The Death I Expected Wasn’t the Death that Found Me

w: Johnathon E. Briggs

w: Johnathon E. Briggs

The Death I Expected Wasn’t the Death that Found Me

— December 29, 2020 —

Thin and frail at 89, my father, Edward, lost his balance and fell on the grounds of his apartment complex in Inglewood, Calif. He spent ten days in a hospital before being discharged to a nursing home. This was October.

My aunt (his sister), Linda, and I concluded that Edward could no longer live on his own; his chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and declining health required long-term care. We decided, with my dad’s permission, to shutter the apartment he’s called home for nearly 20 years. This was November.

By December, I had power of attorney over my dad’s affairs and found myself in the ranks of the “sandwich generation,” those thirty- and forty-somethings who are raising children while caring for aging parents. When my father fell, little did I know I would fall with him—into a new role as his caregiver.

My father, Edward. Photo by Ann Johansson

The role is stressful enough under ordinary circumstances, but being a caregiver to a parent as an only child, during a pandemic, has proved a test of resilience. There was no advanced planning beyond a cremation policy; my dad was never much of a planner. So, we find ourselves in this scenario: my father anticipated a sudden death, but was dealt a gradual decline.

What first bothered me was the fact our family couldn’t visit my dad in person at a time when he needed us most. In life Before Covid (B.C.), we would have hopped on a plane—me from Chicago; Linda, from Kansas City, Missouri—to see him. But with the pandemic raging out of control in the U.S., and California an epicenter of the coronavirus crisis, Linda and I had to stay put, a public health priority in conflict with our impulse to help.

Next came the questions and requests from nursing home staff and the macabre-sounding forms required upon admission: “Do you know what medications your dad currently takes?” (No, I don’t. You’ll need to call his doctor.); “Please send us a copy of your father’s state ID and social security card.” (Check his wallet, the one you can’t seem to find since he arrived there.); a two-page “Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment” (You’re essentially asking if he should be resuscitated or not. Gimme time to consult with family.)

And then there’s this: the preoccupation with mortality. When you’re the caregiver for an aging parent, you spend a lot of time anticipating death. The administrative aspects of managing the mundanity of my father’s life, from health insurance to cable bills, has become a part-time job, but the emotional toll is a full-time gig.

When my father fell, little did I know I would fall with him—into a new role as his caregiver.

One minute you’re going about your day, juggling work-from-home video calls or getting your six-year-old ready for a bath, when your phone rings. It’s the nursing home: “We’re just calling to let you know your father has been admitted to the hospital. His COPD flared up and his oxygen levels are low.”

You wonder to yourself: Will he survive this bout? Other times the updates are less dramatic, but still concerning: “Your father completed his physical therapy today, but still has difficulty walking on his own.”

Operation Watashi

My father is, if nothing else, a survivor. He’s the epitome of the famous ad slogan used to describe Timex watches after they’d survived torture tests against jackhammers, washing machines, dishwashers, and even an 87-foot dive off a cliff in Mexico: “It takes a licking and keeps on ticking.”

Edward’s military nickname is “Watashi” (Japanese for “I”) and, as I’ve previously shared, he’s “survived war, stomach cancer, a stroke. Not even a car accident that left him with a slight limp slowed his swagger — he found a walking cane to match his Stacy Adams ensemble and kept it moving.”

But no one survives old age.

With that in mind, I spent two weeks devising a carefully orchestrated plan with my aunt Linda, a gregarious woman of faith, that we dubbed “Operation Watashi.” She would fly to Los Angeles and, with help from a local moving company I found on Angie’s List, pack up my dad’s apartment and ship his belongings to me. While there, she planned to drop by the nursing home to visit her brother—even if it had to be through a window.

The day before the move Linda, 73, told me she needed more time to finish sorting my dad’s belongings. She called the moving company to change the start time to 2 p.m. from 8 a.m. on Thursday, Dec. 10.

“No problem,” I told her. “Just as long as they pack everything and leave the premises by 6 p.m. because the UPS store closes at 7 p.m.” Operation Watashi hinged on getting the packed boxes shipped the day of the move so Linda could catch an early morning flight home the next day. The extra day I’d built into the plan had already gone by. It was crunch time.

The Move From Hell

By 2:45 p.m. the movers hadn’t arrived. Linda called me with worry. I told her I would contact the company for an estimated time of arrival. I heard back from the company’s administrator, Amy, at 3:30 p.m. “I just spoke to the crew and they are driving to you now,” she said.

