Mudty Relationships: An Essay in Closure - Part 8

This post is part of an 11 part essay that I have written in memory of my father, Tod “Mudty” Eaton, who passed away in August 2018. On this blog, I had previously shared the eulogy I gave at his Celebration of Life, which I think was a meaningful public goodbye to him.  This essay though is a bit more complex and nuanced in drawing out the final days of my father’s passing and how I reconciled his life, his death, and our relationship.  It’s a deeply personal essay that I have spent many hours on for the past year and with the encouragement of kind friends, have chosen to share.  

Additionally, if you feel so moved, I would encourage you to donate to my fundraiser for Care Dimensions, the hospice home that made his final days more comfortable for all of us.  
A photo Paula, Tod, Allison, and Trevor.
Paula, Tod, Allison,
and Trevor, circa 2010

Part 8: Mending

A different doctor altogether helps me resolve the tensions of watching my father die, the bureaucracy of care, and my own unresolved emotions.

The emotional exhaustion and fleeting thoughts are drowned out by a profound kindness that surges in me in ways I never entirely realized I had or could muster. After all, my father was the man who ignored the pain, suffering, and the near-certain suicide of his own child. And were that his only transgression, mayhaps I wouldn’t be surprised by the presence of such kindness, but the man, my father, committed significant acts that went against me and against the family that impacted us for years; some of which still linger. Yet, in his dying weeks, I do not want to want to focus on these trespasses. I do not want to remind him of his mistakes and shortcomings. I do not want him to suffer. I owe this wellspring both to my father and to the Doctor.

It’s about a week into hospital visits and waiting for the specialists to tell us how much time he has left, but they still aren't done reading the tea leaves that is his biopsy. His support team, my mom, my brother, and I are still fairly energized and ok with the new routine. That morning though, I’m resistant in my willingness to go spend some 6-7 hours in the hospital. Before my shift, I’m at the gym on the treadmill; we’re in a heatwave and running outside doesn’t get me as nearly as far as I need to run these days.

Dad wasn’t much of a sci-fi fan, except for his strange obsession with The Hunger Games as the supposed best series ever written. He found sci-fi too unbelievable for him and preferred the more believable fiction known as the WWE. So, I’m pretty sure he never watched Doctor Who.

However, as I round mile four, I’m enthralled with the Series 10 finale (2017). The Doctor confronts The Master and Missy--two beings who are one and the same (long story) and whom he has battled for centuries (even longer story). In a moment in which the Doctor’s defeat seems inevitable, he explains why he helps people who seem utterly incapable of surviving:

“I'm not trying to win. I'm not doing this because I want to beat someone or 'cause I hate someone or because I want to blame someone. It's not because it's fun. God knows it's not because it's easy. It's not even because it works because it hardly ever does. I do what I do because it's right. Because it's decent. And above all, it's kind. It's just that. Just kind.”
It’s not the first time tears have streamed down my face while on the treadmill at the gym (try making it through Nanette without tears). The Doctor’s speech rallies me and I return to it regularly in the days to come. As each ugly thought arrives, I vanquish it with the mantra, “Be kind.”

Obviously, the Doctor is not the first to invoke this idea. Yet, in that moment on the treadmill, his voice gets through to me and calls to me. Though Peter Capaldi (the actor playing Doctor Who) does not resemble my father besides grayish hair and a thinnish frame, his words summon forth the lesson my father often worked to instill in me, a lesson I still am constantly trying to enact: Be kind.

I wasn’t kind as a kid. I often did unkind things. But if the opening of this essay didn’t already indicate, I had a lot of things going on. After all, no kid that is in a clear mental space, tries their first suicide attempt at ten years old. So enwrapped in my inner turmoil, it meant I was often numb to others’ pain and sometimes, seeing their pain kept mine at bay.

My father meaningfully confronted me about my occasional meanness. Whenever he discovered that I was picking on someone else, he would do better than berate and shame me, he would have me explain what I was doing and why. He would instill in me the importance in appreciating the burdens we all bear and that we all need kindness. Whenever a relationship ended, be it platonic or romantic, he would urge me to be kind. Even in pushing me to play sports, he thought he was doing a kindness; giving me something I didn’t know I needed, giving me something that would--as a team player--help me think about others.

The Doctor’s words recenter my kindness and allow me to move forward with decisions that are made without doubt and without interference by those slippery and ugly thoughts. In hindsight, that rekindled kindness allowed me to see so much more of my father, his dying, and our family’s love. Most importantly, it allowed me to do things I had my doubts that I would be able to do when my father’s time came. Previously, I had wondered occasionally if I would finally confront all of his transgressions or abandon him altogether to rehash my own history.

Instead, I made sure the TV always stayed on, I ordered his meals, I held his hand, I helped him with the urinal, and when the time called for it, I wiped him. And in each of those moments, I felt the power and meaning of comfort and kindness, of care and humility. It's not just that he had done all these things for me growing up. Reciprocity played a part in it, for sure. But in these moments, the transgressions faded and a newer relationship emerged.

Days later, I arrive for a morning shift. He’s just finished breakfast and there’s already a sense of exhaustion after the nurses have just cleaned him up for the day. He turns off the radio.

By this point, deeper conversations, like breaths, food and everything else, comes in small bites. He tells me that my vigil has been a “tremendous relief” to him. He says that every day he sees me arrive he feels cared for, safe, and protected. He is grateful for the way in which I have taken a lead in conversations with the nurses, doctors, and social workers, as well as the ways in which I make sure he gets what he wants and needs.

As a parting gift from a departing father, the title of protector hits me harder than I will realize in those initial moments. I thank him but I wave it off as something that any child should be so lucky to do. I explain that in a reversed situation he would do no less. I minimize it in the moment, but in the weeks and months that come and as I write out and revisit this moment in the present, tears will continue flow as I’m reminded how much words do matter in this life. It is the final lesson in kindness that my father gives me.

Thank you for taking the time to read this.  If you haven't read the essay in full or have missed previous parts, feel free to navigate to other parts from the links below:

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