Mudty Relationships: An Essay in Closure - Part 2

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.  
Trevor, Tod, and Lance posing for a photo.
Trevor, Tod, and Lance Eaton, circa 2006

Part 2: Witnessing

In the past year, I have witnessed a surprising amount of death and each sits with me differently. A few weeks ago while in the backyard, my partner and I were doing some garden work. From a nearby tree, there was a burst of noise and a few birds flew out from it. One flew straight towards the house and smacked right into the windows on the second floor. It fell to the cement; its body lay still. We stood over it, wondering if it was just stunned or if it was actually dead. It seemed strange that a collision from flying some 15 feet or so into the window could terminate a life, but when I lifted the bird in a handkerchief, I realized how small and fragile it was. Maybe a pound, its defused weight betrayed its feathery bust. It could fly but it was delicate and the speed with which to fly and the sturdiness of the window colluded. Its life blinked out before our eyes as quickly as it had flashed into our awareness.

A week or so prior to this, I jogged before dawn on a road in Texas. I had my headlamp and reflectors so that cars could see me. I donned headphones and was in my own world, just trying to get in some mileage in pre-dawn hours when the sun had yet to arrive to make the already high-70s temperature and high humidity unbearable. On the other side of the road, a truck came along and I paid it no mind. When it was about 10 feet in front of me, there was some noise and flickering. I didn’t realize or look to the truck, but some 10 feet in front of me, a deer slide across my lighted path. The truck slowed down, but then continued on and there lay the dear, motionless near as I could see.

One never quite has a protocol or sense of what is proper to do in these situations. In the predawn darkness, a few miles away from the place I’m staying, in a town of a state that I’ve never visited before, what is the proper etiquette when a deer slides across the ground in front of me? I didn’t know and since I had seen a dead deer on the roadside the day before, I assumed it was ok to leave it there. I continued to run without slowing down too much.

My route sent me running a few miles out. On my way back, I expected to see the deer where I had passed it. I never found the deer. It might have been stunned but regained consciousness and stumbled into the countryside. It may have ended up in the back of some passerby’s truck. Some other predator or scavenger may have made away with the deer. I only know I didn’t do anything; I didn’t even stop. It seems like there was nothing I could do, but I did not even seem to pause to see if that were indeed the case.

Prior to my father’s death, while jogging into a cemetery, I watched a Canadian goose flopping on the ground, while its mate waddled about. The partner went back and forth from honking at the flailing body to the tree line from whence they came as if to beckon others for help. In my mind, I pictured a line of solemn Canadian geese emerging from the tree line in single file to surround the dying goose.

Given its location on the road and bleeding from the head, the goose had likely been hit by a car. It was a stark and sad moment to watch, as the distressed partner yelled helplessly. I don’t know what the inner life of a goose is; I just know they pair off in the spring, following one another, have a handful of babies, and wander about as a gaggle till the goslings are mature enough to be indistinguishable in their adult bodies from their parents. However, that partner was suffering in watching the other die and it was so clear.

I stopped my running and watched while the goose died, feeling that it was the only thing I could do. Approaching the dying goose wouldn’t have helped nor been a comfort to the partner. I waited until the body stopped moving and then continued on my way. It was a good distance later that I stopped hearing the partner, whose persistent honking turned into a more deliberate dirge.

Just this week, I was bicycling towards the exit of that same cemetery (there’s no morbid fascination with cemeteries or death here, it just happens to be a shortcut to work). A chipmunk, possibly one that had recently left its parental care, was stopped in the road about two feet left of my direction. I put my hands on the brakes as I realized what it was and that it might bolt. I also began turning my wheel away. But moving at 15 mph with manual breaking means that I’m not great at stopping on a dime. Unfortunately, the chipmunk darted towards rather than away from me, believing that it was safer in the forest to my right than the field of tombstones to my left. And thus, as I slowed, he ended up under my wheel, feeling some significant distribution of over two hundred fifty pounds on its tiny body.

I left out a bellowing moan that I did not realize I had in me. I felt the bump of the bike as the tire went over its body. I stopped a few feet ahead and turned to look. I clearly had broken something within its body. Its lower body jump and floundered as if trying to convince the head to follow. But jump about and spin around as its lower half might, the top half would not move.

I stood, not so much frozen but determining what to do. It seemed clearly like it would not recover and was it my responsibility to put it out of its misery? Did I have a right to make that call, given that I really didn’t know the degree or severity of the what I had inflicted, even if I could guess? If I terminated its life, how would I do it? With a rock? Stepping or stomping? Morbid thoughts but ones I had to consider, given what I had done. But with thirty seconds, the decision had been made. It stopped moving; it stopped breathing. When I came back through the cemetery at the end of the day, the flies were already making a meal out of it.

Death comes to us in many forms throughout our lives, casual and causal, slowly and at a break-neck speed. We don’t know how we will react and we don’t always know what is the right thing to do. Death is such an enduring mystery and even when peaceful, it’s inevitably complicated. So I wasn’t quite sure what to anticipate as it quickly became clear in August 2018 that my father would die shortly. Yet, it did surprise me that the circumstances revealed things to me about myself, my father, and my relationship with him, my family, and everyone that I still continue to ponder.

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:

Did you enjoy this read? Let me know your thoughts down below or feel free to browse around and check out some of my other posts!. You might also want to keep up to date with my blog by signing up for them via email.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.