At 4 p.m., three men and a truck finally arrived at the apartment complex and met Linda in the parking lot. As my aunt later recounted, “I told the crew, ‘Let’s get going. We need to start packing.'”

“Pack? We don’t have any boxes with us,” one of the men replied.

Linda lost it. “What the hell you mean you don’t have any boxes? You’re a moving company aren’t you?” She had to take a seat on the bumper of a nearby car to regain her composure.

via GIPHY
The driver, Mark, quickly called Amy at the office. She told him she would bring packing materials to the job site but, in the meantime, the crew should start moving furniture out of the apartment.

At 6 p.m., I received a terse email from the property manager for the apartment complex. “Just wanted to give you a heads-up…[The movers] have severely scratched our hallway walls and brand-new flooring that was just installed…Our main office will assess charges for these damages to the building.”

“You’ve got to be f*cking kidding me!” I thought. I immediately replied and asked her to follow up with Amy directly. Ain’t nobody got time for this.

By 6:50 p.m., with 10 minutes to spare, 18 boxes of my dad’s belongings arrived at the local UPS store. The moving company had called ahead and reached Glenn, the store manager, who agreed to stay open until the boxes were dropped off and processed for shipping. Thank God for Glenn.

My heart broke that day, triggering tears heavy with grief and hot with rage.

I called Linda that evening to share the good news. “It wasn’t pretty, but it got done,” she said, with a sigh of relief.

I later learned that Mark, the driver, deliberately chose not to stop at the warehouse to load up on packing supplies. He was a disgruntled employee who tried to sabotage the job to make the company look bad. How do I know? He had the audacity to call me the next day, after he was fired, to speak ill of his former employer but told on himself in the process. I’ll let karma take care of that.

Through it all, Linda and I laughed heartily in the face of absurdity, but she never did get to visit her brother: he was in a hospital recovering from COVID-19, after contracting the coronavirus at the nursing home.

There was no window to see him.

A Sudden Death

I thought 2020 had left my family alone, but five days before Christmas, my mother called with grim news: my beloved uncle (her brother), Johnny Jackson, had been murdered—shot to death—in my hometown of Los Angeles. This senseless act of violence was apparently sparked when Johnny parked his car on someone’s lawn. He quickly moved the car, but that didn’t satisfy the shooter, who fled the scene.

My heart broke that day, triggering tears heavy with grief and hot with rage. Johnny, 53, leaves behind Pam, his wife of 22 years, children, siblings, and scores of friends who loved him and his family.

My uncle, Johnny Jackson.

 

My Facebook tribute to him read in part:

When I was a kid, I thought my uncle Johnny Jackson was the epitome of cool. He was Bo Jackson before Bo Jackson, excelling in football (his passion), baseball, and basketball; he had a style all his own (known today as “swag”); fashioned himself a ladies man; could be hilariously funny (pulling the occasional prank); and was one of the smartest people I knew.

He was imperfect, as we all are, but later in life, channeled his competitive spirit and drive into becoming the best person, husband, father, and coach (his calling) he could be, inspiring the lives of young men and boys who sometimes doubted the potential he saw in them…

Rest In Power, Johnny “Boo” Jackson. Now you can be as free in the sky as the pigeons you loved to raise and fly. You did what you came here to do. And you did it well.

In the end, the death I’d been expecting (my father’s) wasn’t the death that found me (my uncle’s).

Friends ask how I’m doing. I tell them I exist between two states: exhaustion and resilience.

If you look somewhere between the “n” of the former and the “r” of the latter, you will find me there, praying for grace and mercy. This will be my January.

Father on,


— Banner image by Daniel Páscoa on Unsplash

— Feature image by Mr Xerty on Unsplash




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1763 words

12.29.20

Johnathon E. BriggsHusband • Father • Storyteller • #BlackDadMagic • ΑΦΑ

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  • by Jackie Pruitt
    February 7, 2021

    A beautiful, heartfelt story, JB. Thanks for sharing. Love to your family. How is your dad?
    Love, Tracy’s mom

    • February 8, 2021

      So good to hear from you! Thanks for the kind words. My dad is doing much better than he was. His 90th birthday is in two weeks so we’re sending him a special care package. He’s taking it day by day. In the meantime, stay well. Love – JB

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About

Few may know this, but twice as many dads of newborns today are now in the 40-plus age group, compared to the 1970s. Six weeks before my 40th birthday, I became a first-time father, hence the title of this blog.

This life-changing moment made me think about my own dad, who became a father at 43. As my parenthood journey unfolded, I noticed that most of my friends had become parents earlier in life yet, here I was, changing diapers and battling sleep deprivation at (nearly) 40. I told my wife, “Parenting is definitely a young man’s game.” But is it really?

Where most of my friends were preparing for their children’s middle and high school graduations, I was mastering the art of the swaddle, perfecting the one-hand baby wipe, and learning to decipher my daughter’s gurgles and whimpers. It occurred to me that I had so much more to offer my daughter at the sure-footed age of 40 than I did at, say, 28, when I was still coming into my own.

Fatherhood@Forty: Dispatches from the Parent Hood™ is a creative outlet to share my experiences and connect with other (relatively) late-in-life dads.

Here are a few factoids about me, Johnathon Briggs, the editor behind this blog:

  • I’m a former journalist (Los Angeles Times, The Baltimore Sun, Chicago Tribune).
  • I love exploring Chicago and the Midwest with my family.
  • I remain on a constant quest to stay fit.
  • I support charities that fight HIV, uplift families affected by incarceration, and ensure African American boys graduate from college.
  • I’m a comic book geek (mostly Marvel, but a bit of DC and Image Comics).
  • I’m a child of the ‘80s, so please expect occasional references to the Golden Age of Hip-Hop.

As a reporter for daily newspapers, I had the opportunity to interview fascinating people and to test out great products and brands for my readers. I hope to do the same for you as I blog about the moments that make up this adventure called fatherhood.

Feel free to tweet (@fatherhoodforty) or email (fatherhoodforty@gmail.com) me if you’d like to collaborate or have ideas for a blog post.

Father on,

P.S. Check out The Art of Conversation podcast interview I did with Art Eddy from Life of Dad.

 


Disclaimer: Fatherhood@Forty may contain affiliate marketing links, which may result in commission on sales of products or services I write about. My editorial content is not influenced by advertisers or affiliate partnerships. This disclosure is provided in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR § 255.5: Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

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About

Few may know this, but twice as many dads of newborns today are now in the 40-plus age group, compared to the 1970s. Six weeks before my 40th birthday, I became a first-time father, hence the title of this blog.

This life-changing moment made me think about my own dad, who became a father at 43. As my parenthood journey unfolded, I noticed that most of my friends had become parents earlier in life yet, here I was, changing diapers and battling sleep deprivation at (nearly) 40. I told my wife, “Parenting is definitely a young man’s game.” But is it really?

Where most of my friends were preparing for their children’s middle and high school graduations, I was mastering the art of the swaddle, perfecting the one-hand baby wipe, and learning to decipher my daughter’s gurgles and whimpers. It occurred to me that I had so much more to offer my daughter at the sure-footed age of 40 than I did at, say, 28, when I was still coming into my own.

Fatherhood@Forty: Dispatches from the Parent Hood™ is a creative outlet to share my experiences and connect with other (relatively) late-in-life dads.

Here are a few factoids about me, Johnathon Briggs, the editor behind this blog:

  • I’m a former journalist (Los Angeles Times, The Baltimore Sun, Chicago Tribune).
  • I love exploring Chicago and the Midwest with my family.
  • I remain on a constant quest to stay fit.
  • I support charities that fight HIV, uplift families affected by incarceration, and ensure African American boys graduate from college.
  • I’m a comic book geek (mostly Marvel, but a bit of DC and Image Comics).
  • I’m a child of the ‘80s, so please expect occasional references to the Golden Age of Hip-Hop.

As a reporter for daily newspapers, I had the opportunity to interview fascinating people and to test out great products and brands for my readers. I hope to do the same for you as I blog about the moments that make up this adventure called fatherhood.

Feel free to tweet (@fatherhoodforty) or email (fatherhoodforty@gmail.com) me if you’d like to collaborate or have ideas for a blog post.

Father on,

P.S. Check out The Art of Conversation podcast interview I did with Art Eddy from Life of Dad.

 


Disclaimer: Fatherhood@Forty may contain affiliate marketing links, which may result in commission on sales of products or services I write about. My editorial content is not influenced by advertisers or affiliate partnerships. This disclosure is provided in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR § 255.5: Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.
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