousand wires going into him monitoring more vital signs than I thought we had, a million dollars worth of

equipment, round-the-clock nurses and a dozen doctors — and we pay nothing.

His breathing and heartbeats are erratic.  He’s got kidney failure and dangerously low blood pressure.   There’s some infection inside, but he’s too fragile to even look for it.  He’s on dopamine, antibiotics, and morphine by the hour.  He’s probably had another mild heart-attack within the last day, maybe in the bathroom at Burloak.  But he keeps holding on.  An astute attending doctor asks, “Was he stubborn?” amazingly and correctly connecting his physiology to his psychology.

The last time I’m with him on Sunday 2/22, he’s on his side and dreaming.  His hands are twitching and eyelids flickering, a deep R.E.M. sleep.  I asked him one time what he dreams about, and one of his answers was, “Jaunts with my army buddies.  Not war scenes, more like sightseeing excursions – Rome, Pompeii, Naples – orchard raids – or visits to homes of poor Italian families to trade an egg, cigarette or soap for vino.”

may the record show . . . my Dad dreamed of scoring wine with his buds!

And here’s another bizarrely relevant dream he wrote down . . . (punctuation his)

“The only real, and I mean REAL!!  nightmare I recall having was when I was young – maybe 18 – and boarding with a young couple in Dominion City.  The funny papers featured a “SCROOGE” strip – a scraggly-haired, skinny skeleton-looking being who was always scaring hell out of people in the strip.  In the dream, I had gone downtown from the old farm house and was told by people on the street that I had better get home because Scrooge was looking for me.  I looked around and sure ‘nuff he was coming down the street.  I took off running the back-way home, with him after me, over the fence, through the pasture — thought I lost him in the bush — through the farmyard — the house, back door – Mother said, “What’s wrong with you?” – upstairs – into my room – slammed the door – and there BEHIND THE DOOR STOOD SCROOGE REACHING OUT WITH HIS BONEY GNARLED FINGERS TO STRANGLE ME!

“I let out a real DEATH CRY – which woke me up in time to the hear the last of it.  The couple who I lived with came running upstairs expecting to find me dead.  I had perspired so much I had to change pajamas and the lady put dry sheets on the bed.  And it was perspiration.”

:- )

He lived and loved life for another 75 years after that dream, and he never screamed out a death cry at the end.  So I think he was in that orchard in Italy, scorin’ that wine, eating vine-fresh grapes, and running around on some adventure in the mountains of Tuscany with his buddies.

The last frame spun through the projector at 5:10 AM on Monday morning, February 23rd.

I had just woken up, actually, and thought, “Don’t want the phone to ring now.” After some 20 years of waiting for ‘the call’, there was only one more call we

were gonna get.

it rang, I flew, he died.

the reel was still spinning and the film was flapping, but the movie was over.

I stayed in his room in a natural, respectful, almost ritualistic way.  I held his head, which was still warm, like he was in a deep sleep.  I caressed then kissed his warm hair.  I found myself walking in circles around his bed, sort of wrapping in his goodness, circling the launchpad as he lifted off to heaven or the ether, or simply into the collective psyche and history of the human race.  He lived his life.  I talked to him, and thanked him.  I remembered tucking him in at the nursing home, and once he was lying down safe in bed and getting ready to drift off to sleep he looked so happy, with the innocent joyous beam of a little boy on Christmas eve.  And so he’d taken that blissful sleep as his passage through the door.

He was always a morning person . . .

gettin his daily chores done before breakfast while it was still dark out,

right till the end.

He passed under cover of the night,

slowly drifting away on the dark sea.

The hospital is on the shore of the great Lake Ontario,

and in his serenely private room up on the 5th floor,

a huge picture window overlooks the lake.

After a long while . . . subtle streaks of light . . .

and a sky began to appear.

Then a blazing bright deep red-orange sun cracked the horizon.

and took its slow gentle time.

A new day birthing in a now Dadless world.

The blue water gently rippled all the way from Canada to America.

A flock of Canada geese squawked by in a loud flying V.

The world was coming to life again, without Dad in it.

But I and we are still here.

I thought of all the father’s day and birthday cards, and the bookstore reading of the poem I wrote to him, and how he’d get choked-up every time he heard it.

He knew I loved him.

And we really got to know each other again in the last two years of being home.

I left as a young man to find my way in the world, and with that blessing of the broken-shoulder-exit from the steel-&-glass electric hamster-wheel of New York,

I was able to come home from ‘the wars’ and really get to become friends with him again.  Or was it for the first time?

and now he’s gone.

I whispered to him, “Well, Dad, the hospital’s come to life.  You lived a good one, and were honorable to everyone you knew.  We sure loved you.  And I’m glad you were my Dad.  Thanks for being here, and for bringing me here.  And thanks for the sense of humour and playfulness.  And giving your own happiness so that Mom and I might have ours.  I love you, Dad.  And I’m so glad we got to share so much.  Thank you for life and liberty, and an education, and advice, and for being such a grounding source.  You were good to everyone you knew.”

I re-learned that you don’t regret the things you do in life, you regret the things you Don’t do.

And how, in so many ways, the dead live on inside us, and around us, and are still here.

There are living people who you love but who are not in the room with you right now.  Even though you can’t physically see them or caress them at this moment, they are still in your life, influencing what you do, and being the love that buoys your soul.  My dad is watching over me as much right now as he was last month or 30 years ago.  He’s still here.

Love,  Brian

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

Here’s a nice poem I wrote for and about my Dad — made him cry every time he read it.

Here’s the obit tribute I wrote to his wife and my Mom.

Brian Hassett

Tags: ·······

1 response so far ↓

  • 1 Paula // Sep 2, 2008 at 4:11 PM

    Brian, No words right now, just wanted you to know I read this and am really glad I did.

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *